It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Well, kind of. For some people. People with an unnatural (some might say unhealthy) predilection for sticky notes, children’s books and pastel highlighters. For teachers, the new school year awaits like a tightly wrapped Christmas gift – full of potential, full of surprises. The promise of a year of new learning, new professional growth and new opportunities for classroom door deco is the joy of a career in education.
But all the hype over the start of a new school year is passing me by. At a point in my career when I should be feeling more comfortable, and when my passion for the profession should be increasing, I feel anxious and consumed by self-doubt.
Statistics indicate that 40 to 50 per cent of Australian teachers leave the profession within the first five years of their employment. I may not be part of that cohort (yet), but I’ll admit that in my two years in the profession, I have seriously considered leaving it behind. Because while passion or an unfulfilled dream may lead individuals to the teaching profession, a fundamental and damaging cultural shift is driving us away.
The scope of Australian education is becoming increasingly narrow. Many of teachers’ professional decisions are driven by expectations about student performance in high-stakes, national tests and the need to meet school-wide and national achievement benchmarks. In the constant pursuit of academic outcomes and evidence of quantifiable student achievement, opportunities to make autonomous decisions about our teaching are rare. While seeing my students achieve and experience success is a great feeling, student growth and professional autonomy have become almost mutually exclusive.
The sharp focus on helping students achieve predetermined academic benchmarks has an impact on teachers’ wellbeing.
The sharp focus on helping students achieve predetermined academic benchmarks has an impact on teachers’ wellbeing. The expectations outlined within the national curriculum, school-wide achievement standards and standardised testing means that my hours extend far beyond the “nine to three” classroom day, and I work on the weekend. Still, I never feel I’ve done enough. So, while my penchant for pug-shaped sticky notes and purple highlighters remains, the joy and wonderment of teaching is fading just a little. Here’s hoping the coming year brings some of it back.
Erin Canavan is an early-career teacher. This article originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.