Impact of technology on teacher recruitment and retention

There is a growing trend in the number of school teachers applying to teach at online schools following the period of remote learning, writes Lawrence Tubb, headmaster at Minerva’s Virtual Academy

The ongoing impact of Covid-19 has led most of us, regardless of profession, to re-evaluate certain aspects of our lives that we had previously taken for granted: how we balance our work and home lives, or indeed the overall direction we want our career path to take.

For many, appreciating the potential of technology to bring about positive change in both of these areas was a revelation, and this is an awareness that has been felt right across society.

Independent school teachers are not exempt from this, and as we all reflect on the post-Covid landscape, some of the benefits that enticed teachers to private schools – more generous school holidays, good rates of pay and modest class sizes – are, to a certain extent, eclipsed by the less attractive aspects of the job such as long working hours and inflexibility during term. 

For some, change will be needed – all school teachers will still have very fresh memories of extreme pressures, disruption and ever-growing demands over the past 18 months. However, like many others, teachers have had to adapt their way of working to respond to the pandemic restrictions and, while this has been a significant challenge, it has also helped us all to acquire new skills, while opening our eyes to new possibilities around technology.

The teaching profession is full of passionate and ambitious individuals, and it seems likely that the majority will choose to remain in the profession – at best, using what they have learned during these unprecedented times to bring about positive and exciting change for pupils. 

Teaching virtually 

The impact of Covid on teachers and their career decisions is of course varied – some who might have been considering leaving the profession entirely are rather exploring new paths and finding their passion re-ignited. There is a notable trend in the number of experienced school teachers applying to teach at online independent schools following the period of remote learning, where many adapted to teaching virtually.

I frequently interview teachers with 10+ years of experience as subject teachers, heads of department, in supporting pupils with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND), and those who have been academic and pastoral senior leaders. These teachers are experienced and committed independent education professionals, who remain driven to support young people in their learning and who see the potential of new approaches to education. 

Many teachers also see value in making use of existing and new technologies – judiciously chosen – to create an approach that encourages and enables pupils to learn flexibly and take increasing responsibility for managing their time. If used in the right way, this allows teachers to deliver more laser-focused lessons with smaller groups of pupils, and to provide regular one-to-one mentor support to both identify/address weaknesses and pursue personal interest projects.

That is the beauty of independent education – finding a bespoke approach that works for each individual child. An approach that enables pupils to complete work both on the computer and by hand, provides time for them to come together in study groups, and work collaboratively on co-curricular projects, teaching problem-solving and creative thinking skills. 

Teaching attracts many people who are insightful, inspiring communicators who are passionate about their subject and deeply committed to helping young people to develop the skills and confidence to pursue fulfilling, productive futures. This is inherently rewarding and the driving force behind many teachers choosing to remain in the profession, even in the face of many growing pressures. 

Sustainable career choices for teachers 

It is often the case that excellent teachers who have either left the mainstream/independent school environment – or are on the cusp of doing so – are time and again driven to this decision because of the significant burden of the non-core demands of the traditional school teacher role.

The job is extremely rewarding and a sustainable career choice long-term, but the extent to which the traditional teaching environment will continue to be viewed as attractive post-Covid is something that is up for debate, and this will resonate with many NQTs (newly qualified teachers) coming into the profession. 

So how can independent schools attract people into the profession, and support staff to ensure they want to stay?

Independent schools have always been good at attracting candidates into the teaching profession, with the appealing benefits mentioned previously. The majority now offer routes to PGCE qualifications with well-established support systems and mentorship from experienced teachers, and will support new teachers in a whole host of continuing professional development opportunities, from single day training to full Masters courses.

This combination is appealing to teachers both at the very start of their career, and for those who move into the independent sector having gained their qualification and experience at maintained schools.

Channelling energies 

The rise of teachers considering online teaching provides another avenue for experienced teachers to have a positive impact on young people, channelling their energies into the ‘meat and bones’ of teaching rather than the bricks and mortar of where they teach.

Regardless of whether this wind of change has been as a result of Covid or the growing use of technology in education, there is a positive side to all of this. Teaching is really all about curating and creating engaging resources and experiences that aid, boost and consolidate learning – and that should be celebrated. As educators, we are all focused on what is best for our pupils and as we know in this world, learning is never about a one size fits all approach. Just as in the teaching profession, we are all unique, and perhaps the paths we take are pretty unique too.

We may not be able to stop a future recruitment crisis, or the next teacher from resigning, but we can be more open minded about teaching careers, about the positivity of change, agility and adaptability – but perhaps most importantly the real value that good teachers bring to a variety of different learning settings today.

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