Solve The Problem Of Insufficient Mathematics Teachers Education Essay


There is much media concern about the shortage of Maths teachers in Australia and Queensland. They talk about major high schools without specialist Maths teachers, courses being scrapped and students studying Mathematics by correspondence. Three quarters of Australian schools cannot recruit qualified Mathematics teachers. Many existing Mathematics teachers are retiring. The Government has created financial and tax incentives to encourage Mathematics graduates to go on to teach (Trounson, 2008). Although schools are using attraction strategies to get more Mathematics teachers, they are competing with higher paying employers such as the finance sector for a shrinking pool of talent (Australian Teacher Magazine, 2010). The situation for attracting Maths teachers looks worse when the overall demand for Mathematics graduates in Australia is considered. The CSIRO and the ABS may not be able to recruit enough graduates to cover retirement replacement (Brown, 2009). I will organise this report according to its five categories of recommendations. These will refer to HR theory regarding planning issues, recruitment, selection, performance and reward management.

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Possible reasons for shortage of Maths teachers are discussed by Ainley, Kos & Nicholas (2008). This problem is not confined to Queensland or Australia. For the last 20 years, most OECD economies have experience increased participation in secondary and tertiary education but fewer students studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (The OECD Global Science Forum, 2005 [OECD, 2006a]). Furthermore, the following trends are found globally (Ainley, Kos & Nicholas, 2008):

Girls and minority students are under-represented in Science and Technology studies;

Young people hold stereotyped visions of Science and Technology careers;

Students find Maths and Science curricula rigid and outdated; and

Teachers in primary or secondary education have insufficient Science and Technology training.

Australia fell behind in mathematical literacy in 2006, being outpaced by Chinese Taipei, Finland, Hong Kong, Korea, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada and Macao (Thomson & De Bortoli, 2007, cited in Ainley, Kos & Nicholas, 2008). Because of the fear that scientific innovation will slow (Kuenzi, Mathews & Mangan, 2006, cited in Ainley, Kos & Nicholas, 2008), governments need to provide more incentives to teach and study Mathematics and Science.

What Maths Teachers and Others Say About the Shortage

Teachers are voting with their feet and 1276 departed the profession in 2007. Although new graduates are arriving, they may not replace those retiring or resigning (The Sunday Mail (Qld) January 24, 2009).

In other comments, the Australian Education Union believes the lack of properly trained Maths teachers is damaging how Maths is taught in schools, with teachers following the syllabus too closely and failing to make Mathematics challenging enough for students (ABC News January 14, 2009).

What should concern human resource practitioners is that Mathematics teaching is not considered to be a worthwhile or rewarding career, even by those who are doing it. Of concern are society's attitudes towards teaching, the lack of suitable trained graduates putting more stress on existing staff, the ageing and imminent retirement of many in the profession, and junior Mathematics taught by unqualified teachers. There are plenty of more exciting job opportunities for mathematicians such as data mining. Furthermore, these careers do not require additional skills in classroom management. Despite this, those few dedicated teachers who love the profession are not doing it for the money, although they would prefer higher pay (Harris and Jensz 2006).

Shortages of Math teachers lead to shortages of Maths students wanting to pursue further study. Many of them feel inadequately prepared for the classroom. Retirements by Maths teachers will increase. Coordinated action by universities, State and Federal Governments is needed to increase supply of well-qualified Mathematics teachers (Harris and Jensz, 2006). Although government has tried to fix the problem, failure to undertake human resource planning, mathematical sciences have deteriorated to a dangerous level, according to Brown (2009). Furthermore, international benchmarking tests show that Australia is outperformed by England and the United States, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong and Korea (Brown 2009).

There are few common standards set for required expertise in the study of Mathematics for teachers, as well as the methods used to train them. In Queensland as in the rest of Australia, students drop out of Mathematics as they reach higher grades in order to improve their tertiary entrance scores. Because not doing Mathematics is seen as the simpler option, this is causing a shortage of Mathematics graduates, and consequently Mathematics teachers.

Planning Issues

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Human resource theory shows that only adequate workforce planning can ensure sufficient numbers of well-qualified teachers for the emerging needs of Queensland's schools. Because the workforce is ageing there will be shortages in some specialist subject areas, in rural and remote locations and in leadership positions (Owen, Kos & McKenzie, 2008). In order to ameliorate this shortage, human resource managers need to collect information about the Queensland teacher workforce to assist future planning. This type of planning requires the compiling of several profiles, for example workforce flow profiles, teacher education profiles, report that assess adequacy of teacher supply and distribution, estimates of workforce supply and demand trends, and projections and impact of future developments. So far in Queensland this kind of workforce planning is absent. What information is available is compromised through lack of common definitions and restricted access to data (Owen, Kos & McKenzie, 2008).

Labour markets for teachers operate inefficiently, as evidenced by chronic shortages in some disciplines and attrition of experienced teachers. However, Webster, Wooden and Marks (2004) found no evidence of sustained teacher shortages in all disciplines. MCEETYA (2003, cited in Webster, Wooden and Marks, 2004) found 30 percent of year 12 Mathematics and 20 per cent of year 12 Science teachers lacked tertiary qualifications in the disciplines. However, shortages in Maths and Science, as well as lack of personnel in poor or remote schools are world-wide phenomena (Milanowski, 2003, cited in Webster, Wooden and Marks, 2004).

Job Design

The question of job design for Mathematics teachers needs to acknowledge the centrality of mathematical understanding in so many professions. In the coming years there will be greater demand for this understanding. Governments and universities need to ensure that sufficient incentives promote both Mathematics and Mathematics teaching in schools, universities and society in general (Harris and Jensz, 2006)

It has been shown that teacher quality is a major determinant of student achievement. In other words, a good teacher makes all the difference to student success or failure. This means a need for Queensland Education to set policies that attract and keep talented teachers (Webster, Wooden and Marks, 2004).

While is difficult to statistically identify the characteristics that make some teachers more effective than others, Hanushek (1986 cited in Webster, Wooden and Marks, 2004) insisted there are dramatic differences in teacher effectiveness. Being able to identify the best teachers is challenging. However, peer and supervisor appraisals can be useful (Webster, Wooden and Marks, 2004).

Engineering, medicine, business, agriculture and economics are just some of the fields that require mathematical and statistical sophistication. In order to successfully apply Mathematics and statistics, new types of understanding are needed. For example, some computational skills are based on tools like graphing, statistical packages and computer algebra systems. Only students who have chosen lengthy study of Mathematics can understand these complexities. Not only this, Mathematics teachers need to be able to inspire others with the beauty of mathematical principles (Harris and Jensz, 2006).

Attraction, Recruitment and Selection

Why does the Department have the problem of attrition of the most able teachers? Only an ineffective labour market fails to attract and retain the most able and best performing teachers. Yet it is precisely those teachers who are more likely to leave, according to US studies (Henke et al, 2000; Murnane et al, 1991, Schlecty and Vance, 1981, Weaver, 1983 - cited in Webster, Wooden and Marks, 2004). Quality of remuneration and poor job satisfaction were cited as reasons for attrition of US Science teachers (Inersoll, cited in Webster, Wooden and Marks, 2004). Although there is no definitive answer as to why high quality Maths teachers leave, in the absence of other variables, many overseas studies found pay to be a factor sensitive to variations in recruitment and retention (Zabalza et al, 1979; Manski, 1987; Dolton 1990; Murnane and Olsen, 1990; Dolton and Makepeace, 1993; Dolton and Mavromaras, 1994; Dolton and van der Klaauw, 1995; Gritz and Theobald, 1996; Hanushek et al, 1999; Dolton and van der Klaauw, 1999; Dolton et al, 2003; Murnane et al, 1991; Milanowski 2003 - cited in Webster, Wooden and Marks, 2004). However, Fritjers et al (2004, cited in Webster, Wooden and Marks, 2004) found the opposite result; that teachers decided to quit for reasons other than pay. In view of the lack of knowledge of Australia's Maths teaching labour market (Webster, Wooden and Marks, 2004), and the uncertainty about causes of attrition, how can the Department attract and retain enough Maths teachers to resolve the shortage? In addition, how can it encourage high performance in Maths teaching? Suggestions are made that fewer Science and Mathematics graduates want to become teachers of children. Compared to teachers of Humanities and Social Sciences, Science and Maths graduates prefer to stay out of the classroom (Webster, Wooden and Marks, 2004). Nevertheless, for many Maths teachers, their original motivations include the rewarding nature of the job, opportunities for social interaction, love of Mathematics, job security, salary and working conditions (Harris and Jensz, 2006).

Performance and Reward Management

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Higher earnings would attract more Maths and Science graduates who are undecided about career choices. But short term incentives such as HECS exemptions are unlikely to have sustained effects, according to Webster et al (2004). Instead, higher salaries and extended career paths need to be made part of formal wage agreements. In addition there should be performance bonuses so that the best teachers are encouraged to stay in the classroom and not become administrative personnel in order to rise in the profession. Nothing less than a change in wage differentials is suggested; great teachers should be greatly rewarded (Webster, Wooden and Marks, 2004).


Recommendation 1

In the short to medium term, universities will need to provide remedial courses (Brown, 2009).

Recommendation 2

Remove the current inflexible payment system and remunerate staff according to performance, particularly in areas of teacher shortage or where excellent teachers have been discouraged from remaining in their positions because of non-curricular issues like classroom management (Webster, Wooden and Marks, 2004).

Recommendation 3

Collect more comprehensive data on what makes teaching attractive to secondary and tertiary students, what makes potential teachers change careers, why some registered teachers stopped teaching, and why indigenous teachers remain under-represented. This data needs to be analysed by teacher educators so current and emerging needs can be identified (Webster, Wooden and Marks, 2004).

This recommendation can be justified by referring to the 2007 Productivity Commission report, Public Support for Science and Innovation. This report found that when students are making career choices, they appreciate information about areas of workforce shortage or over-supply. They want to know about incentives to follow a particular career. In other countries and at the OECD level, there are developments in collecting teacher workforce data that can help provide a perspective on the issue (Webster, Wooden and Marks, 2004). The following recommendations are a précis of these trends.


All the stakeholders should agree on a conceptual framework for teacher and school leader workforce planning. This framework needs to acknowledge the interconnectedness of the economic and political context and a highly skilled, adaptable workforce. The framework also needs to identify which factors make teaching appealing as a career choice. This framework needs to be supported at a high political level with involvement of stakeholders being encouraged. An expert taskforce needs to be given a clear brief detailing the need for common data items, collection methodologies, operating principles and strategic initiatives. Because multiple organisations are collecting data, agreement by all stakeholders about the framework should be sought. There should be as little burden as possible on schools and teachers. They should be able to see that the data will be valuable so there will be a higher response (Webster, Wooden & Marks, 2004).


In order to describe my learning from this project, I will speculate on the role of a human resource professional who prepared the report for Queensland Education. I project how I would feel about the issue of decline in maths teacher numbers. Having read human resource theory I can see how I would link theoretical knowledge to the case under review.

For example, there are various theories in human resource management that help explain the present dilemma in Queensland mathematics education. Equity theory would explain why even dedicated mathematics teachers want to leave the position for something better paying. Motivation theory would explain why so many mathematics teachers have become less motivated, or have decided to retire early. I could see that both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards come from teaching. Also, in terms of hygiene factors, adequate pay could be considered a hygiene factor, but pay for performance might not work. There are already teachers with great skill in mathematics who nevertheless are leaving the profession. They might be leaving for a different reason than pay, and so pay for performance might not encourage them to stay.

During the preparation of this report I have needed to read a lot of other reports, many from government about the problem of shortage of mathematics teachers in Queensland. It has been revealed as part of a larger problem in Australia, and many other countries. It is surprising to learn that some less developed countries shave surpassed Australia in mathematics teaching. I am not sure why there are so many differences in mathematics standards around the world, but human resource management could study the problem from a global perspective. For example, there are many professional associations such as the Australian Council of Educational Research as well as teacher organisations who could benefit from liaising with human resource planners in order to identify mutual strengths and contribute to greater understanding. The human resource theory could be used to show mathematics professionals how to apply their own training to fixing the problem in Queensland of shortage of mathematics teachers.

If the problem of lack of maths teachers is global then other countries will be exploring some strategies to attract and retain maths teachers better. An international convention of human resource planners in the field of teaching could address the particular challenge of meeting the continuing shortage. Because mathematics is a universal discipline each country would have unique input into the challenges of recruiting the best teachers. This would be a way to increase the power of planning for the future needs of mathematics teaching not just in Queensland but elsewhere.

With regard to the human resource planning question, this seems to be the largest problem facing teacher recruiters in Queensland and of course the rest of Australia.

They are trying to fix a problem that originates from global as well as national sources, and they are using different sets of data which makes it difficult to interpret the results. Since international benchmarks now exist for the results in mathematics and science, and countries are being compared, it is time for teacher educators to buy in to the search for global standards. It is not advisable to have a national curriculum but only state control of how the curriculum is implemented. More communication is needed between teacher educators, schools and prospective teachers. Also, teachers who have left the profession need to be asked for their reasons. This should be done tactfully and in a way that does not cause offence. Other factors not previously identified by the research might include increased stress in the workplace causing attrition amongst mathematics teachers. External environmental factors such as increased social unrest can also affect students who are adolescent and may not be able to focus well on abstract concepts.

As a result of this research I can see that short term solutions are often preferred by governments and these will not fix the problem of maths teacher shortages. Only a long term approach will work, because otherwise, changes to curriculum can be made without real consultation with all the stakeholders.

When insufficient data is available for Queensland or Australia, I have found there is usually information from the US or the UK. This should not be interpreted as exactly the same as Australian conditions, but it is helpful because of the cultural and economic similarities of these countries.

One aspect that I did not find discussed was the question of broadening mathematics education. Many of the teachers who felt inadequate to teach mathematics might be inspired to undertake further studies in the discipline themselves, if they were caught in enthusiasm for the subject. People who are passionate about their topic can usually inspire some other people with their love of learning. Many students who are naturally talented at mathematics might have suggestions about how mathematics teaching could be improved in Queensland.

Because Australia has become increasingly multicultural, and yet mathematics is a universal language, it would be interesting to compare views of mathematics teachers from around the globe. For example, I would like to enquire at the mathematics teaching universities what programmes are available to train teachers and how they are dealing with the problem of teacher attrition.

From my own experience as a student I can offer some insights into why people do not want to train as a teacher. I agree with the equity theory's explanation of why lack of motivation usually follows poor rewards. Teaching mathematics would require two different sets of skills and abilities. First, the teacher would have to understand mathematics. Second, they would have to control a class full of students. From what I have seen of Queensland classrooms, this can be a challenging task. The statistics from the US showed that teachers stayed in their positions even when they were low paid. I believe that stress is more likely to cause a mathematics teacher to resign than low pay. For a good teacher who is passionate about their subject, this becomes transmitted to the students, and a few students will become enthusiastic. But for the same teacher who has the keen students who have caught the enthusiasm for mathematics, there will be unforseen problems.

For example, how does the teacher who can inspire others with love of the subject also behave like a police officer when faced with unruly student behaviour? I believe future human resource planning will need to address this problem. It is particularly worrying because my research showed that mathematics teachers are getting older, and often retiring early because of the stress of the position. From my reading of human resource theory, even the love of one's job (intrinsic rewards) could not counter the damage from psychological stress.

In today's increasingly stressful world, with traffic jams everyday in Brisbane, it is strange that more teachers do not choose to go and teach in rural areas in Queensland. If this is not happening, I think remuneration would be the primary issue, plus workplace conditions. For example, the workplace of another mathematics graduate might be a bank of stockbroker's office, which would be air-conditioned. Personnel would be seated more often than standing (which is the opposite for a teacher). Even though teachers have significantly longer holidays, that alone may not alleviate the stress from other workplace conditions.

A final response to the learning from this project is that I can see the benefit of applying human resource theory to the problem of mathematics teacher shortages. Many of the stakeholders can only see the issue from their own perspective. For example, universities are very concerned with funding. School leaders are concerned about making the right hiring decisions. Educational research institutions might discover significant reasons for the attrition rate, but fail to see problems that many students would be able to explain. Human resource theory provides a way to bring all the different stakeholders in mathematics education in Queensland together. Dialogue needs to begin with establishing consistent measures of success, then collecting data that can be analysed to discover further implications of this research.

Surveys could be taken of retired mathematics teachers to find out why they left the profession. People in other professions that use mathematics could be surveyed about the possibility of leaving one profession and joining the teaching force. Hope for the future is needed in the schools. Adequate remuneration is needed to increase the motivation of existing teachers. Concerns with class sizes need to be addressed. Low pay and stressful conditions are obviously causing part of the maths teacher attrition problem, while lack of skills is compounding it. Further research is needed into the problem because until a common set of data is available, only guesswork can be used. There is a great lack of relevant research into shortage of mathematics teachers, both locally in Queensland and in other locations in Australia and globally.

As a future human resources professional I can see the need to combine theory with practice and meet with professionals from the other fields who are stakeholders in education, so this shortage can be addressed.