November.25.2019

We need more Indigenous voices to help attract and keep Indigenous teachers

By Ren Perkins

I am a Murri man from South East Queensland. I have connections with the Quandamooka People from North Stradbroke Island and to the Aboriginal Community of Cherbourg, Queensland. I am proud of my Aboriginal heritage and would like to contribute to my people through education and research.

I have worked in Indigenous education for over twenty years. The majority of my experience has involved developing and teaching vocational programs to Aboriginal communities throughout NSW. I also have experience working at a strategic level with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education in Queensland Catholic schools. I have lectured at universities and I had a recent posting as a teaching Deputy Principal at a school in Alice Springs with a nearly 100% Aboriginal student enrolment. With this experience, I want my Aboriginal voice to contribute to the literature in Indigenous education.

The critical shortage of Indigenous people in the teacher workforce in Australia

The National Teaching Workforce Dataset, 2014, shows that there were 3100 Indigenous educators working in the profession in 2015, who made up 1% of the total teacher workforce. This was in contrast to Indigenous students, who made up 5.3% of the total Australian student population in 2015.

The recent More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative (MATSITI) of 2017 aimed to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people entering and remaining in professional teaching positions in Australian schools. Despite this initiative and further calls for urgent investment to increase the Indigenous teacher workforce, the small number of Indigenous teachers is an ongoing issue for Australian schools.

My research focus

My research is to analyse existing literature about Indigenous teachers who have remained in the profession and why they have chosen to remain, rather than focusing on the reasons for the critical shortage of Indigenous teachers and emphasising the problem. I specifically want to look at what impact Indigenous teachers have in the profession, in Australia and in an international context, particularly on outcomes for Indigenous students.

This post is a start to the literature analysis, attached to my PhD study that will privilege the voices of Indigenous teachers who have remained in the profession, despite the challenges they face in undertaking their roles in schools.

I hope by investigating the issue through a lens of exploring what has worked and kept the small number of Indigenous teachers we do have in the workforce, that I can provide a different way of understanding the issue. I want to emphasise what works in attracting and keeping Indigenous teachers teaching, over what doesn’t work. 

My findings so far

Numerous studies, including the 2018 Australian Principal and Deputy Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey, demonstrate that unacceptable stress levels are affecting teachers at all career stages. The World Health Organisation says that education and health are highly correlated. That is, more education indicates better health and vice versa.

Teacher burnout is common in Australia because of unacceptable stress levels. However, there are numerous programs that support teacher wellbeing and in turn, help promote teacher retention. However, little is known about the effectiveness of teacher support programs for Indigenous teachers, which is problematic because we know from past research that Indigenous teachers have reported experiencing high levels of racism and stress.

Director of the More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative Professor Peter Buckskin said

One of the things we need to talk about is race and racism. People need to acknowledge their own racism and how it shapes their thinking.”

He also said

Good practice when you teach for diversity is teaching for difference – and treating that difference not as a deficit, but as a strength.”

My list of some of the literature that I have found so far

Students, teachers, community members and those interested in the issue I am researching might like to check out some of these.

  • Resilience  (by Christopher Day and Quing Gu, 2010) Resilience is an important part of teaching. Teaching is a demanding job and research has demonstrated that it is one of the factors that helps keep teachers in the profession.
  • Collaboration and teams (by Christopher Day, 2019). This paper investigates the research into how relationships and collaboration are fundamental to successful teachers.
  • School conditions and culture (by Bruce Johnson, Barry Down, Rosie Le Cornu, Judy Peters, Anna Sullivan, Jane Pearce and Jane Hunter, 2014). This research also investigates how resilience is a crucial aspect for retaining teachers in the profession. It investigates how an alternative thinking might better support early career teachers in the workplace.
  • Leadership (by Matthew A. Kraft, William H. Murinell and Shen-Wei Yee, 2016). This looks at how different facets of school organisations affects the high turnover of teachers, among other things. Leadership is one of these that is investigated.
  • Work Engagement (by Cheryl L. Kirkpatrick and Susan Moore Johnson, 2014). This study looked at how positive work engagement had a positive effect on mid-career teachers who had been in the profession between 4-10 years.
  • Increased resources (OECD, Teachers Matter, 2005). The OECD looked at the global issue of recruiting teachers into the profession and retaining those teachers. Providing teachers with adequate resources was demonstrated to increase teacher effectiveness and their likelihood on remaining in the profession.
  • Reduced workloads (OECD, Teachers Matter, 2005). The same OECD report showed that teachers were under an inordinate amount of pressure and stress with demanding workloads. The study provided examples of where workloads were manageable, that teacher retention increased.

From this early investigation into the literature, I have realised that it is important that I continue to contribute to this area of research.

In terms of educational policy development, there has been an oversight on how we go about retaining Indigenous teachers in the profession. By adding their voices to the literature, I will be privileging those teachers, their students, families and communities. I am hoping this will help provide the catalyst to inspire the next generation of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to enter the teaching profession and make a positive contribution to Australian society.

The image above is Ren Perkins with some of his students from Alice Springs

Ren Perkins is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland’s School of Education. He is an experienced executive officer with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry. He is skilled in communication, public speaking, facilitation, Indigenous education, and community engagement. Ren has a strong background in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educational leadership and policy development. He has had extensive experience in working within the Higher Education sector and has seen the benefits a good education can provide for the most marginalised in our society. He is passionate about the work he does and enjoys working in collaboration with others.

Ren will be presenting on A literature analysis on the role of Indigenous teachers: Indigenous teacher’s voices on why they stay in the profession at the AARE 2019 Conference on 3rd December.

Hundreds of educational researchers are reporting on their latest educational research at the AARE 2019 Conference from 2nd to 5th December. Check out the full program here.

One thought on “We need more Indigenous voices to help attract and keep Indigenous teachers

  1. Carol Dixon says:

    Being an indigenous teacher working in a remote community was food for my soul. I enjoyed my work with the locals and students. They showed me the strong cultural connections to culture and country.

    Carol

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