I had the privilege of speaking recently with a number of potential new teachers. One of these, a young mathematician, was unsure whether teaching would be right for her and how long she would stay in the profession. I suspect her concerns are not uncommon; tales from teachers she met of unending marking and preparation, difficult young people and a sense of needing to swim very hard in fast flowing water worried her. Another shared with me the concern that he may be expected to be completely brilliant from his first day in post and wondered how he would find the time to reflect and improve his approach. A third was unsure that the financial rewards would be sufficient recompense for such a deep commitment alongside a feeling that today’s society undervalues teachers.
Senior leaders and governors across the country are keenly aware of a teacher shortage. Some refer to this as a crisis. Whether or not it feels that way will depend on context, and for many the sense of crisis is far from new. That there is a serious problem is beyond dispute. ASCL’s recent survey confirms that 86 per cent of schools responding were experiencing difficulties recruiting into core subjects and 60 per cent were experiencing difficulties across other subjects.
So, what’s to be done? ASCL has published a very clear 10 point plan with six proposals for government to tackle and four others for the profession. In addition, as school leaders, we need to think very hard about how we can allay concerns like those above. We also need to tackle head on the importance of teachers being and feeling valued.
Abraham Maslow first wrote about a ‘hierarchy of needs’ in his theory of human motivation as far back as 1943. Put simply, simple things need to be in place first. These are primarily physiological and, since all other needs remain secondary until physiological needs are met, we should not be dismissive of them. We need to recognise the importance of our new teachers being mentally and physically healthy and achieving some balance right from the off. It is of course beyond our remit to govern what new teachers drink and eat and how much sleep or exercise they manage. But we can do something about building their self-confidence. Confidence has to be nurtured both from within and with the support of others. If we do this, then much of the remaining hierarchy can be readily dealt with.
Beyond the physiological, our new teachers need security. This refers to a sense of belonging, alongside the feeling that they have secure employment, and starts with a thorough induction. Our new teachers need to feel like equal partners from the outset. Perhaps we should address the possible stigma and assumptions around the acronym ‘NQT’ and stop using it? Maybe we should plan for every new teacher to be with us for at least a week at some point before the start of their contract? This is a golden opportunity for them to experience the school’s ethos and understand its priorities. Better for them to understand basic routines early in order to give space for the higher order activity of planning to teach once their timetable begins.
Maslow’s next level is referred to as ‘social’ and refers to establishing relationships. This is vital in terms of our need to be accepted. While this cannot be forced, it can be aided by an invitation to one or two social opportunities. In addition, a senior team and governors can gain much by meeting early on with all new teachers and spending a little time listening to each other’s perspectives in a genuinely supportive environment. This can offer useful revelations to longer standing members of the school community. It also builds confidence and self-esteem and a sense that “I genuinely matter here”.
If the needs outlined so far are met, the stage is set for the next two levels, which are more challenging to address. These are ‘esteem’ and ‘self-actualising’. Or put another way, a sense of personal worth and accomplishment grows and makes way for personal growth. In this growth the individual becomes less concerned with the opinions of others, and more interested in fulfilling his or her potential.
How is all this to be done? I would suggest another 10-point school-level plan to supplement ASCL’s plan for government and the profession.
Be excited about teaching and learning; communicate and live this passion.
Build an opportunity for new teachers to join the school before their job is ‘real’.
Be prepared to fund release time for new teachers to reflect on teaching and learning.
Structure this time in a way which ensures that the reflection is genuine and at a higher level than sharing routine procedures.
Ensure new teachers experience a range of the teaching of others first hand.
Build informal opportunity to meet the headteacher on several occasions in the first year.
Be genuinely open to innovative practice and new ideas which new teachers will bring.
Encourage new teachers to be involved in, or lead, in-house CPD on teaching and learning.
Towards the end of the first year ensure group reflection from new teachers informs the approach in subsequent years.
The tenth is beguilingly simple and absolutely necessary. Consistently talk up teachers and teaching with all whom you meet. Be completely convincing that teaching is more than ever a highly rewarding and worthwhile profession. Oh, and add to this that young people are almost invariably wonderful to be with and work alongside.