Why teachers are leaving their profession

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STUDIES show that not only is our education system in a crisis from a shortage of teachers, but year after year, a huge number of highly experienced teachers leave their profession to search for the greener pastures. In 2013, studies revealed that the education system needs between 25 000 and 30 000 teachers every year, yet the higher education and training system produced between 6 000 and 8 000 a year, with about 10 000 in a good year.


“One of the main reason teachers quit the profession is due to the law which stated that from 1 March 2015, government employees would not be entitled to a lump sum when they retire. However, there are other factors that cause teachers to leave their jobs too early,” says Nomusa Ncembi, who is a media officer for South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu). Nomusa adds, “Teachers cannot, for example, afford to pay for their kid's school fees, so they end up taking high interest loans in order to educate their children or buy for their houses. Most teachers use their retirement money to pay debt or buy houses. The many changes in the curriculum that have led to increased workloads have also disheartened teachers, causing some to leave the profession. Poor working conditions have become the biggest problem. Educators have lost the interest to teach because of lack of resources and teaching in overcrowded classrooms.”


Nokuthula Vilakazi, a teacher from Thalana High School in Dundee, KwaZulu-Natal, says, “What is discouraging teachers the most is the conditions we work under. We are forced to teach 100 learners in one classroom, which makes teaching very difficult. Teachers are hospitalised from stress. A number of teachers I personally know resigned last year, our situation is really bad.” She also says she finds disciplining leaners challenging. “The manner in which learners are disciplined is too tolerant. Learners disrespect teachers in the name of knowing their rights. Learners swear at us and ridicule us right in front of the authorities but no one does anything about it because we are expected to be understanding; even when we are being undermined.” Nokuthula agrees that money is another reason teachers seek greener pastures.  In 2015, a study showed that when it comes to salaries in our country, an average high school teacher earns R166 068 per year, while a primary school teacher earns a R147 094. Nokuthula says this creates a financial crisis for teachers. “We are forced to prioritise between taking our children to good schools and living in homes we own. The reality is that we cannot afford both.”


Issues such as mismanagement and corruption also play a role in teachers leaving the profession. “Because there is a shortage of teachers in schools, some authorities use this to abuse their power. Unqualified teachers pay bribes or secretly sleep with potential employers to get jobs. On the other hand, qualified teachers are left to teach under the lack of basic resources like books and desks. It’s discouraging,” says Nokuthula.                                                 

She adds that teachers from other schools are only recognised or given preference if they belong to a certain union or political party, which drives many of her colleagues out the door. Nomusa adds that it is their organisation's duty to make sure that teachers are treated with dignity. “We do our best to ensure that the rights of teachers who are our members are not trampled upon and that their conditions of service are favourable,” she explains.


“Teaching will always remain a noble profession,” says Nomusa. “There is nothing that is more satisfying than seeing a child getting transformed through the knowledge and support you have given them. However, teachers, just like other professionals, deserve to be given respect by their employers and the society at large.” Studies show that with close to 400 000 teachers, education is still the largest profession in the country. However, the brutal cycle of low professional standards and disrespect happening in schools has destroyed the view of the occupation. Even so, Nokuthula is hopeful. “I am still a very proud teacher. There’s still a lot that the government needs to look into to help us do our jobs better.”

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