SUBJECTS: Teacher shortage, Visas, Education Ministers forum.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: The first thing I did when I got this job a couple of weeks ago was go back to my old primary school and give Mrs Fry my old teacher a hug. Mrs Fry, Cathy, has been a teacher at Cabramatta Public School since 1978, and she’s still there today, changing the lives over that time of thousands and thousands of kids. Today, I get to meet teachers who are teaching other children around the country. I gave Mrs Fry a hug; I’m not going to give them a hug today, but I have come here because it’s important to recognise excellence and, to recognise the extraordinary work that these teachers are doing in classrooms right across Australia. If we think back, if we think hard enough, we can all remember a teacher who changed our life, who shaped us, who inspired us, who helped to put us on the path to where we are today. These teachers are people like that – changing the lives of children and young adults right across the country.
We need more like them. We don’t have enough teachers in Australia at the moment. We’ve got a teachers’ shortage right across the country and it’s not just because of the flu or COVID that’s keeping teachers away from school and forcing classes to merge together. It’s bigger than that, and it’s worse than that. We’ve got more and more kids coming to school and fewer young people making the decision to leave school and become a teacher. Worse than that, we’ve got more and more teachers choosing to hang up the boots and leave the profession. So, we’ve got to look at the things we can do to encourage more people to become teachers, how we can improve training for teachers when they’re at uni, and what we can do to fix some of those things that force teachers out of the profession early.
That’s why I’m getting together all the state and territory ministers for education across the country in the next few weeks to meet and talk about this critical issue. We’ll dedicate half the day to a roundtable talking about the national teacher shortage and what we can do to fix it. This week, we announced that we’ll prioritise visas for teachers from overseas to come here and work in our classrooms. That’s one small practical thing that we can do, but there’s a lot more that we need to do if we’re going to tackle this problem in the long term, and that’s what I want ministers to talk about at this forum. But not just ministers, I want principals there too, and teachers and education experts across the country that can give us the advice we need to help to tackle this issue.
I’m happy to take some questions.
JOURNALIST: Teachers here in New South Wales are being very vocal about what they want. They want better pay. Do you think teachers are being paid what they’re worth?
CLARE: I think everybody would agree that we want teachers to be paid more money. There’s not a job that I can think of in the country that’s more important than a teacher. You’ll see it today, through the work that these people do, just how important their work is and the lives that they change. But I add this point: I’ve got a lot of mates who are teachers and I ask them this question as well, and the answer is pretty much uniform. Money’s important, but it’s not just the money. It’s all about workload. This idea that teachers rock up at 9 o’clock and finish at 3 and they get all these holidays is not right. For most teachers across this country, work starts long before 9 and ends long after 3. There’s a lot of work in lesson preparation, in organising excursions and sporting events and playground duty. So, this is what I mean when I talk about, at this roundtable, let’s look at why teachers feel burnt out; why teachers feel overloaded. What are the practical things that we can do as politicians, as education ministers working together, to try to make that burden that’s on teachers a bit lighter?
JOURNALIST: But teachers say that they want to get paid more. Will teachers be getting more money in the future? Can we see teachers getting paid more?
CLARE: Well, there’s negotiations going on across the country between different State Governments and teachers’ unions. You see an example of that in Queensland, I think, today and there’s ongoing negotiations here in New South Wales as well. Now, I’m not going to get in between those negotiations. That’s not my role as the Federal Minister. But there are good practical things that I can do working with my state colleagues to help to encourage more young people to become a teacher, to jump from school to uni and to become a teacher, and then looking at the ways we can keep teachers. If more and more teachers are feeling burnt out and are leaving the profession early, then that’s a problem. That’s part of the reason why we’ve got a teacher shortage in Australia at the moment. It’s not just that we don’t have enough people wanting to be a teacher; it’s because we’ve got too many people that feel burnt out and are walking away from the profession early.
JOURNALIST: So, what are some ways that you’ll fix these problems? I spoke to one teacher here who’s receiving an award today.
CLARE: Yeah, great.
JOURNALIST: She wants to know what changes you’re going to make?
CLARE: Well, that’s what this forum’s about. That’s what this roundtable’s about. You know, any idea that a minister in the Federal Parliament or State Government is some sort of omniscient being that knows all the answers is rubbish. It’s silly. It’s naive. That’s why I don’t want a meeting that’s just got a bunch of pollies talking to each other. I want teachers there; I want principals there. I want the people that do this, talking to me, and talking to state ministers about what we need to do. What are the practical things that we can do to boost the reputation of this profession?
I know, I’m sure you know, that there isn’t a job much more important than this. But there are people in this country that spend their life bad mouthing teachers, putting them down. There are members of the Federal Parliament who say that basically teachers are a bunch of commies; that our classrooms are infested with sort of Communist theory. Now, I don’t mean to bait them, but if you want to know how important the work that these teachers do is, I hark back to that Confucian statement about: If you want to plant for a year, plan rice. If you want to plan for 10 years, then plant trees. If you want to plan for a century, then invest in the education of our children. That’s how you make a difference in this country, by understanding the importance ever what teachers do and by listening to them and that’s what this ministerial council will be all about.
JOURNALIST: One of those things today, 22 teachers were being recognised, that’s an innovative thing. Last year was very challenging, but this year they’ve gone above and beyond, what do you make of that?
CLARE: What you’re going to see today is some people who made education work in the teeth of the pandemic. When COVID struck, teachers needed to find new ways to educate students who weren’t in the classroom and were at home. I tell you what, a lot of those teachers have got their own kids, they’re looking after their kids – I see some nodding – looking after their own kids at home, educating other children that weren’t in the classroom, but were in their own homes. Can I tip the invisible hat to parents as well, because I know a lot of mums and dads did it tough over the course of the pandemic. Lockdown in Sydney 12 months ago made it really hard for mums and dads who were at home doing their own job and educating their kids. In my neck of the woods in western Sydney, where a lot of the mums and dads don’t have English as a first language, that was really hard. You know, the number of emails I got from teachers in my community telling me that mums and dads felt like they were letting their kids down because they didn’t know how to help them with homework, impressed upon me how big a deal that was, so I want to say thank you to the parents, thank you to the teachers who did incredible work during the pandemic. We’re going to see some of the fruits of their work today.