Why teachers are leaving the profession they love
After two longstanding teachers decided to go public on Facebook about resigning from a profession they loved, their posts went viral, striking a chord with thousands around the world after they highlighted the immense pressures of a data heavy and increasingly standardised education system.
In a bid to ignite public debate about the state of education in Australia, Kathy Margolis and Gabbie Stroud have continued to speak out, hoping to encourage others to do the same. They spoke about why they think the joy has been “sucked out” of teaching.
After working as a primary school teacher for more than 30 years, Kathy Margolis decided to leave the classroom for good.
She wrote a letter to Queensland’s The Courier Mail about why she was leaving the profession and she uploaded the letter on Facebook, which to her surprise became a viral post that has since been shared more than 40,000 times.
“I have heard from teachers from all over the world saying they could have written the post, word for word, outlining the same issues,” Kathy said.
She has since joined forces with the small advocacy group, Protecting Childhood, which is launching a petition to help restore the profession.
“It’s very hard for teachers to actually express anything negative about the system,” she said.
“In the news, the focus is on younger teachers leaving within the first five years.
“I think this is appalling. They have gone into this job with a passionate attitude, and now they are leaving and I don’t blame them.
“We are asked to jump through so many hoops. Older teachers have the wisdom to know that we can get away without jumping through some of these hoops especially when it doesn’t benefit the children.
“Younger teachers, many on contracts and wanting to make a good impression, relentlessly jump through every hoop put in front of them.
“It’s harder for older teachers because we have seen how teaching should be, where there was once joy and creativity involved.
“Sadly, it is being slowly sucked out like a vacuum.”
Queensland Education Minister, Kate Jones, responded to Kathy’s viral post on talkback radio and later spoke with her on the phone.
“I was very impressed with Kate and she was very genuine in her concerns. She seemed to have a pretty good handle on what day to day life was like in the classroom,” she said.
“But not all politicians understand what it is truly like in classrooms. Unless teachers are filling these positions I don’t think it is going to get any better.”
Kathy said she has no aspirations to go into politics but agreed teachers need more input in this arena.
“As I mentioned in the post, we have very little autonomy anymore. We are told what to do, how to do it and when it has to be done.”
She said it is also the children who feel under pressure from all the assessment they are made to do.
“I don’t want to be a data collector. I want to spend time engaging children in real learning,” she said.
“Data tells us nothing new about the strengths and weaknesses of our students. All these tests do is add to the stress our students are feeling and detract from valuable learning time.”
Kathy mentioned the numerous media reports comparing our system with overseas models including Finland, where standardised testing is rare and there are more manageable class sizes.
“Here’s a system that is statistically proven to work, so why aren’t we heading in that direction?”
“Teachers in Finland are the cream of the crop. The profession is seen as a more revered career choice and they aren’t burdened by endless data collection.”
Kathy said that parents and teachers must work together as education affects the whole of society.
“Parents need to be the biggest advocates for teachers. What some parents don’t understand is that as teachers we know we are doing some things that aren’t in the best interests of their children but we are powerless to tell them that.
“We want the same things parents want for their kids, for them to be the best version of themselves they can be.”
After 20 years of teaching in primary schools, Gabbie had reached the point of burnout. With her physical and mental health at risk, she also chose to leave teaching.
Her colleagues described her departure as “a great loss” but she felt morally and ethically conflicted by the state of Australian education.
“I resigned because my body became physically burnt out,” Gabbie said.
“I had what I can only describe as a breakdown. I was at my desk with hands trembling and the words “this is not teaching” pounding through my head.
“I left because I realised education wasn’t going to change and that a profession I once enjoyed had become something I had to endure.”
She said there was also a great disconnect between what she was being asked to do and what she knew to be true about teaching and learning.
“Every child learns in their own way and own time and my teaching should reflect that. However, education today is now driven by standards – standard curriculum, teachers performing to standards and standardised testing,” she said.
“This standardisation goes against my fundamental beliefs about what’s best for young learners.”
Gabbie said she is disappointed by the way governments have “let teachers and students down”.
“They are making decisions that aren’t informed by real world classroom experiences,” she said.
“Even when they take researched, academic or theoretical reference points, they impose measurement and standardisation.”
She said that something must be done sooner rather than later and proposed some solutions to teacher attrition.
“There should be better training for preservice teachers, a sabbatical after 10 years of teaching, further uncluttering of the curriculum and providing full time psychologists in schools,” Gabbie said.
“We need to look at recent research, education systems overseas and our history here in Australia to establish a new vision for Australian education.
“We need to keep our sights on our young learners and remind ourselves every day that they are our future.”
To read Kathy’s full post, go to https://www.facebook.com/kathy.margolis.7/posts/10208843143294643
For details about Protecting Childhood and upcoming events, visit http://www.protectingchildhood.org
For more information on Gabbie’s work, visit www.gjstroud.com
This article was extracted from the June 2016 edition of Independent Education.