The rising number of teachers making claims of mental health problems rose sharply in 2019, which Mark Northam, chief of the Independent Education Union, said could be due to a worsening teacher shortage.
“Constantly substituting for absent colleagues puts a tremendous strain on teachers, and they suffer the medical consequences of their experiences,” he said.
The Department of Education estimates that 3 percent of its 95,000 employees currently suffer from an injury on the job, with a quarter of those attributable to a mental health issue.
Craig Petersen, President of the Secondary Principals’ Council, said staff shortages have left teachers increasingly overwhelmed, compounded by deteriorating behavior and rising rates of violence and aggression in the classroom.
“When we came out of lockdown, I got reports from across the state that many of our students were seeing a decline in social skills and an increase in nonconforming behavior,” he said.
“Our seventh graders have been severely impacted by the disruption over the past two years. Their social contacts broke down, and by the time they entered high school, more social unrest ensued.”
A spokesman for the Department of Education said this year saw the launch of a new strategy for occupational health and safety, which includes “specialist response” teams focused on providing school leaders with rapid and continuous expert advice and support in tackling complex matters to offer.
“Our school staff has faced great challenges in recent years, managing COVID-19 and natural disasters with diligence and professionalism,” said a spokesman.
“The return to face-to-face classes after these events has also presented challenges.
“We need to address these issues, and that work begins with the new Occupational Health and Safety Strategy to ensure teachers have a safe workplace.”
A disciplinary policy introduced in the fourth trimester last year limited the length and number of suspensions schools could impose amid concerns that 40 per cent of suspensions – including about two-thirds of the hundreds of kindergarten suspensions each year – are for students with disabilities regarding. Indigenous students were also sent home from school more frequently.
Last month, Education Secretary Prue Car changed that policy, giving principals more powers to crack down on school misconduct, extending the maximum length of suspensions, and allowing principals to send students home for persistent misconduct.
School behavior expert Dr. Tim McDonald, who wrote a book entitled classroom management, said students need to know what is expected of them and that there are clear consequences for inappropriate behavior, which include suspensions.
He said if behavior were taught in Australian schools with a dedicated curriculum, some of the disadvantage gap in learning outcomes in schools could be shifted.
“Students who have the ability and ability to listen, take turns and follow the teacher’s directions will learn more than those students who for some reason don’t have the ability or ability,” he said.
“These students will continue to fall behind and will continue to fall behind their peers. Doing this kindly will improve student behavior and hopefully reduce the level of disruption in Australian classrooms.”
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