As ministers call for more people to become teachers, some are still struggling to find a permanent job

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It was a burning desire to give back that carried Kate* through a career change and a four-year teaching degree as a mature-age student.

In other words, she seems to be exactly the type of person education ministers are desperately calling on to join the profession as they attempt to stem the chronic teacher shortages plaguing schools.

But after only a handful of years in the classroom, Kate’s already worn out and considering giving up on full-time primary school teaching — and the reason isn’t workload pressures or burnout from the job, though she’s experienced that too.

“I’ve worked for seven years and I’ve not been able to get an ongoing contract,” she says. “I have run out of energy to get on the interview bandwagon again.”

Earlier this month federal Education Minister Jason Clare held a crisis meeting with his state and territory counterparts after government modelling revealed that demand for secondary teachers was set to outstrip graduates by about 4,100 over the next three years.

A group of men and women walk down a corridor.
Education Minister Jason Clare together with his state and territory counterparts after the meeting on Friday.(AAP: Lukas Coch)

The result was a commitment to sign off on a national action plan focused on getting more people to sign up for the profession, preparing teachers for the workforce, and retaining current teachers, before the end of the year.  

“We don’t have enough teachers at the moment and part of the reason for that is burnout — people that are worn down by the job,” Clare told the ABC on Wednesday. “Last week was about listening to teachers and getting their advice about the things that we can do as a government … to encourage more people to want to be teachers.”

But as ministers call for more people to sign up as teachers, Kate’s story represents the paradox at the heart of the debate: that even in a national shortage, some teachers are still grappling with ongoing job insecurity that threatens to push them out of the profession.

While there is limited national data on the rates of temporary and casual contracts within the education system, a report published last year by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) says there’s anecdotal evidence to suggest these employment categories are becoming increasingly common, with one-third of teachers in New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory reporting that they were not permanently employed as of 2018. 

One in four teachers said they were on temporary contracts specifically, 83 per cent of which had a duration of one year or less.

Job insecurity was most common among teachers under 30, with more than 60 per cent not on permanent contracts, according to the report. 

“At uni, they didn’t really make it clear to us how hard it would be to find a job. We thought we were professionals, we’d done four years of uni and we thought we would find work,” Kate says.

“And just going from contract to contract is a nightmare.”

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Education Minister gets emotional while addressing teacher shortage

A juggle behind the scenes

David Adamson has been the principal of Essendon Keilor College, a public high school in Melbourne, for 16 years. He says that this “contract issue” isn’t helping attract new people to the profession — but, as he explains, it’s also not a straightforward problem.

As the person responsible for hiring staff, he’s privy to a range of legitimate reasons why temporary contracts are necessary. Often it’s to backfill a permanent teacher while they are on long service, illness or parental leave, or to buffer against uncertain funding.

“We try to put as many people as we possibly can into ongoing positions, but we’ve always got to balance that against people who we know are on leave that might be returning,” he says. 

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