Teachers Without Work – A Self-help Guide

End of January, Australia.

Schools are returning for the new academic year; Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are a rash of ideas, advice seeking and photos of shiny, tidy classrooms. Supermarkets, shoe stores and stationers are in a Back to School frenzy and even your own in-box is telling you what will be happening in Week 0 and the first week back.

Great.    Fully expected.     Same old, same old.

The difference is that this year, you are without a position. Unemployed. And as for that in-box, you’re still on group mailing lists for schools where you’ve worked previously. Every one of these reminders is like a slap in the face, adding insult to injury, and to be honest, there’s only so much you can take because this isn’t the first time. You’ve spent years getting last minute contracts, taking sporadic relief teaching days, willingly putting in 15 hours per day, planning, marking, doing extra-curricular activities, feeling like you’re working much harder than others, just to get noticed, and you’re starting to wonder how you’ll ever get anything ongoing. You may even be looking at other career options.

Image by Max Talbot-Minkin  http://bit.ly/1yL9aTA

Image by Max Talbot-Minkin http://bit.ly/1yL9aTA

I’m Feeling Miserable, Rejected, Angry and Undermined. 

You may be grieving. Grief takes all forms and it comes about as a result of a loss.  In this situation, you may have lost confidence, colleagues, certainty, direction and definitely a source of income. Any one of these losses disturbs your everyday well-being; being faced with a few or all of these things has the potential to trigger stress symptoms, depression and negative emotional affects. It turns life upside-down and demands some reassessment, especially if you have been teaching for years and feel like you’re no further towards job-security. To some, this may sound rather dramatic, but it’s important to acknowledge what’s happening to you.

Being a talented, qualified and enthusiastic teacher

with no job is an

emotional, professional and financial BIG DEAL.

Well-meaning friends and former colleagues are telling you it’s just the system, don’t take it personally, you’re a great teacher, something will come along. Others, the ‘fix it’ friends, are telling you what to do. Again, they mean well, but it undermines how bad you feel and most likely you’re already doing it:

  • E-mail drops to principals’ in-boxes;
  • Getting on Temporary Relief Teaching lists at schools;
  • Making sure your contacts know you’re available.
Image by Andrew Pescod  http://bit.ly/1JpKvVZ

Image by Andrew Pescod


Stop beating yourself up with self-doubt. Here’s how to rationalise some of the unhelpful thinking that can easily snowball:

LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE: It’s not just you. Australia has allowed far more teachers to be trained than are required. This article from 2013 describes some of the issues and figures. Additionally, the raft of retirements we were promised is not happening, or happening very slowly. In 2011, in South Australia, the government offered $50,000 as an incentive for older, disillusioned teachers to move on. This was accompanied by a recruitment drive for new teachers, which turned out to be largely unnecessary.

The evidence is there, in those articles, that due to some poorly judged and inaccurate projections, thousands of educators are in the same situation. So stop beating yourself up, and remind yourself of the statistics.

ACCEPT: That sometimes life and work is unfair and inequitable, and your time may not come. Set a loose timeframe and have a plan about what you’ll do if you are still floating around by that deadline. Acceptance can be very calming, as well as empowering – you’ll know you did your best and will feel in better control of your life when you are making the decisions as a proactive operator rather than a passive pawn. The skills you collect and develop as a teacher are valued in many other industries. Check out this, which I found on Twitter: 101 Alternative Jobs for Teachers

RECOGNISE: That it hasn’t all been a waste of time. You have made many contributions and (hopefully) positively influenced the learning of many people, you’ve increased your own knowledge and skill base and made connections with people you may never have met otherwise. You have been appreciated and probably will get a chance to do all this again.

TAKE TIME OUT: to follow your passions. The best educators are those who are enthusiastic about what they teach. People passionate about their subject draw others in regardless of the topic.


Use this time on your hands to grow your skill base and develop a positive digital footprint.

  • Start a blog or a website to develop the skill of blogging so you can bring it to the classroom, connect with other bloggers and to research, think and reflect more deeply on educational matters. A blog about an interest or passion will also develop these skills and help to lift your mood;
  • Learn to code. Programming is a worldwide phenomenon and an essential 21st Century skill. If you can do it, you can teach it, create your own learning and teaching apps and gain the confidence to trouble-shoot technical gremlins wherever you encounter them;
  • Read. Read educational blogs, books and policies. Definitely read this:

    Dave Burgess' book is inspirational and very amusing

    Dave Burgess’ book is inspirational and very amusing

  • Get on Twitter. Twitter is jam packed full of amazing educators who are at the forefront of technology, innovation and child-centred education. You’ll find support, ideas and links to further reading. You’ll get infected with the enthusiasm that bubbles forth from every 140 character message and be keen to join in scheduled chats. In particular check out #aussieED #satchatoc #edtechchat You’ll find many more chat opportunities when you start to follow people with similar interests as yourself.
  • Get a lot more familiar with the curriculum . Concentrate on the age groups you usually teach and become an expert on achievement standards. Once you’ve done this, you can…
  • Start writing, collecting and curating, engaging, unusual and imaginative resources. If they’re really good, you can even sell them on Teachers Pay Teachers or to Australian Curriculum Lessons

Finally… If you’re genuinely worn down by the whole process, and you don’t really miss being in the classroom, give yourself permission to do something else. You have to have a lot of stamina, resilience, self-belief and energy to withstand the orchestrations of a selection system which can sometimes seem, at best unlucky and at worst, abusive.

Sincere good luck to you!


About vanessa hiser

Primary and Secondary Educator; Academic Psychologist; Counsellor; mother; netballer; lifelong learner.
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3 Responses to Teachers Without Work – A Self-help Guide

  1. Syb says:

    Well put Vanessa. I think one of our big problems as teachers is we think we are the only ones feeling like this. I was planning on calling centrelink on Friday when I got a call. With a family to support and bills to pay and term 1 being so low on TRT days I had to have a fallback. As depression lifts and the brain switches from panic and depression to planning and preparing.

    • Hope your year is going well, Syb. It can be very difficult to remain positive, even when you get the TRT days! TRT is not easy at the best of times, and when you haven’t chosen it, it can be soul destroying. I hope something more ongoing turns up for you.

  2. This is the most inspirational blog post I’ve read in some time. I love your perspective. It’s a good plan for anyone. Thank you, Vanessa. =)

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