Early career teacher mentoring and professional learning is ‘Vital to better support teachers’
Marcus Garrett | Follow posts on LinkedIn
When the Australian Government went into caretaker mode on the 11th April this year, the Lower House’s Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training was forced to halt its ongoing Inquiry into the Status of the Teaching profession. Despite this, the Committee published a summary document outlining some of the key findings and commentary made to the now lapsed Inquiry within its 90 submissions and public hearings.
Featured prominently in the list of concerns raised by submissions were those associated with the need for improved induction, mentoring, ongoing professional development and collegial support for early career teachers.
The summary paper reports, “Proper induction and mentoring programs within schools are vital to better support teachers in their environments. Mentoring programs need to be fostered, funded and given time to happen.”
According to Queensland’s Education Minister, Analysis by the Queensland College of Teachers indicates that around 14 per cent of new teachers in that State leave the profession within four years. Studies and data across Australia on new teacher attrition vary between 5 and 50%. However, a recent paper by Shields and Kilgour refer to ABS evidence that around 53% of people holding teaching qualifications in Australia are not practising in the classroom and that in 2014, 5.7% of teachers in Australia (over 25,000 teachers) left teaching.
Shields and Kilgour’s small study of early career teachers in NSW, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland found that although 91% of early career teachers reported having a mentor, 62% of respondents reported only ad-hoc meetings with their mentors, leaving little more than a third who had regular meeting times. A concerning 20% of respondents had never been observed and given feedback, and 59% had never had their daybook (daily teaching planner diary) checked.
As the OECD notes in a recent working paper on early career teaching, over recent decades most OECD countries have argued the need to provide new teachers with professional development that recognises that the first years are a critical stage to guarantee the improvement of effectiveness of teachers, and to address high attrition rates among early career teachers (and so to guarantee the future of teacher supply).
Queensland’s submission to the Inquiry into the Status of Teaching argued that teachers’ roles have become increasingly complex. One of its key terms of reference to the submission was that teachers be appropriately resourced through appropriate support mechanisms that encompass professional collaboration and continuous learning and professional development. 
Enabling professional learning, networking and mentoring online for teachers across a diversity of contexts, including – or perhaps especially for – rural and remote teachers, is one possible way of building the supportive communities of practice so critical for new teachers as they face enormous new responsibilities in their jobs. 
The provision of quality induction and mentoring programs for early career teachers and their mentors alone will by no means solve the increasing concerns surrounding early career teacher burnout and attrition. The factors and reasons behind teacher stress and departure from the profession are complex, nuanced and vary from school to school and individual to individual.
Some of these factors can only be tackled by education ministers and senior bureaucrats, or by the soul searching of early career teachers themselves. Others can be addressed by school leaders and communities now, with the right will and the right support mechanisms in place.