Elite educators frustrated by ‘pointless’ paperwork, low pay and limited career options, study finds.

Our best and brightest young teachers are leaving the profession because of frustrations over too much paperwork, insufficient pay and a lack of career options in front of classrooms.

A Canterbury University study found more than half of high-flying young teachers were struggling with the job after nine years and a quarter had left or wanted to leave.

"Simply retaining teachers in itself is not enough," said associate professor Susan Lovett, joint author of the study.

"We want to have the very best teachers for kids in our schools. These are the people we need to nurture and support."

Advertisement

The study, part of the Teachers of Promise project, published last year, took 57 third-year teachers recommended by training organisations and principals as being "highly promising" and followed them for six years.

Of the 40 still in touch after that time, 10 had a high satisfaction with teaching, 21 were "persevering and coping", three were detached and thinking about leaving the profession, while six had already left.

More than a third were "less happy teaching than they thought they would be" while "relatively few were in schools where they were able to make the impact predicted for them in their early years".

Those happy with their careers were in schools where they were valued as professionals and had a voice in decision-making in collaborative cultures that recognised teacher efforts.

Teachers who were "coping" or had become disengaged said their schools had too many changes, a lack of professional development or little ability to learn from colleagues.

Secondary teachers were most disaffected.

Career pathways were limited - the only way to get more money was to go into management, compromising frontline teaching time.

However, the biggest detractor from the job was the bureaucracy.

The introduction of NCEA and National Standards had seen the requirement for assessment and data collection increase dramatically, but for little purpose, reducing teachers' preparation time.

One participant said he spent a lot of time "keeping up to date with the useless paperwork that is 'vital' but never gets read or used for anything meaningful by the senior managers who demand it".

There was also a "culture of fear" in some schools which meant teachers were afraid to make mistakes. "I'm starting to get that cynical disease that teachers get," said one teacher, who was planning to leave to start a business. "I get to school around 8.15am. If I really wanted to do my job with a high level of effectiveness, I'd be there earlier. But I'd rather leave [early] and go to the gym."

The study noted the huge change in that teacher, who was initially described by a principal as "an amazing presence, with a human, wonderful teaching style" and "someone who is going to go places".

Of those who resigned, four said they did so for better opportunities and working conditions, including a less onerous workload.

Post Primary Teachers Association head Angela Roberts said it was a sad situation that initially passionate teachers were being ground down.

"When you talk to early career teachers they still have a light in their eyes - but the pressures are extreme - and they spend more time on paperwork than going to places where kids are excited with their learning.

"And secondary teachers have had four years of university. So they end up looking to their peers in other sectors who are earning more money, and saying, 'why am I not earning that'?"

NZEI past president Judith Nowotarski said teachers needed the ability to move laterally in their career - taking on more senior roles but continuing to teach.

Mt Albert Grammar School principal Dale Burden agreed the scope for career paths was limited.

"Good teachers do tend to get promoted out of the classroom, and that's a problem.

"We are trying to make those opportunities so positions like our heads of department are still about learning - kids' learning and teachers' learning."

The money was a problem, particularly in Auckland where house prices were high and a teacher's pay wouldn't go as far as in other places.

Both Mr Burden and the unions felt the Government's $360 million Investing in Educational Success programme would go some way towards creating new career pathways.

The scheme creates "communities of schools" where principals and teachers are paid extra to collaborate and share learning and provide additional teacher-learning time for the schools involved. There is also a teacher-led innovation fund, which provides funding and time for teachers to carry out research with colleagues within schools.

Primary schools are still negotiating with Education Minister Hekia Parata over how they will participate in the programme.

Calling it quits for lack of prospects

When Saunil Hagler first became a teacher in 2003, he thought he would stick with the profession for the rest of his working life.

The realities of the classroom, however, led to the Auckland teacher leaving after less than 10 years in the job.

Mr Hagler, 35, was one of almost 60 promising young teachers selected to take part in a study that tracked teachers through their first nine years.

Like a third of his peers, he said teaching did not live up to his expectations — with too much paperwork, limited career progression and not enough money to make it worthwhile.

"When I started out, I thought I would go into management at some stage," Mr Hagler says. "But I've become really cynical about management. I wanted to be in the classroom — but there was no career pathway for that."

Mr Hagler, who has now set up a business offering technology training for teachers, says at both secondary and primary schools he felt he had the skills to help other teachers with technology, but there was no set-up to allow him to do that. "The professional development was woefully inadequate. I wasn't able to either get professional development or do it for other teachers while a teacher," he said.

The former science teacher said while he believed he'd been a good teacher, he could have been better with the right environment.

"I remember my first principal said to me, pick one period for each class in the week that you do really, really well, because you won't have time or energy to do them all well," he said. "So sometimes I was effective, and other times I was just trying to survive."

Mr Hagler said he may have stayed as a teacher if there were better opportunities to do what he was good at — technology, and being in the classroom — and if he was able to afford it.

"I would be lying if I said my decision to leave wasn't financial as well. I was watching friends in the private sector moving up in life while I was finding it hard as a teacher to get enough cash to live in Auckland and support a family."

Mr Hagler was on just over $70,000 a year by the time he quit. Now he's doing what he loves, helping others to improve their teaching. A post-graduate course taught him more about effective classroom learning than "all his years as a teacher".