The Teacher Brain Drain

December 2012

 

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Current oversupply of teachers is forcing new teacher graduates to consider looking for jobs overseas, but is teaching abroad all it’s cracked up to be?

When Victoria University teaching diploma students attended a Ministry of Education-run seminar on the job prospects for new teachers in early October, they were probably not expecting to be told to pack their bags and head overseas. Students were reportedly told by the Ministry representative that only 40 per cent of new teachers would get full-time permanent roles within three years of graduating. They were advised to seek jobs overseas rather than give up looking altogether.

It is not the seminar that we should dwell on, but rather, the implications for teacher job prospects and whether heading overseas is the answer. According to Stuff, Ministry workforce group manager Rebecca Elvy said the Ministry had made it clear to the teaching profession and training organisations that vacancies for full-time permanent teachers would remain low for the next few years.

The apparent oversupply of teachers has been well documented this year. In April – uncoincidentally, at Budget time – NZEI Te Riu Roa declared that smaller class sizes could provide a solution to the teacher oversupply situation. The union suggested the oversupply could be turned into an opportunity to invest more in teaching and learning and give extra assistance to vulnerable and underachieving students.

Although the Ministry’s plans for increasing class sizes did not eventuate, the NZEI’s optimism falls short of the reality of the situation.

Given that teaching overseas can count towards full registration in New Zealand, it is understandable why looking for jobs abroad might be an attractive prospect for a provisionally registered teacher struggling to find work in New Zealand.

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Kiwi teachers in demand^^^

Although New Zealand currently has an oversupply of teachers, other countries are facing teacher shortages, and Kiwi teachers are generally welcomed with open arms. Those who have taught abroad have seen firsthand how highly regarded New Zealand teachers are.

Kiwi teacher Sharona Jayavant, currently teaching in Dubai, believes New Zealand teachers have a very reputable name around the world.

“We are recognised for our numeracy and literacy programmes. We are hardworking and amicable,” she says.

“Parents love them because they can individualise the learning for their children. They also bring a different perspective to teaching and learning. New Zealand teachers are generally much more adaptable,” adds Peter Cowie, who is teaching in Qatar.

However, Lauranne Croot , recruitment agent for Teachanywhere, says that the Kiwi accent is not always preferred in British and American curriculum schools where fee-paying parents can dictate who will teach their children.

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The going rate^^^

Teacher salaries vary depending on the country, the school, and the level. New Zealand primary teachers typically earn between $45,568 and $70,877 after seven years’ service, in Hong Kong they earn between $42,260 and $85,832, in Australia between $42,000 and $57,000, and in Britain, between $53,800 and $78,200. Secondary teachers in New Zealand with a Level 7 subject or specialist qualification in addition to a teaching qualification typically start on $47,023, rising to $71,000 after seven years, whereas in Hong Kong, secondary teachers earn between $44,381 and $103,109.

Of course, when it comes to teaching abroad, salaries shouldn’t be considered in isolation. There are tax issues to consider. In Hong Kong, other than a 15 per cent salary tax, there is no GST or sales tax. Similarly in the UK, teachers from abroad can claim tax back on accommodation, travel, and food with umbrella tax companies. Jayavant says that although she expected to earn more as Dubai is tax-free, she has been able to save and travel more. It is a similar picture for those teaching in other parts of the Middle East and Indonesia, which are also tax-free.

The cost of living is also a factor. Lauranne Croot says salaries are relevant to the cost of living for each country.

“Many New Zealand teachers have unrealistic salary expectations. They haven’t taken into account the cost of living. For example, the cost of living in China is a lot lower, so the salaries are reflective on this. The salaries offered in China might be lower when put into New Zealand dollars, but the outgoings are far less in China, and therefore, teachers can save a lot more.

Karl Signal says the same is true of Malaysia. “The added bonus is that the cost of living is low compared to New Zealand – one must always factor that in – as savings are higher when you have fewer expenses.”

The exchange rate can make a difference, too. A Kiwi teacher in the United Arab Emirates, who wished to remain anonymous, says although teachers are generally paid better salaries than in New Zealand, the exchange rate in recent years has meant that earnings are on a par with New Zealand.

Then there are the perks, which can often make up for disappointment in salary. Justine Wedge, teaching in Malaysia says, “The basic salary might not always be up to par. However, you’re gaining a different experience and opportunity to travel – so you have to weigh your options.”

International schools generally offer the complete package: competitive salaries, return flights and flights to visit home at regular intervals, accommodation, and general medical coverage.

In Hong Kong, teachers from abroad are typically given a relocation allowance, a monthly housing cash allowance, a stipend to buy medical insurance, and a round-trip airfare to visit family back home every two years.

Siosaia Pomana, teaching in the UAE, says his accommodation (for him, his wife, and two children) is a “top class” brand new spacious three bedroom, four bathroom apartment, which includes a maid’s room. “Flights were paid for all members of my family and they give you cash annually to fly home, but that’s up to you if you want to go home or somewhere else.”

A lot depends on the contract and the recruitment agency. Peter Cowie, teaching in Qatar, says he is pleased is on a good contract. “I know of other teachers on three quarters what I am getting. Do your homework and go through a reputable agency.”

Culture shock

There are the realities of adjusting to a different culture and school system. Many find it difficult to adjust to teaching in a different school year.

“It takes a while to adjust to the rhythms of school life in the northern hemisphere school year,” says Cowie. “Your first Christmas is the hardest. When all your teacher friends in New Zealand are looking forward to a long summer break, you are just finishing term one. After the first year, you get used to things.”

Cowie says it impacts on your job-flow as well, as returning to New Zealand after finishing a contract in June can be difficult.

Lauranne Croot says for established teachers it means leaving your New Zealand class part-way, which can be difficult.

“Secondary teachers find this especially difficult. August/September is when the majority of international teaching contracts are available, so New Zealand teachers do need to consider making themselves available part-way through our year to secure the better contracts.”

Often more challenging is coming to grips with culture shock. One Kiwi teaching in China says they will never grasp all the nuances of Chinese culture. “I feel frustrated for them as they still have not got out of the rigidity of their education system. There a still primary classes of 50 children in one classroom with one teacher.”

Susan McKenna says the government girls’ high school she is teaching at in Abu Dhabi went through a new school reform, which while embraced by many of the teachers, was rejected by many of the Arabic teachers who were not receptive to change.

Another teacher from Abu Dhabi has struggled to come to terms with the class system with the Emirati at the top, followed by “white faces” and people from other Middle Eastern countries, with “workers” typically from South East Asia, Pakistan, or India at the bottom.

While perhaps less of a concern for new teachers who may not have families to think of, generally, teachers report their families have found their overseas experience enjoyable. However, Cowie urges those with children to read the education allowance section of your contract closely. “Education costs big time internationally and not all schools offer an education allowance. This is very important if you have teenage children, as the availability of good quality high schools that you can afford can be a bit hit and miss.”

Clarity the key

Oversupply issues aside, the opportunity to teach overseas can be one of the attractions for people considering teaching as a profession. The chance to travel, experience a different culture and education system, and earn comparable or better money is something many look forward to, regardless of the availability of jobs.

Of course, new teachers want the chance to teach abroad to remain an opportunity and not the only option available to them upon completion of their qualifications. Although the message to the Victoria teacher graduate students could have been couched in better terms, it seems there is a need for more and better communication with prospective teachers regarding the employment situation in New Zealand schools. The Ministry-run seminars are a good step in the right direction. People need to enter their teacher education alert to the realities of current job market trends.

At the Teacher Educators Forum of Aotearoa New Zealand (TEFANZ), attendees discussed whether prospective teachers should be informed of the likelihood of getting a job at the time of recruitment into teacher education programmes. Many felt the difficulty with this was that over the course of a teacher education programme, the market can change. It would not be good to deter people from becoming teachers for a problem that may not exist.

Victoria University Education Pro Vice-Chancellor Dugald Scott says that while Victoria does consider how many teachers are needed, it is impossible to be precise. Government equivalent full time student (EFTS) caps also play a part in controlling student numbers in various disciplines.

However, some TEFANZ attendees felt individuals should be alerted to specific subject trends, like, for example, the fact that there are presently an oversupply of physical education teachers and an under supply of Māori language teachers. Others felt prospective teachers should be informed from the outset that they may need to be prepared to work in a more rural or remote area to improve their job prospects.

It seems more transparency is needed all round – about the ongoing job market trends for New Zealand teachers at the time of recruitment into teacher education programmes and upon graduation, as well as information about the supply and demand in various regions and subject areas. Teachers who see teaching overseas as the answer also need to have clearer expectations of what is involved in order to make informed decisions about their career path.