Malta’s secret crisis: teachers quitting schools

Why are teachers quitting? A new study sheds light on the troubles of Maltese teachers leaving the profession, finding low status ascribed to the profession is demotivating the teaching profession

'One minister wanted the college system, the other wanted co-ed, and so on. Everybody wants to leave their mark; everybody wants to be known in [the] future as someone who brought a change in education'
'One minister wanted the college system, the other wanted co-ed, and so on. Everybody wants to leave their mark; everybody wants to be known in [the] future as someone who brought a change in education'

From 2008 to 2018, the number of teachers in Malta who resigned from their teaching post spiked by 119%, from just 26 in 2008 to 57 in 2018. And the number of students registered for the teacher education courses at the University of Malta declined by 20%, from 334 in 2017 to 268 in 2019.

This has resulted in an increase in the recruitment of supply teachers who do not have the appropriate pedagogical training, from 21% of all state schoolteachers in 2017 to 29% in 2018.

Independent researcher Fabian Galea is asking the question: why are teachers quitting their jobs? And he warns that students “may end up with the least experienced or unqualified teachers that disturb the continuity and success of their educational programmes”.

The study, published in the Malta Review of Educational Research, is based on interviews with 15 former teachers or qualified students who gave up on the profession before even starting teaching, all of which participated in semi-structured, audio-recorded interviews.

The study found various reasons for teacher’s attrition, ranging from low salaries to a hostile school environment.

No reward for a hard job

Most of the interviewees perceived their salary as unsubstantial and discouraging. When compared to other graduate professionals, one of the teachers described the teacher’s salary as “rubbish”. Another perceived it to be “miserable”.

Others lamented the school environment as being “quite old in a way that [schools are] not attractive enough for students”. One of the schools lacked an indoor gym. This meant that “if it rained, I was expected to do the lesson just the same... For the kids it would be like [a] 45-minute lesson they get a little drizzle but for me it was 6 hours being in the rain”.

No respect for teachers

Most teachers lamented the low status ascribed to their profession.

According to one of the teachers interviewed, society views “the teaching profession as a great job for a mum, or for a parent”. But this perception is attributed to the general public’s limited and potentially envious reasoning.

“They just look at the job as from 8am to 2pm and... that you as a teacher get the summer holidays, you get the Christmas holidays, Easter holidays ... They actually look at the holidays only and say you’re only a teacher, you know you don’t do much!”

To make matters worse, “other professionals see you as a babysitter rather than a professional. This had a negative effect on me”.

In this way, society’s negative perception towards the teaching profession is creating a “ripple effect”, which demotivates teachers. This makes the low status attributed to the profession an important contributory factor to teachers leaving the profession.

But contrary to these perceptions, teachers lament that the job leaves them little free time. “You go home worrying about it and you never seem to cut off,” one teacher said.

This sentiment was more common when the interviewees were married or co-habiting, as teaching diminished their family time. “A lot of people think that being a teacher is family friendly. Well it’s not,” said one of the interviewees.

“When I went back home after a day’s work, I was totally exhausted that I couldn’t do anything. I was too tired. Too tired to perform in my hobby... too tired... too tired to do anything,” a primary school teacher said when asked about her workload.

Other teachers lamented working outside school hours. “I was given a lot of lessons... so the stress was intense [during the school day] and after at home I had to continue planning... until 8pm every day.”

Those teaching subjects like Physical Education also faced subject stigma due to the lack of importance ascribed to their work. “It makes you feel disappointed, angry and… not bothered, because why should you give your 100% when you know that nobody not even your colleagues will appreciate.”

Bullied by students and their parents

Other factors contributing to teacher’s quitting their jobs was the attitude and behaviour of both students and parents.

One teacher recalled that he was shocked that students use “swear words in every sentence they’re using”. Another teacher recounted an episode where his colleagues: “...had scalding water thrown at them” and other instances when “teachers were touched inappropriately by the students.” Teachers felt demotivated by this sort of behaviour on the part of students and parents who “do not respect teachers... their child is always right, and the teacher is always wrong.”

One of the interviewees claimed that he used to receive notes from a parent almost every two days ... “where she used to pick on anything, I would say [and] used to find defects in anything I did.”

Galea refers to a “bullying culture” in which “teachers end up being bullied by parents” which leaves educators with “no choice except to feel as if they are fighting a losing battle”.

But teachers expressed different views when it comes to educational reforms, with some lamenting the slow pace of change while others feeling fatigued by reforms.

One teacher described “the school system as being too archaic,” demanding immediate transformative change. “The system... at the end of the day it was like a production line, you produce the students and make them pass their exam”.

Still others showed signs of reform fatigue. “One minister wanted the college system, the other wanted co-ed, and so on. Everybody wants to leave their mark; everybody wants to be known in [the] future as someone who brought a change in education.”

The author acknowledges the limitations of qualitative findings originating from fifteen individual narratives as one lacking statistical representation and recommends a quantitative survey to generalise the findings to the whole population understudy. He also recommended a study on how to attract invested leavers back to the profession to alleviate the current recruitment issues.

“A study should focus on how to attract invested leavers back to the profession to alleviate the current recruitment issues... in Malta teacher retention is currently encumbered with: an exponential rise in educators who voluntarily resign from the profession; a decline of teacher graduates from the University of Malta; a recurring problem of unfilled teacher vacancies throughout the scholastic year; an increase in the recruitment of supply teachers who do not have the appropriate qualifications and a school’s climate of disengagement and pessimism that current in-service teachers have to deal with.”

What the teachers said

  • “A professional teacher, who studied five years at university, now has no opportunity to actually own a property...”
  • “We had to provide our own resources, as [the school] provided us with nothing, not even a photocopier... so we had to provide students with everything. I used to spend a lot of money from my own pay!”
  • “I don’t think there is enough discipline. We gave the students so much freedom.”
  • “Parents do not respect teachers... their child is always right, and the teacher is always wrong.”
  • “I was not expecting that sort of antagonism from society... Parents, adults, authority figures not being on your side... that was, that was too much!”
  • “The teachers were, demotivated... people sitting in a staff-room complaining about what is happening in school and how nothing can be done [about the system].”

Persons wishing to access the study should visit mreronline.org.  

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