Tomorrow’s teachers | recruit, (re)train, and retain
Our education system is facing severe challenges, and our school-aged students are struggling. The reasons are many, but there is one factor that dwarves the rest—the greatest asset in any classroom: teachers. This paper argues that we need to ensure that we have a sufficient flow of teachers coming into New Zealand’s classrooms, that they want to stay in the profession, and that they are adequately trained and supported.
We have record low numbers of teachers available to fill vacancies in New Zealand’s schools, and nearly half of our secondary schools are employing untrained or unqualified teachers. The future doesn’t look any sunnier; the turnover of secondary teachers was 19% over 2021-2022, and exit surveys cite “improved career opportunities” and “better remuneration” for many of those departures. But we are not replacing these losses: enrolment in Initial Teacher Education has been dropping for years, and schools are depending on an unreliable supply of international teachers to fill the gaps.
There are reasons to hope that teacher recruitment may improve. Recent pay agreements could make the teaching profession financially more attractive. COVID-19 disruptions have become a thing of the past and truancy rates have turned a corner.
However, this education landscape has been decades in the making, and its characteristics are not unique to New Zealand. Since the 1990s, significant changes in the profession have changed both the “how” and the “what” of teaching. These have had an impact on how teachers themselves are taught, and how they are supported in their professional development. There is evidence—both from Aotearoa New Zealand and from overseas—that teachers are not being sufficiently well equipped to teach effectively or to manage classrooms.
Some countries, like the United Kingdom, have already identified and addressed some of these deficits. It changed its curriculum nearly 10 years ago, and its educational outcomes began to improve. This year, Australia mandated evidence-based content based on the science of learning be part of all Initial Teacher Education.
There are pockets of effective teacher training in New Zealand, however the majority of new teachers are still being sent into schools without being equipped—for instance—to apply relevant cognitive psychology to their teaching practices. In addition, the national curriculum in use since 2007 is, by design, not highly prescriptive. This adds to teachers’ workloads as they must create localised content, and the quality of teaching varies widely based on each teacher’s ability to do that.
In the lead-up to the election, most political parties are proposing changes to our education system. However, they aren’t addressing how teachers themselves are prepared to enter a crucial and challenging profession. Both the Ministry of Education and the Teaching Council bear responsibility for ensuring the best evidence is applied to teacher education. This is what they must do to support our teachers and, by extension, our students.
Tomorrow’s Teachers | Maxim Institute Podcast
Maxim Institute’s latest discussion paper, “Tomorrow’s teachers: recruit, (re)train, and retain,” addresses the heart of our schooling crisis: teacher training. On the podcast, we talk to the paper’s author, Maryanne Spurdle, about why she has chosen to dig into this issue, what she discovered, and how we can help recruit, train, and retain our teachers for the betterment of our children and our nation.