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Academic warns ‘expert’ teachers may divide school community

The creation of a new ‘expert teacher’ role in NSW schools could create a divide among teaching staff and exacerbate shortages, an education expert has said.  

Set to begin in 2023, the role of the ‘expert teacher’ will see educators qualified as ‘experts’ be rewarded up to $147,000 to mentor and collaborate in classrooms across the state. 

University of Southern Queensland education lecturer Dr Alison Bedford said the role has the potential to divide teachers, create a distrust in the NSW education system and increase teacher shortages.

“The role can breed resentment because it consists of standard teachers’ practices that are naturally part of good practices,” Dr Bedford told Education Review.

Expert teachers will be expected to assist and collaborate with teachers and invite younger teachers to observe their lessons and share their work collaboratively.

Dr Bedford said compensating a select group of teachers for standard practice rather than offering a pay increase across the board could lead to bitterness because "not everyone will get the job." 

Current salaries for NSW teachers range from $73,000 to $117,060 and the expert teacher role can offer a 20 to 50 per cent pay increase depending on experience. 

“When the rate of pay is one of the key issues in the teacher shortage, it's going to be very hard for people to turn down an extra $50,000 a year," she said.

Initial feedback from the government showed that three out of four teachers would be interested in an expert teacher role.

Dr Bedford said while offering more money for “real high achieving” teachers could be a good idea, the role of expert teachers devalues the rest of the profession.  

“People taking the job will be seen as teachers that choose to buy back into an education system that's fundamentally not working,” she said.

“They will no longer be part of the united teacher voice which ‘fights’ in solidarity for better pay and working conditions.”

She said the NSW government's introduction of expert teachers or behaviour specialists doesn’t consider what the teaching body wants: more time and money. 

“It shows that the government is not listening to teachers, all these new roles are telling educators ‘you can’t do your job properly and you need help.”

“Teachers perceive these roles as an external ministerial interloper who's gonna tell them how to do their jobs and that's why the trust is so broken.”

Dr Bedford said the state education department should consider reviewing its practices as it has “reached a point where the institution itself is at risk”

“We've reached a breaking point. Teachers don't trust the government, they know it won’t support them to do their jobs and they are exhausted," she said. 

In Australia, more than 90 per cent of educators said they felt disrespected by policymakers who challenged their expertise regularly.

Additionally, more than 70 per cent of educators don’t feel respected by the public. 

The lack of trust in the teaching profession has pushed educators to the edge with more than 50 per cent being dissatisfied with the profession. 

“If that trust doesn’t come back, we're going to see the teacher shortage worsen,” Dr Bedford said. 

In NSW, government figures showed almost 3,000 job vacancies by the end of October. 

According to the NSW Teacher Federation, a minimum of 11,000 additional teachers will be needed across the state by 2031.

A state parliamentary report on teacher shortages revealed that around 60 per cent of educators planned to leave the profession in the next five years.

Nearly 67 per cent of NSW public school educators said they are burning out and wanted a ‘significant’ pay increase and more ‘respect’ to stay on the job.

Dr Bedford said the shortages won’t be fixed unless teachers, governments, parents and education experts work together and find a solution that will build back teachers’ trust. 

“We need the government and the public to trust our teachers and to listen to them.

“If they're saying they need more time, give them more time, not another resource pack, let them do their jobs because they are experts in what they're doing,” she said.

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