Eleven teachers will not be returning to Katherine classrooms in 2019.
While government incentives for teachers to stay put are greater in the NT than anywhere else in the country there has long been an issue of retaining staff.
From higher pay, the ability to quickly climb the ladder and subsidised housing, teachers have a few reasons to stay.
However, the isolation which comes with living 300kms from an airport, challenging students and a lack of support can end in teachers throwing in the towel, far too early in their career.
According to the Department of Education the teachers are “leaving for a number of reasons, including retirement and family commitments interstate.”
Australian Education Union NT president Jarvis Ryan said in comparison to previous years, Katherine’s retention rate was improving.
“Over the last couple of years turnover has declined. Our main initiative working with the Department of Education is securing job permanency for teachers,” Mr Ryan said.
But out of all regions in the NT, Katherine still has the highest rate of contract employment, Mr Ryan said.
“Katherine is a transient region, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy that teachers are employed initially on contracts leading to a higher turnover,” he said.
The outlook is positive so long as we make sure teachers are looked after and listened to by the government.Australian Education Union NT president Jarvis Ryan
Lyndel Rawlings has spent the past two years teaching students at Clyde Fenton Primary School, but is among the group who has made the decision to move on.
The teacher of 30 years said she missed her children and grandchildren at home in Tasmania.
While she is hoping to score a short teaching stint in Alice Springs with her partner she is making her way home.
“Overall I have had a positive experience different to anything I have done before,” Ms Rawlings said.
“The kids are different and the environment is different,” she said.
“There have been challenges in learning about the culture, teaching kids with little language skills and challenging behaviour.”
Ms Rawlings said an NT Government information session on the topic of moving to the Top End was what sparked her interest.
She sees the lack of job advertising in other states as a contributing factor to the NT’s staffing issues.
“If I had known about the opportunities up here earlier I would have made the move much sooner,” Ms Rawlings said.
“The pay is considerably bigger than anywhere else, there is housing support and secure job opportunities.
“If you want to get some money behind you, it is great. But people don’t know about it,” she said.
Ms Rawlings said teachers are dropping out of what she says is an extremely rewarding career, far too early.
“You only have to look at the stats, the average age of a teacher is 40 years old, teachers are dropping out at a young age and a lot of that is because of the behavioural issues in the classroom and the lack of support.
“Teaching is a hard job, it takes dedication and there has to be support for these young teachers.
“What happens if you put a young teacher in a classroom where they can’t cope, they will drop out.
“They don’t have the breadth of experience with behavioral management or curriculum.
“I’m not going because I have had enough, but others do,” she said.
Minister for Education Selena Uibo said while “we see a small turn over rate every year”, this year’s retention rate of 92 per cent is “fantastic”.
“We have a strong focus on teacher well being and having teachers happy, healthy and safe,” Ms Uibo said.
Previously a teacher herself, Ms Uibo said there are challenges in isolation for new educators to the region.
“We are encouraging schools to have a robust orientation for new graduate teachers, which is important in remote schools where there are cultural differences.
“We have support mechanisms in place for the whole year so people feel comfortable in an environment if they haven’t had that cross cultural experience,” Ms Uibo said.
Ms Uibo said she is committed to continuing on with the work of her predecessor Eva Lawler who championed job security for teachers.
“We are seeing more teachers staying (in the NT) because there has been a rise in permanency contracts,” Ms Uibo said.
“(Previous Minister for Education) Eva Lawler worked really hard with the Department of Education to bring about more permanency contracts… we don’t want to lose teachers because they don’t have job security.
“I will continue on with that hard work,” she said.
More reading: A 38-hour week for teachers? Bring it on!
According to the Australian Education Union NT president Jarvis Ryan the NT has seen an improvement in teacher support and education over the past year.
“Since this time last year accross the NT 244 teachers have been made permanent.
“It is important teachers are provided with quality housing and there is a focus on making schools safe,” Mr Ryan said.
It is well known Katherine is a place which provides teaching opportunities to recent graduates, and a lack of support in schools is often raised with the union, Mr Ryan said.
“It it important schools have access to expertise such as phsycologist to ensure the behaviour of students is managed, and teachers are getting the right support.
“The outlook is positive so long as we make sure teachers are looked after and listened to by the government,” Mr Ryan said.
NT schools are heavily reliant on interstate recruitment and have a good range of incentives to lure teachers.
But Ms Rawlings, who completed her teaching course in Adelaide some years ago, said the NT Government needs to do more to offset the costs of a degree.
“If the government paid for part of the university degree, but stipulated working in the NT for a number of years, that would be a good incentive scheme.
“University degrees are expensive now and if someone said they would pay for half of your degree don’t you think people would say it is worth it?” she said.
The experienced educator also said a nationally recognised teacher registration would improve teacher mobility and make that decision to move to the Top End a little less drastic.
“One of the issues is that once you become aligned with teaching in a State or Territory you tend to stay there because if you move you almost have to start again on the ladder of recognition of ability.
“It would make that transition from State to State much easier, as well as cheaper,” she said.
A Department of Education spokeswoman said there is a strong focus on establishing and retaining a strong teacher workforce in the Northern Territory.
“In Katherine, a range of incentives and opportunities are offered to attract and retain staff,” she said.
“The department continues to develop new strategies to attract, recruit and retain quality teachers to our Katherine schools.”
The strategies include:
- the implementation of a teacher permanency strategy to provide job security for teachers and consistency of staffing for schools;
- a Teacher Attraction Recruitment Drive 2018-19 which includes the Teach in the Territory campaign
- key partnerships with Teach for Australia and Charles Darwin University; and
- access to a wide range of professional learning programs and mentoring resources for new teachers.
“In addition, the department initiated a Graduate Teacher Program at the beginning of this year as a means of supporting our Graduate Teachers across the Katherine Region.
“Thirteen Graduate Teachers enrolled in the Start Well, Stay Well program and are still actively teaching in the Katherine Region,” the spokeswoman said.
While you're with us, you can now receive updates straight to your inbox each Friday at 6am from the Katherine Times. To make sure you're up to date with all the news, sign up here.