COMMENT:

We have been hearing a lot recently of the teacher supply crisis. It is easy to bandy about words such as "crisis" so they start to lose impact and water down the meaning of the word. I looked up the meaning of "crisis" and came upon this: "Crisis - a time of intense difficulty or danger". From my perspective, crisis sits, however uncomfortably and unfortunately, well with the words "teacher supply".

Chris Hipkins, Minister of Education, was reported by the Herald on February 22 as saying the number of people training to be teachers had dropped 40 per cent in six years, leaving a huge teacher shortage.

"As boomer-aged teachers prepare to retire, New Zealand is facing a 'ticking time bomb'," he said. Figures released that day showed the number of people training to be teachers had dropped from 14,585 to 8895 - nearly 5700 student teachers. The minister added, "the numbers are staggering".

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Associate Professor Wayne Smith is deputy dean of the University of Auckland's faculty of education and social work, the biggest teacher education provider in the country. He writes, "The number of students entering teacher education in 2013 was 949. Over the four years to 2017 this had dropped to 717. This is a 24.4 per cent decrease in students potentially graduating to become teachers in our schools. That means there will be 230 fewer teachers graduating every year at a time when many older teachers are retiring and others are leaving the profession because of unsustainable living conditions, particularly in Auckland."

In the Auckland region alone, the Ministry of Education estimates that by 2030 a further 31,507 students will be in schools (primary and intermediate) meaning that more than 1000 more teachers will be required for Auckland.

There is a crisis in teacher supply and retention. At a time when school populations are increasing, the numbers of people in training to become teachers are declining with the added disconcerting prospect of baby boomers retiring. It could be described as a perfect storm. There has never been a time when teacher supply has been such a problem.

I am sceptical of any promised short term solution to this crisis. However, we can turn the twin supply and retention issues around by taking some major actions.

Firstly, we need to reduce teacher workloads and increase support available to them. As our society becomes more complex, so do issues that must be dealt with in the classroom. Quite appropriately our expectations of education continue to rise, as our expectations of the performance of all other organisations increases. Teachers need to be given access to better support to help them meet these expectations.

Secondly, teachers need to be paid more – a lot more. As Minister Hipkins has said, "I think one of the things that detracts people from wanting to enter teaching is that, at the moment, teachers have been saying this isn't a particularly good career to go into."

Teaching can be a fantastic career to get into. Only the misguided would go into teaching to get rich. However, given the importance of great teaching to our country we need to attract the best, retain the best and make teaching the most desirable of vocations to pursue. At the moment the market is speaking and people are either walking away or staying away from teaching in worryingly high numbers.

This is the time to change the direction of where people who have a choice, walk to. Our children and their children deserve no less.

Oh, and one other thing, referring to the hoary chestnut of teaching being such a great job because of all the holidays and the 9am-3pm work day, if teachers actually worked these hours all sorts of things wouldn't happen. These things include report writing and interview evenings, school camps, school productions, assessment of student work, coaching of sports teams and cultural groups to name some of the activities that happen outside that six-hour time frame.

I guess if it really was a 9am-3pm work day and it was that good then we wouldn't have a teacher supply and retention crisis and I wouldn't be writing this.

John McGowan is principal of Campbell's Bay Primary School.