The Straits Times says

Studying how to retain good teachers

The big difference that a good teacher can make in students' lives makes the loss of even one such educator hard to bear. Given the number of resignations from the teaching service - about 5,000 over the past five years - one could surmise that some gems were among them. Overall, the annual resignation rate of around 3 per cent is not high, although it has risen from 2 per cent in 2000.

Attrition is a natural feature of professions, even lucrative ones. For example, the attrition rate for doctors in the public sector between 2006 and 2010 was from 6 per cent to 8 per cent. Those who quit joined the private sector or voluntary welfare organisations, or stopped practising. More alarmingly, a substantial proportion of lawyers tend to leave by the first decade of practice. These rates reflect both push factors, like work overload, and pull factors, such as family commitments or a better work-life balance elsewhere.

Similar factors are evident in teaching. Initially, however, it's regarded as a calling. Singaporeans are attracted to it by their desire to positively influence the paths of younger compatriots, much as their own inspirational teachers helped them to blossom. Not surprisingly, although the monetary rewards of teaching cannot compare with those of medicine, law, engineering or banking, its status is no lower than that of these professions. After all, every top professional owes the provenance of her or his career to the professionalism and dedication of teachers who had contributed to the acquisition of their expertise. They know all too well that while a good many might be able to explain complexity, it takes a gifted teacher to reveal simplicity, as author Robert Brault noted. That's why a decision by such a teacher to jettison the profession cannot be taken lightly.

A mixed workload has been cited by some observers as a reason why content-focused teachers burn out. The argument is that a growing administrative workload interferes with their primary function of teaching. Mindful of this earlier, the Education Ministry adopted the practice of hiring allied educators, as far back as 2005, to help teachers with their paperwork and with the counselling needs of students. There's a limit to outsourcing tasks, of course, as all teachers must be also involved in important aspects of school life. Hence, other human resource strategies ought to be explored as well when a principal must cut some slack for a talented teacher who is under some pressure. On a case by case basis, such teachers could be given other duties for a spell to enable them to, say, balance family needs.

Those who need a longer break ought to be helped to keep in touch with education developments during their absence and to re-enter the service later. Indeed, those who gain private sector experience might be able to apply it in the classroom for the benefit of students.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline 'Studying how to retain good teachers'. Print Edition | Subscribe