Teacher Recruitment: Is it time to change the image of teaching?

‘Teacher Recruitment: Is it time to change the image of teaching?’ 

With teachers often demanding better conditions, people often complain that teachers are already well-off, thinking they have long holidays. However, teaching is anything but easy and teachers deserve to be paid more. More to the point, they are often working during school holidays – quite the opposite of how they are often perceived. While tasks such as marking, research and lesson planning are often completed as much as possible while in school, many of teachers’ long hours of work are completed outside school hours from home without any additional pay to compensate them.

Harry Hudson writes in his August 2021 article for Reaction, ‘It’s time to change the image of teaching’, arguing that there is a “not-so-silent stigma’ attached to teaching as a career. He adds: “As someone who graduated only relatively recently myself, I can attest that graduates with ambition and drive are too often put off from becoming teachers by the persistent prejudice (which often comes from their parents) that it is a merely passable fallback if all else fails. ‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.’ The old canard is alive and kicking, and, as a result, potentially excellent teachers instead go into management consultancy, law or accountancy – and the whole country ends up poorer for it.”

“One of my own pupils unwittingly hit the nail on the head when commenting on another of his teachers last week. After praising my colleague’s skills as a teacher and general intelligence, the pupil spoke for Middle England when he then asked quizzically why my talented colleague hadn’t become a doctor instead.”

Not just about money

Despite the public perception, he righty argues that it’s not just about money. Yet he points out that the state sector is never going to match the starting salaries offered by some of the big graduate employers, other moderately remunerated professions such as social work – hardly known for its six-figure pay cheques – nevertheless carry higher street cred than teaching.” 

He questions why this is the case and argues that more needs to be done to attract the best talent into teaching as teacher numbers are currently insufficient. Key to his argument is that teaching needs a brand image change because there is the perception that it’s seen by many people as a career stopgap during tough economic times – despite the intense training required to gain Qualified Teacher Status by either studying for a PGCE or for vocational work-based qualifications. 

Freelance supply teacher, Patrick Magnus, says the prejudices teachers face against their profession and themselves can often depend on the subject they teach. He believes that many teachers are “deemed irrelevant to the real world since they are viewed as being too wrapped up in teaching theory rather than real-life skills.”

Not just a vocation

An early career maths teacher – teaching at comprehensive school in Kent, who wishes to remain anonymous because of the political nature of teaching, says: “I don’t think teaching is viewed as a profession by many people. The typical comments are along the lines of: ‘Teachers get so much time off,’ or ‘teachers are all lefties.’ Neither is true. Teachers work just as many hours as most other people, just that they are compressed into 40 weeks of working in a year.”

“Speaking about the impact of people’s perceptions about teaching and its impact on teacher morale, Magnus expresses that it’s important for both parents and students to show interest in the subjects being taught.”

Speaking about the impact of people’s perceptions about teaching and its impact on teacher morale, Magnus expresses that it’s important for both parents and students to show interest in the subjects being taught. Their motivation can impact on teacher morale as disinterested parents and pupils can make them feel like they are fighting a losing battle. This can also be caused by a disconnection between the perception of how a subject’s theory leads to real-life skills and the relationship between teachers, parents, and their students.

Impact on recruitment 

However, the Kent-based teacher – let’s call him for simplicity, Mr. Adams, doesn’t think the prejudices that the profession faces affect retention rates, and he doesn’t believe that morale has been severely affected by the lack of appreciation of the work teachers do. The misperceptions nevertheless have an impact on recruitment rates, and that’s why it’s vital to overcome them. 

So, what can schools and education interest groups and organisations do to ensure that teachers can overcome the prejudices to ensure that teachers – newly qualified and experienced – can have a prosperous career in the profession? This question is a difficult one to answer. However, Magnus says there is a need for more “elucidation of how taught theory leads to valuable real-world practice would be a starting point.” Teachers can also benefit from having more motivating support from headteachers, their unions, the Government, parents, and the teachers’ own students. 

Diversity is essential

In response to the question raised by Hudson about whether the profession should be recruiting solely from Middle England, or from the middle classes in other parts of the U.K, or aiming for more diversity in socio-economic backgrounds, both Adams and Magnus stress that diversity is essential, and it has to be based on a much broader spectrum than just socio-economics. 

Magnus comments: “Diversity is a must, especially to reflect the increasing diversity of the student pool. Education is for all. Since every student can learn if their mind can be opened. Exclusivity prevents the latter, and everyone has something to offer. Additionally, international perspectives are essential from all levels of society.”

“Good teachers come in all shapes and sizes. What is important is that they are bright, well qualified as well as being good communicators. Diversity comes automatically as a society becomes more multicultural.”

Adams adds: “Good teachers come in all shapes and sizes. What is important is that they are bright, well qualified as well as being good communicators. Diversity comes automatically as a society becomes more multicultural.” 

Salaries and qualifications

He believes that the teaching profession could be supported by teachers being offered higher salaries, raising the qualifications bar to require a primary degree in the subject a teacher wishes to teach. However, this doesn’t necessarily need to be achieved through the university route. Work-based vocational teaching qualifications are also an essential route to Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), which should also be promoted as a viable doorway into teaching.  

Magnus agrees that salary is pivotal: “Teaching is not well paid since it is viewed as vocational rather than mercenary. However, there are limits and these have been exceeded far too often. Early career teachers are poorly paid and should not have to rely on nominal government subsidies to remain in the profession.”

Brand overhaul

He nevertheless agrees with Hudson that a brand overhaul of teaching as a profession is required – particularly compared to how the profession operates and is perceived in continental Europe. He implies that the comparative low wages in the U.K give the impression that teachers aren’t sufficiently valued – and even despite their work during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“People join the dots look for all sorts of reasons that teachers are not valued in monetary terms and perhaps resign them to the lowly echelons of being at best mere irrelevant theorists, and at worst the incompetent or even the politically radical.”

Adams accords teachers are being sold short in the image stakes. He came into teaching from industry, and so he can demonstrably claim that he’s far from being just a theorist. He knows the ‘real-world,’ and so the impression that people have of teaching has been an eye-opener to him after seeing how hard teachers work. He therefore believes that more work needs to be done by changing the misunderstanding which suggests that teachers don’t do a full year’s work. They do, and he calls for “subtle changes to the image portrayed in the media, which can make all the difference.”

Teachers’ dedication

Magnus concludes by stressing that most teachers love their subjects. In his view they have a genuine desire to impart knowledge and skills on to receptive minds. He is therefore right to argue that this motivation and aspiration should both be valued and catalysed much more in British society by apportioning more direct value to teachers. He argues that this “means vastly increasing the remuneration of the hands-on educators in the profession.” 

This would be a good start to show more appreciation than is often demonstrated by society. However, there are other ways of showing appreciation for teachers, and this includes making sure their careers are rewarding to increase teacher recruitment and retention rates. 

At the end of the day, teaching can be a distinguished career and so the Government, teaching unions, teacher-training organisations, schools, colleges, and universities should be promoting the value that teachers bring to society. They should also do more to increase teaching’s brand value by promoting it as an invaluable profession. This in turn will attract more people from diverse backgrounds to teaching – people who could despite the challenges have a long and rewarding career in the profession. However, it is time to change the image of teaching based on the value it offers society.