One of the first concepts taught in economics is that “scarcity breeds value”. Its application is omnipresent: dating, concert tickets and recruitment.
For example, esteemed advertising firm Saatchi and Saatchi has a formidable graduate recruitment scheme, which involves hundreds of budding creatives navigating a series of hurdles towards the coveted five spots. Saatchi and Saatchi isn’t desperate for folks to apply: eager graduates are queuing round the corner.
Teaching truly is a remarkable profession. The stakes are high. The pressure is, often, bewildering. And the emotional reward is immeasurable. The problem is, that’s not being marketed. At least not successfully. What’s emanating from schools is: low pay, unbearable workload, funding cuts and begging for applicants. That’s not going to cut it. The teacher shortage isn’t going to be remedied with that narrative.
Rethink the model to attract teachers
The model needs a rethink. It needs to be lucrative to attract more of the best. In order for that to happen, a few things need to change. One, teachers need to be paid more. I’m not talking McKinsey or JP Morgan salaries, but an increase that means graduates and career professionals won’t be worrying about making ends meet (especially in London) while being stressed out of their nuts. If we look comparatively at other countries within the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, such as Germany, Finland, Spain and Denmark, British teachers aren’t paid as highly (especially for one of the most advanced Western economies) and are charged with guiding young people into an incredibly competitive and ever-changing economy. Pay them more.
Two, teaching needs to appear to be a profession that deserves and therefore commands large salaries. Advertising £20,000 salaries on the tube is pathetic. I know I’m biased, but I was attracted to Teach First because it felt elite. The scarcity, the difficulty in getting a place in 2012 was high. Ambitious kids like a challenge. And they like feeling part of a movement. That’s why I also support the new Chartered College of Teaching, which I hope will raise the profile, professionalism and prestige of teaching.
I found myself at a teaching awards ceremony last year that was amazing. Teachers getting trophies for being inspiring, creative and forward-thinking really made those in the room feel proud to be educators.
Three, invest in people. One thing I’ve learned very quickly since leaving teaching is how much better private sector companies treat their employees (well, mine does). Free (healthy and varied) lunches, gym memberships, season ticket loans, CPD stipends, and frequent celebrations of team achievement. That makes people happy. Happy people work harder and do better work. Pretty simple, right?
Most noble job on the planet
So when we see the government cutting school budgets across the board, one wonders about its thought process on how this might affect morale and the ability for schools to invest more in their staff. Angry teachers don’t recommend teaching to their friends. They leave, in spades.
The time now is to be candid. Teaching is great. But it doesn’t look it, and perception is everything. Teachers need more money (not just to live better, but because they deserve it), schools need theirs back and the teaching profession needs to seem as if it is a challenge to enter.
It’s not too late for a rebrand of the most noble job on the planet.