The ongoing teacher recruitment crisis took a new turn earlier this week with the government launching an ad campaign to draw more people into the profession.
This was widely criticised by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) who suggest the advert not only creates false expectations of teachers’ salaries but will do little to reduce the millions spent on supply agencies by schools.
Despite what both the Department for Education (DfE) and NUT are insisting, the recruitment crisis has less to do with labour economics and logistics and more to do with the problematic direction the profession has been knocked into.
That schools are spending millions on supply agencies that could instead be used to improve our childrens’ education is a worrying trend. In the absence of permanent staff, schools are turning to provisional contracts and cash incentives to fill the gap. But relying on external supply agencies is a temporary solution at best. Worse, it could spur a race-to-the-bottom where more non-qualified staff are taken on as class sizes rise and curricula tighten up.
Although the NUT paints a bleak picture, however, it misses where the problem really lies.
The debate is merely scratching the surface of a much wider issue. We should instead be asking ourselves what it is that really puts people off from considering teaching as a viable and rewarding career.
What actually motivates people to take up teaching is a desire to become invested in the growth of pupils, understand them and help them reach their potential. The teacher-pupil relationship is therefore immensely important in keeping teachers fulfilled and driven. However, teachers are increasingly losing ownership over this relationship and finding it difficult to serve as mentors and role-models.
An impersonal relationship is to a teacher what unpublished or suppressed work is to a writer
As classes swell in size, teachers can devote less and less time to each individual pupil. They do not get to know and inspire them and form superficial and ephemeral relationships instead. An impersonal relationship, though, is to a teacher what unpublished or suppressed work is to a writer – both are prevented from realising their main aspirations, i.e. watching pupils flourish and telling a story to as many people as possible.
Teachers are also constantly monitored by external parties which often determine both material and delivery. It is also unhelpful that teachers’ standing is measured by the results their pupils get, which although important, should not be an end on its own. This is both condescending and demotivating.
We must improve pupils’ enjoyment of schooling and therefore their behaviour, through a more diverse range of activities inside and out of the classroom, leaving them less likely to disrupt and reducing strain on overstretched and over analysed teachers.
Unless the DfE and NUT better understand the importance of the teacher-pupil relationship, they will go on bickering to no avail regardless of what campaigns they use to tempt new teachers.