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The view from here: why higher pay won't help teacher retention in Australia

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The teacher population in Victoria, Australia, is ageing. Research shows that more than 37 per cent of teachers are over 50 and the proportion of teachers below 30 is steadily decreasing. These figures come at a time when current growth trends indicate that 448 new primary classes will have to be created in the state to meet the needs of 100,000 new primary students entering the system annually. With every round of retirement, and every new cohort entering school, the struggle to find a teacher for every classroom gets more pronounced. 

The slogan on Victoria's vehicle licence plates was recently changed to "Victoria: The Education State", and this rebranding has been accompanied by a lengthy list of political discussion papers and reviews aimed at identifying how reality can live up to the slogan.

The premier has made a commitment to improve teacher retention rates, but there has been little in the way of details. Most of the talk revolves around negotiating fair teacher salaries. I question whether teacher salaries really are the key driver of teacher attrition.

At the age of 7 I told my mum I wanted to be a teacher, so you could truly say it was a calling. Happily, I have no regrets about my decision. Teaching has enriched my life: it has allowed me to travel, meet a huge variety of people, and, of course, hopefully leave some mark in the lives of young people I have taught. I really can't imagine doing anything else, and I believe that the vast majority of pre-service and newly qualified teachers enter the field for the right reasons. Financial motivation is certainly not their primary reason for choosing teaching as a career.

So something is happening early on that clearly disillusions them and stops them from persevering with their craft. Shockingly, the rate of loss is 40-50% within the first five years teaching. How can nearly half of newly qualified teachers decide it isn't for them in their first few years? On the surface it appears that young teachers are often faced with a sink or swim introduction to their career. 

Research identifies poor teacher training, burnout, lack of support, discipline issues and negative school cultures as key factors in early career exits. 

To truly make Victoria the "Education State" the government needs to listen to those early career teachers struggling to manage a complex profession when faced with tremendous pressures. That is the only way to ensure that the supply of teachers will meet the demand, while also providing the supportive work environment that allows them to grow into the outstanding teachers they always dreamed they would become.

Kai Pukarinen is an assistant principal in a special school in Victoria, Australia

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