Book Review - The Teacher Gap

The first National lockdown took me by surprise, I wasn’t prepared at all and the idea of being stuck indoors with very little to do was by far my worst nightmare. I was genuinely worried about how I would fill my time and there were only so many walks I could do in one day!

Rather than scrolling endlessly on social media channels for inspiration or joining a yoga zoom event, I decided to indulge in some light reading. The Teacher Gap proved to be eye opening, influential and without a doubt thought-provoking read. This book is an absolute must-read for anyone who is interested in the future of teachers and education staff. 

We are living in an age where there appears to be a large gap between the quantity and quality of teachers we need, and the reality in our schools. In other words, schools are facing a teacher shortage crisis and I purposely chose this book to support me in my job role at Kent-Teach. I was hunting for alternative views and practical solutions to assist schools with teacher retention and recruitment.

This book is an extraordinary read as it captures the raw emotion of many education professionals who left the profession in their early careers due to lack of support and development. Throughout this book Rebecca Allen and Sam Sims dig deep to investigate why teachers felt that they couldn’t continue to work. 

“It is ironic, bordering on tragic that during a period of acute teacher shortages, a fully qualified teacher who would love to be back in the classroom feels unable to apply for a teaching job"

I was fascinated to find out how real-life teachers actually felt about the profession and what the key triggers were for wanting to leave long-term. The recruitment process to replace a good quality teacher is expensive, time consuming and disruptive for the pupils therefore it’s really important to understand where school leaders may be going wrong. 

Chapter 1 introduces us to the distinct comparisons between teaching and other vocations including medicine. Rebecca Allen explains that a teacher has a very steep learning curve after qualifying, teachers make big decisions about their pupils right at the start of their careers unlike junior doctors who spend years on the job carrying out small diagnostic tests which are signed off by senior doctors. This argument then leads on to explore why a lack of culture of collaborative relationships and shared expertise can result in poor pupil progress. We start to build a picture for how a teacher may be feeling in their early careers and this is predominantly down to school culture. Perhaps they are feeling lonely, isolated and anxious? Being an ex-teacher, I could definitely relate to this as I remember being thrown straight into the classroom after qualifying. It’s easy to reflect on my teacher training year but I don’t remember learning a lot more after that, it was more teaching than learning. 

So, what can schools do about this challenge? The book provides practical solutions for schools including:

- Construct cross-departmental collaborative mentoring to transfer expertise

- Use a short survey to measure the quality of the working environment in your school – identify areas in which your school is weak and target improvements in this area the following year

- Free them up to focus on developing skills  

In Chapter 4 the ‘recruit-burnout-replace’ model of staffing is explored where we start to understand how the above is causing a vicious cycle. Teachers are being replaced with a set of inexperienced teachers every year and the quantity of new teachers joining the profession is outweighing the number who decide to stay long term. 

So why do teachers leave so early on?

We start to understand some key triggers for leaving the profession, a teacher named Ellen gained her first job at an outstanding school and on her first day she quickly realises that most of the staff are brand new. 

- The school had a surveillance culture

- Workload was overwhelming 

- Leadership conducted unplanned lesson observations

- Book scrutiny 

She also mentions that she was forced to attend a mock Ofsted inspection despite being ill with shingles. Her family explained that the stress and working in the school was taking its toll on her health. When reading this I really did begin to feel incredibly disappointed that someone who loved their job had almost been forced to leave in order to save her state of wellbeing. 

This book provides many practical ways to support teachers and their long-term careers, which I think is really refreshing to see. I was left feeling disheartened to read that many experiences had been quite traumatic causing physical symptoms. The book raises a fundamental question- Is enough being done to give teachers a career which doesn’t cause harm to their mental and physical health? 

Many schools have benefited from gathering staff feedback to provide insight into their overall school’s wellbeing and education staff’s mental, physical, social and financial health. Senior Leadership teams are working alongside our Wellbeing and Retention Advisors to listen to staff needs and take all necessarily actions required. If you would like to find out more about how you could gather this feedback please speak to our Wellbeing and Retention Advisors by calling 03000 410203 or email and someone will get in touch.

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