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'I just want to keep doing my job' – Barriers facing science teachers in Australia

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Australia’s current teacher shortage has been acute for many years.

The pipeline of new teachers entering this profession is inadequate, with high turnover, especially in science and mathematics.

Due to shortages, more and more teachers are teaching subjects “outside the field.” According to recent estimates, 29% of her science classes are taught by people who are not trained as science teachers.

The shortage of teachers with proper scientific qualifications is a big problem. Not only is science a big part of the education system, but scientific skills are at the heart of the most in-demand jobs, from engineering to agriculture to information technology.

It is also necessary to understand and find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems, such as climate change.

our research

In June and July 2022, we surveyed over 300 elementary and high school science teachers about their jobs and workloads.

The survey was conducted in collaboration with NSW’s Science Teachers Association and included a mix of public, private and Catholic schools. I found the following:

  • 48% of respondents said their school has at least one full-time science teacher vacancy.

  • 84% said a non-science teacher had taught a science class in the previous week

  • 57% say their school has at least one science teacher with less than a year of teaching experience.

Read more: Considering Choosing a Science Subject in Grades 11 and 12? Here’s What You Need to Know

“I need more time”

The teachers also reported being burned out, saying they were “exhausted” by all the administrative bodies involved in their work. As one teacher said:

Our roles are added regularly and nothing is removed to make up for extra requirements.

They reported working overtime at home in the evenings with no time for breaks or lunch breaks.

We need more time to plan, review and improve effective and engaging lessons, not administrative work.

Research has already shown that teachers are working longer hours due to the increasing administrative burden. To meet regulatory requirements, teachers must document detailed professional development, certification maintenance, student records, and more. Some of this is required, but the volume is getting unmanageable.

In addition to this general administrative burden, science teachers must also manage science supplies, test labs, and submit risk assessments.

READ MORE: Education ministers agree teacher shortage is a problem, but their new plan ignores root causes

“A gap is created”

A science teacher lamented the lack of backup for her expertise skills in school.

Over 80% of those surveyed said they had trouble finding science teachers and covering classes when they were sick, on vacation, or needed to participate in compulsory professional development .

Non-science faculty members must not only cover classes, but also classes in other faculties. […].

Respondents reported concerns for students because some classes were not taught by qualified science teachers and schools were consolidating classes to cope with staff absences. warned:

The disruption of teacher shortages will create a noticeable gap in the level of skills and critical thinking required of advanced science students.

What sustains science teacher teaching?

If we want to attract and retain talented science teachers, we need to reduce their administrative workload so they can spend more time planning and teaching.

Practical actions to support science teachers include funding laboratory technicians and administrative staff to support non-teaching duties.

We also need to give science teachers access to compliance and risk assessment technology. This makes it easier for science teachers to comply with health and safety regulations.

Science teachers need extra support to get the job done because delivering real-world science experiences that foster deep learning requires complex planning to ensure student safety.

Our science teachers are passionate, enthusiastic professionals who love what they do. As one teacher said:

i love my job i love my kids [but] We are so busy with paperwork and bloody reports right now that our passion and enthusiasm for our work burns out faster than a candle in a wind tunnel.