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Vienna particularly affected: shortage of teachers shows serious consequences

The Ministry of Education emphasizes that the teacher shortage affects countries and school subjects differently. Nevertheless, almost all federal states report similar challenges at the beginning of school: In order to be able to guarantee nationwide teaching, Tyrol, Upper Austria and Vorarlberg rely on additional services, mutually agreed increases in the employment of part-time teachers and the employment of student teachers.

In Salzburg, too, the shortage of teachers cannot be dismissed out of hand, confirms state councilor Daniela Gutschi in an interview with ORF.at. Especially in the main subjects, in integration and in exercise and sport, there is currently a lack of teachers in middle school and polytechnic schools. In Burgenland, “more applicants across all subjects and school types” are desirable.

In Vorarlberg, which is currently particularly feeling the effects of the shortage of teachers due to retirement, the focus is primarily on career changers, return campaigns for retired teachers and teachers from other federal states. In addition, compulsory school teachers who have moved to Vorarlberg would receive a monthly subsidy of 180 euros for two years and the climate ticket would be financed during this time, according to the education department at the request of ORF.at. By 2027, more than 200 federal and state teachers are to retire each year.

Vienna with special challenges

“The coming school year is a very special one, because it is the hundredth that the Department of Education for Vienna has been able to help shape,” said Vienna’s Director of Education, Heinrich Himmer, optimistically at the beginning of the school year. Himmer has been the hub of educational innovation for 100 years and responds to current requirements. There are a lot of them in Vienna this school year – the shortage of teachers due to retirement has made itself particularly noticeable in the federal capital.

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2,400 positions were advertised this year, and it is particularly tight in middle schools, AHS and vocational middle and higher schools (BMHS) in subjects such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, sports for girls and music. A trend that is also reflected in the nationwide forecast for secondary level I and II by 2025, which ÖVP Minister of Education Martin Polaschek published as part of a parliamentary inquiry.

In the basic planning, there is sufficient staff in Vienna, according to the top Viennese compulsory school teacher representative Thomas Krebs (FCG) in an interview with ORF.at. “But an extremely large number of them are in part-time employment or on parental leave.” Around a third of the federal teaching staff at AHS and BHS is currently in part-time employment, at compulsory schools it is almost a quarter. In the coming year, it is expected that 477 state and 313 federal teachers will retire. At the same time, Vienna in 2023 is forecast to need 277 full-time employees in the primary level alone (preschools, elementary schools and special schools).

“Plug a hole by opening another”

“We plug a hole by opening another,” Krebs criticizes the measures taken by the education department. All-day schools in Vienna, for example, can no longer implement their basic concept of the intertwined form of leisure time and teaching. At some locations, German remedial classes can no longer be offered due to the lack of teachers.

Eraser and chalk on a blackboard shelf in a classroom

ORF.at/Carina Kainz

The shortage of teachers affects different school subjects – it is tight in computer science or exercise and sports for girls

“The situation is unbearable,” said Martina Mollay, director at the Grobergasse elementary school in Ottakring, to ORF.at. “There is a teacher in every class, yes – but only because, for example, support teachers are being withdrawn.” Due to long-term sick leave and a lack of staff, she often stands in the classroom herself and then transfers the administrative tasks to the evening.

“We want the education departments to work faster – knowing full well that a lot depends on a few people there too,” Mollays said. “It was foreseeable that this wave of pensions would come. And that the teacher training of the students is then extended at the same time – that was the super meltdown.

Young teachers increasingly overwhelmed

When asked by ORF.at whether there were enough teaching staff for German remedial classes and Ukraine classes, whether the shortage of teachers was affecting the daily routine of all-day schools in any way, and what other challenges the current situation would pose, the BMWF said: “Sufficient teaching staff is available for the German remedial classes and for teaching the Ukrainian students.”

According to the parliamentary response to questions, improvements in the application and employment process and an expansion of part-time offers for student teachers are being worked on. The central measure for short-term countermeasures is seen as lateral entry, which was anchored in the 2022 amendment to the service law. According to trade unionist Krebs, the increased use of students is not a long-term solution. Instead of recruiting new staff, everything must also be done to keep existing staff.

“We have students who are already in the first half of their studies, and that can’t be ideal.” A 25-year-old computer science and geography teacher from Vienna confirms in an interview that young teachers have a lot of work to do, especially at the beginning ORF.at. “I’ve heard from many who quit after a short time because they got into a system that overwhelmed them from the start. As a result, you quickly lose well-trained people.”

“No transparent communication with students”

In addition, students are poorly informed about the subjects for which teachers will be needed in the coming years. “There is no more transparent communication with the student teachers here, although we have often asked for forecasts of demand,” says the young Viennese teacher. The subject of psychology and philosophy is currently so popular that the course has been temporarily suspended, while teachers for the new subject “digital basic education” are being sought everywhere – although there is no degree for this yet.

There is no non-specialist teaching at his AHS due to the shortage of teachers, and thanks to good advance planning on the part of the management, there is hardly any shortage. The situation is different at a new middle school in the tenth district of Vienna. “Teaching in other subjects is quite normal and allowed at middle school. There are people who teach up to six subjects, although they are not trained in all of them,” says a young teacher.

Criticism of Education Directorate

She herself must also teach works. “I don’t think that’s fair to the children either,” says the qualified Spanish and English teacher. Especially in the subjects exercise and sports, art education, biology, chemistry and physics, non-specialist teaching is common in first and second grades. In some cases, there have been staff for missing positions since June. However, the education department would not be able to keep up with the preparation of the contracts. “Some colleagues are still not employed, although the school year has already started.”

Teacher in the staff room of a school

ORF.at/Carina Kainz

Waves of retirement have been apparent for years due to the baby boom in the 1960s

“We have an enormous backlog of authorities in Vienna, which we are now feeling,” said Krebs. The integration of Ukrainian children will come later. Vienna has to cope with a particularly wide range of educational tasks, but many problems are of its own making. “The education department is notoriously understaffed, and projects like the summer school involve enormous administrative effort.”

Year-round application planned

As a metropolitan area, Vienna has special challenges and needs the situation to provide the Ministry of Education with quotas of curricula that are appropriate for the situation, according to the media spokesman for the Vienna City Council for Education, Christoph Wiederkehr, when asked by ORF.at. The problem of a lack of teachers is Austria-wide and structural.

In an interview with the “Kronen Zeitung”, Wiederkehr explained that the education department is working flat out to issue the currently missing teacher contracts. Some would already be teaching with a tentative agreement. In addition, the aim is to enable teachers to apply all year round in the future.

In Vienna (as in other federal states), a regular application for higher schools is currently only possible in April/May. According to the Education Directorate, you can apply for compulsory education from September 26th to 27th this year. “Starting this school year, we also want to recruit teachers all year round,” announced Wiederkehr, according to the “Kronen Zeitung”. However, Viennese schools also say that due to the lack of staff in the education department, there is also a backlog in the processing of applications. Even if new teachers have applied, it takes a while before they can be in the classes.

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