Warning: this newsletter post might read like one of those tedious recipe blogs where you have to scroll through digital column-inches of waffly, indulgent prose about someone’s bond with their paternal grandmother before you get to the ingredient list. Stay with me.
Sydney has been a real-estate-obsessed city for as long as I can remember - well, for as long as I’ve had enough money to care. It’s one of the most expensive cities in the world. Where I live, in Sydney’s most boring suburb, property is so expensive that it’s cheaper for us to be rentvestors than to pay a mortgage. We’re lucky to live in a long-term rental that just wouldn’t be feasible to own.
When I returned to live in Australia in 2007, my husband and I were self-employed in the advertising industry. We found it difficult to hustle back into the work relationships that are so essential in ‘the industry.’ Child care was over $100 per day (and this was almost 20 years ago) and our rent in the inner west was about $800 per week. Our family took refuge in the Southern Highlands, two hours south of Sydney. Child care was cheap and available, and our rent halved.
Professor Scott Eacott has written a working paper on how this particular issue manifests for teachers, with implications for teacher supply. There are similar issues of teacher supply all over the world right now. I remember almost 20 years ago when housing was an issue for key workers in London. A flat in London costs more than 12 times a teacher’s annual salary, but at least now some policy moves are being made to acknowledge this. According to Eacott’s research, we are well down a similar path.
Teachers in Australia have historically received incentives in hard-to-staff areas, like regional, remote or very remote schools. Rental subsidies are offered, but often these towns have a shortage of rental supply, not to mention a shortage of essential services like doctors. But Eacott’s research shows that housing in desirable teaching areas is paradoxically just as elusive. Rents in most of Sydney range from plain old unaffordable to severely unaffordable on a graduate’s salary. And if you want to buy, forget it. Just 2% of teaching roles are in an LGA where housing is affordable, even at the top of the pay scale.
So what does this mean for student outcomes? Well, it means that the supply issue is about to hit schools that haven’t previously been considered as hard-to-staff. Perhaps clever school leavers will be doing back-of-the-napkin calculations and deciding teaching isn’t for them. I know that if I had been a single parent when I retrained, then moving would not have been feasible. I wonder how many teachers will leave the profession under rental stress, unable to plan for the future.
One of the solutions Eacott offers is subsidised construction, but I think this doesn’t deal with the issue of choice. Shouldn’t teachers be able to choose where they live, to live with agency and autonomy? In the UK, companies that deal with homelessness solutions are being asked to ideate solutions for housing key workers. There’s something deeply disturbing about asking someone to complete four or more years of University level study, only for them to be unable to pay the rent.
I’m not sure how much young people or career changers know about the realities of teaching. According to Nicole Mockler’s research, the media is doing a pretty great job of making the profession as unattractive as possible. When I became a teacher, part of the reasoning was the stability. I’ve been lucky. Anecdotally, I’ve worked with many teachers who have to wait until Term 4 to find out if they have a contract for the following year. 37% of the DEC workforce is in a temporary or casual role, despite the shortage. Teachers in these kinds of precarious roles haven’t been able to secure mortgages because of their job insecurity.
When it comes to student outcomes, we want to draw teaching candidates using the widest possible net. And when we catch them, we don’t want them to slip through. The attrition rate for teachers in initial teacher education is 50%. Policymakers have thrown up a lot of obstacles to getting into teaching and given a lot of reasons to leave. The problem here is fundamental. Soon, supply won’t meet demand, and not only in places that have historically been hard to staff. We don’t just need teachers, we need high-potential teachers and we need to be able keep the great teachers we have.
Eacott talks about the ‘health’ of systems in a lot of his work and I think if systems are going to take a neoliberal approach to outcomes and performance, then they also need to pay the ferryman by solving the viability problems in their organisations. This is a policy issue that at the very least needs an open and honest conversation.
A telling point, I can see this becoming a very real concern in policy making going forward, likely too late to effect change however, but what is new there. - Also side note I couldn’t find the promised recipe.... :)
This is a critical issue in so many communities across the world. ￼￼In my previous ￼hometown in Colorado, second homeowners + short-term rentals like Airbnb and VRBO have crowded teachers and other essential workers out of housing.
I hope affordable housing advocates are able to identify some nuanced solutions- and I agree that having teachers - professionals- only be able to pick from a small stock of affordable options feels like a huge additional ding on an already devalued profession.
You might be interested in reading work by Matthew Kraft at matthewakraft.com on the state of the teaching profession (I believe mostly focused on the US) that has connections to the themes you highlight. In a recent piece his co-author Melissa Arnold Lyon said, that “Teachers are the no. 1 school-based factor that affects student learning. So, if we care fundamentally about student learning, then we need to care fundamentally about teachers.”
This is a BIG deal.