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Teacher shortage is not a myth, it’s real and I am seriously concerned about it. For the past years we have been experiencing a shortage of qualified and trained teachers especially in core subjects and this is having an impact on students, teachers and the education system in general. Planning for the coming scholastic year and hoping there will be the sufficient number of teachers required has become the norm. Every scholastic year a number of teachers either retire, leave temporarily on maternity leave, move to administrative posts or actually leave the profession. This creates the need for new teachers to replace them, but the problem is that fewer young people are entering the profession. The situation is so desperate that retired teachers are begged to return to the classroom and recruiting foreign teachers is being considered.

Urgent action is needed to address this shortage because it has reached crisis point.  If we fail to do so, our future generation will pay the price. We can build new and modern schools, invest in the best technology for our classrooms and in state of the art labs for academic and vocational subjects, but if we do not have enough qualified teachers all this is futile. There are no great schools without great teachers.

Why has teaching become unappealing? What is dissuading people from entering the profession?  If we don’t ensure that teaching is truly an attractive profession, we cannot attract, train and retain the next generation of inspirational teachers. These young teachers hold the key to the future of our profession. NQTs (Newly Qualified Teachers) and student teachers should be given more support.  Why are a number of student teachers quitting halfway through their course or after just a few days of teaching practice?  Why do some student teachers fail in their final year of pedagogical training?  This is something which frustrates me and many of my colleagues. We can’t afford to lose any new or future teachers.  There should be national teacher recruitment targets and we have to ensure that these are met. We need to promote teaching and call on the younger generation to choose teaching as their career. The legacy of the teaching profession also depends on the image of teaching that our young learners build during their school years. They need to see that teaching is rewarding, a profession where you can make a difference and touch lives, a profession where you can achieve job-satisfaction.

We also have to be committed to tackling the issues that affect our present teachers.   I know brilliant teachers who feel exhausted, stressed and dissatisfied and are sometimes so desperate that they seriously consider quitting the profession. We need to listen to these teachers and look into what troubles, stresses and demotivates them. Teaching is not a cushy job as some people believe. Heavy workloads and reform fatigue are definitely two of the reasons. Teachers have been through the new college system which brought about various challenges. They adjusted to the co-ed system, are still getting used to Learning Outcomes Framework and are now preparing for the new SEC syllabi and new system of assessment. Teachers’ work doesn’t stop at school. Most corrections and lesson preparation take place after school hours and even during the weekend. For all the immeasurable work they do and the responsibility they have, teachers are still underpaid.

Teacher shortage is a vicious cycle because it has a negative impact on the effectiveness and wellbeing of our teachers. It contributes to the fact that most teachers have full loads of teaching and the number of students in classes is very often the maximum allowed.  Smaller classes would mean more effective teaching, more group work and definitely more individual attention.

Teachers want to be involved in anything which is going to affect the educational system. They are the ones who will eventually implement any new policies in our classrooms. No reform or new policy will work if they are not on board.  Teachers want to feel trusted and valued. And yes, when it comes to education, they are the experts because they are the ones who live in the classrooms, they are the ones who know what works and what doesn’t, what’s doable or what just looks good on paper. They know their students and their needs.

I have absolutely no doubt that all stakeholders want to ensure high-quality education for our children. A lot of excellent work is being done by the Education Department, but what we need to realise is that addressing teacher shortage is a priority, an issue to be treated with urgency. We should ask why this is happening. What needs to be done to turn this around? What is failing to attract new teachers and what is driving others from the profession?  It’s commendable to discuss and reflect on the future of education post covid 19, but we must keep in mind that our children’s future education will be threatened if there aren’t enough teachers. There should be a coherent plan with the measures to be taken to tackle teacher shortage especially in the core subjects. In certain subjects, teachers feel like they are actually becoming extinct. It’s a sad and worrying situation. We cannot wait any longer. Urgent action is required to attract and retain teachers. We need to ensure that great teachers not just survive but thrive and stay in teaching.

Maybe the covid 19 pandemic has made people aware of the crucial role of teachers in our children’s lives. Teachers don’t just teach their subject. They inspire young people, support their development, care about them, help them through their struggles. Sometimes they are the role models that are missing from their lives.  Teaching requires passion, dedication and a high degree of responsibility and commitment. Teachers are the lifeblood of our schools and education system. Let’s safeguard this noble profession, and give it the place of honour and esteem that it deserves in our society.

Aqsam ma' ħaddieħor

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