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A Modest Proposal to Solve the Teacher Shortage

Stuart Middleton


1 November 2018

There is a shortage of teachers in New Zealand – no argument with its existence, some disagreement with its scale.

I propose that we tackle the teacher shortage not by solely relying on producing more teachers either by migration or increasing the capacity of programmes that train teachers but by clearing the decks of all the stuff that teachers do which require various degrees of skill but not the skills of a teacher. I used to think it was a shame that the best teachers could get up the ladder mostly by increasingly leaving the activities requiring the skills of a great teacher and picking up on the skills of the manager / administrator. But I now believe that there is much that can be done in a school by people other than a skilled and excellent teacher.

Here is a list of just such activities (in no order of importance):

  • Checking attendance;
  • Supervision of children in the playground during breaks;
  • Organisation and coaching of sports activities;
  • Helping students to develop their music skills;
  • General administrative activity;
  • Managing the availability of teaching equipment (i.e. see that they were available when teachers requied them.);
  • Acting as teacher aides in schools;
  • Working in the school gardens with teams of students;
  • Supervising and genberally helping with supplementary instruction;
  • Looking after the predestrian crossing in the morning and afternoon (a) la Aussie);
  • Preparing and supervising school meals (see last post);
  • Helping with communications to parents and caregivers;
  • Helping planning of school trips

There is a host of tasks that allied staff thus employed (perhaps on a casual / part-time basis) would be able to do if only there was funding. There would need to be some training available and those checks that that are made on people working with young children. Most of the list above is made up of a mix of the large and time-consuming and the small but very important.

I am not suggesting that teachers be replaced by such community help. I am suggesting that the school would  benefit from the infusion of community people who would be grateful for the work and the remuneration that went with it. Schools would need additional different management capacity and capability to have such a programme.

Teachers would be more able then to focus on their “real job” which is to lead learning in their classrooms, to add value to the lives of young people, keep them on track, and along the way develop the requisite sets of literacy, numeracy, digital and social skills. I hear teachers complain frequently that it is the duties such as those above that tear them away from teaching.

A couple of other points. As the community ages there is developing a group of older people who are fit, of sound mind, and have abilities and skills which are much more use to school students than simply being the grandparents that pick the children up. New Zealand might be first to develop the set of educational, second “micro-careers” that could underpin these suggestions.

There is so much more we could be doing other than complaining about the non-teaching demands placed on teachers, an issue which cannot be solved simply by providing more teachers. Innovative ideas that tackle the kernel of the complaints that teachers have must be allowed to surface in the discussion.

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    All good ideas. Plus … anything that reduces paperwork.

  2. Ludene Ludene

    I agree, and feel this would be greatly beneficial. Im a primary teacher, teaching for almost 10 years now and if it wasn’t for my love of children I would have thrown the towel in. My children attend learning centres and the staff at their centres are Primary Qualified Teacher with registration who refuse to go back due to work load. These teachers have taken a decrease in pay to enjoy working with children without the extreme stress levels.

    • Stuart Middleton Stuart Middleton

      Thanks for your response. there has to be a better way of addressing this. Best wishes.


  3. Nicola Nicola

    What a great opportunity for a mum like me to work. Im not a married to one, but I can organise an EOTC for sports, or an activity, I can do play lunch duty, I can man a crossing!!

    • Stuart Middleton Stuart Middleton

      I couldn’t agree more – there would be a lot you could do for the school.


      • Nicola Nicola

        and no school holiday work!! Perfect for mums with teenagers who, if sick, can still look after themselves and the ladies can still work. Its sooooo hard to find work around a family with nearly grown children cos ” you are old and not 30″ but also not lumbered with toddlers who need caring for ALL THE TIME. Also at 30 you dont have the skills to organise and fore see things that may not a sports trip with your first 15 ..and a geology trip that half the first 15 need to go on… on the same day. NUTS! At 30 I wouldnt realise, at 50 I am on to it!
        Someone needs to make this happen. Think of the part time employment opportunities esp for women, that this could create. We all want a bit of running money if we aint career women and what a great way to get that.

        will step off soap box…..

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