A boy faces a teacher who is standing in front of a blackboard.

Second jobs, burnout and too much work: Teachers demoralized as education ministers meet for crisis talks on staff shortages

Five days a week, Karl* goes to work as a high school teacher, planning lessons, marking tests, and dealing with admin. Then, on Sundays, he puts on his uniform and works a sixth day at a local shop.

It’s a long week even though, technically, he’s a part-time teacher.

Despite only being contracted to work two full days at the school — and three half-days — the amount of unpaid overtime needed to prepare for the next day’s classes quickly fills the spare time.

Which is exactly why Karl chose not to take on full-time teaching when he recently graduated, despite a widespread shortage of Australian teachers.

“I kept hearing horror stories of the first-year — early teachers they burn out, they struggle, and I was concerned about it,” he says. “I haven’t sat through a degree so I can do a job for a couple of years and then burnout. I want to do this for a long time, so I need to pace myself.”

Horror stories, like those that led Karl to choose his phased entry into the profession, have become all too common in the teaching industry.

Correna Haythorpe, the national president of the Australian Education Union (AEU) which represents public school teachers across the country, believes the attrition rate for teachers could be as high as 30 per cent within the first five years in some parts of the country.

The cause is often chalked up to “burnout”, a far-reaching condition that can be driven by ballooning workloads, the expansion of responsibility and periods of high stress, like the COVID pandemic.

“The big word that I would use to describe what’s happening to teachers is demoralisation,” says Gabbie Stroud, a former teacher (or “recovering teacher”, as she describes it) and author of a book about her own burnout.

Former teacher Gabbie Stroud recently answered the call to return to casual teaching due to staff shortages. (Supplied: Gabbie Stroud)

“But how that’s happening is broad and varied: it’s increasing workload, it’s data collection, administration and standardization, and all of those activities that take teachers away from the core business of teaching.”

These issues and more will form part of a roundtable discussion between national, state and territory education ministers on Friday, as they look for ways to attract new teachers to the profession, retain existing staff and stem the chronic shortages plaguing schools.

It comes as Department of Education modeling revealed demand for high school teachers was set to outstrip graduates by more than 4,000 over the next three years.