5 July 2022

'For goodness sake, don't become a teacher': educators join forces to have voices heard

| Claire Fenwicke
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Protesting teachers

ACT and NSW Catholic teachers joined with NSW public school educators to strike together, demanding real action on workload and pay. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

ACT and NSW Catholic school teachers joined forces with hundreds of NSW public school educators today (30 June) demanding an overhaul of the system.

The NSW Teachers Federation and the Independent Education Union joined together for the first time in 26 years, demanding real action on workload and salary issues.

Queanbeyan High School Teachers Federation representative Mitch Andrew said the issue boiled down to insufficient teachers on the ground leaving staff “broken”.

“Our senior students are in the library [doing independent learning ] three out of five sessions every day,” he said.

“Our teachers are broken. They’re hiding from students and colleagues. They’re breaking down and crying because they can’t do this job.”

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He said propositions from the government were like “putting a bandaid on an artery” and that more needed to be done to improve salary, reduce workloads and attract more people to the profession.

“School is meant to be one of the safest places for kids, but they’re not because they can’t be supervised,” Mr Andrew said.

He also described using his ‘planning hour’ each day to conduct welfare checks on his students, which he said his training had not prepared him for.

“[My colleagues and I] have spent many hours looking after kids who have cut themselves, sitting with a student who has swallowed razor blades waiting for the ambulance. I know someone who physically had to take a noose from around a kid’s neck,” he said.

“I didn’t do any medical or counselling training; I wasn’t prepared for what we would have to do.”

Queanbeyan High School women’s representative Robyn Slater also described the dire situation teachers were facing.

She was particularly concerned for senior students as their age meant their classes were always the first to be unsupervised.

“They’re missing out by default because they’re seen as the more independent learners,” Ms Slater said.

“Some come into school and don’t have a teacher all day.”

A common statistic at the protest was that preparation times for high school teachers had not changed since the 1950s and for primary school teachers since the 1980s.

Ms Slater said she had grave concerns for teachers beginning their careers in a system that was “already broken”.

“They think this is normal, but it isn’t, and it shouldn’t be acceptable,” she said.

“We are professionals and we need to be treated as such. We need time to be able to do our job effectively so that we can help the students.”

A recent report found seven in 10 teachers were reconsidering their careers.

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IEU ACT representative Daniel Burns said he worried what the profession would look like in five years if something didn’t change.

“We’re essentially being asked to do more with less and then [the government is] wondering why they can’t attract more people into our wonderful profession,” he said.

“What brings us joy is gone or is at least buried under layers of bureaucracy.

“This is not just an exercise in throwing stones. We want to make the profession better.”

Braidwood Central principal Nerida Mosely agreed.

She was concerned students seeing their teachers burnt out would turn them off education as a career option.

“[They’re looking at us and thinking] I can take my education and do something else in society, and then that leaves us with massive teacher shortages,” she said.

She demanded the government stop treating teachers as “scapegoats for a system in crisis”.

“Just giving us new buildings is not going to provide a future for education or a future for our country, which is what we’re in this business for,” Ms Mosely said.

“It is an investment – when is it going to be seen as such rather than a cost?”

The NSW Government offered a 5.1 per cent pay increase to educators as part of the recent state budget.

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said it was “deeply disappointing” the unions had chosen to strike.

“After two-and-a-half years of learning disruption due to COVID-19, another day out of the classroom is unnecessary and will cause major upheaval for hardworking parents,” she said.

Based on the NSW Department of Education’s preliminary data, about 75 per cent of NSW public schools faced either some or severe disruption because of the strikes.

Only one Canberra school was closed as a result.

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In these stories, the unions always complains about workload AND pay.

The truth of the matter is that an increase means absolutely nothing, if the workload remains excessive.

Our teachers have had it tough over the last couple of years with Covid, as have every front-line, essential worker. People are leaving front-line essential roles, NOT because of the money, but because of burnout.

Governments have been quick to reopen everything, but nothing has changed for all types of frontline workers. With 1,000 new cases every day, these people are still dealing with Covid situations.

If we all wore a mask (even at places like the Supermarket or Bunnings) and took a few extra precautions, we’d reduce the spread of Covid and in our way, help reduce the stress levels for all of these workers.

Tom Worthington5:26 pm 01 Jul 22

Those with the responsibility for training teachers should ensure they have skills for other jobs. Some skills in use of technology, to take on some of the administrative burden, and understanding of how to resist being pressured into overwork, would also be useful. This also applies to casual academics who become trapped in low paid, insecure work, subject to wage theft, and pressured into long unpaid hours. https://blog.highereducationwhisperer.com/2020/08/to-win-academic-hunger-games-dont-play.html

Want to see the future? Here’s an easy test to get an indication of the current state of teaching and a preview of the Education system in the not too distant future.
Ask any teacher if they would encourage their own children to become teachers.
Teaching used to run in families. It skipped a generation here and there but most teachers had a teacher not to far back in the family. Kiss that goodbye.
Ask the children whose mum or dad or both are teachers if they would become teachers themselves. Totally surprised if you got 1 in 40.
And then there’s the hopeless strategy employed by Teacher Unions. Holding one day strikes 48 hours before the holidays makes it too easy for parents of high schoolers and probably Year 6 kids to organise their kids to cope with being home alone on the Thursday and Friday so they make it an early holiday. So many public service parents and private enterprise parents as well, have heaps of ‘Parental Leave’ to cover the odd day here and there. So it’s really only parents of K-5 kids that are really put under pressure and having ‘minimal supervision’ and 3 weeks notice of stoppages makes the strikes totally ineffective. Federation foolishly feeds them the myth that you have to ‘get the parents onside’. A strike is a withdrawal of labour to improve pay and conditions. Stick to that and go on extended strike until you get what you want. Force the parents to demand that the Government does something. “What about the Kids?” Some short term pain for their long term gain is required.

Agree. Strike on a Wednesday and for more than a day. Parents are sick of closures – this will hopefully really cause them to rise up and also to realise who the bad guys are (i.e not the teachers)

As a qualified teacher, newly retired, I would not go back in. Some major obstacles (referring to the secondary area):

1) The constant need for accreditation. Compulsory “training modules” in areas such as mandatory reporting which basically are repeats of modules you did before. The constant payment of your licence fee and working with children fee. This is made much more difficult if you’re moving from state to state. It can take months to gain a new accreditation, even though we are constantly told “we are working to make this more flexible”. Why is there no national teacher registration board to make life easier?
2) If one could just teach that would be find. But there is now a constant requirement to “alter your lesson” for any “special needs” student. That would be OK except now there are often a third of the class who need this – and followup reporting of each and what you did in your own time.
3) Behaviour management and liaison with parents. I ran the Behaviour Management Workshops for my school – basically teaching new teachers what the universities don’t. For many teachers, it’s 70% of their classroom time, with resultant follow up. The occasional parent who blames all of their child’s attitude on the school or the teacher makes it much worse. Imagine spending your time arguing for the school’s policy on mobile phones, or jewellery wearing, or the like – which they signed up to when they enrolled!
4) Staff meetings which are full of stuff that could be sorted via email. And there’s always a staff member who stand up and says “as a school, I think we must…”
5) Following on from this are activist teachers pushing their various causes. Each earnestly tells everyone their information is important, and “we” need to have posters up, and students told things in assembles, and so on. This all takes time away from the essential reason you’re there – to teach the curriculum. Any argument against it gets even more vigorous pushback from the activist teacher – we must educate the whole student etc.
6) The lack of policy led from the top of government. Each school is left to develop policies in various areas – more time. For example, why is there not a federal government directive banning mobile phones in high schools? They are the cause of most of the fighting and harassment between students – and the school (read “the staff”) then has to sort it. Instead the feds defer to the states, whose politicians defer to the school principal – and so on.

I could go on but you get the idea.

I have some sympathy for teachers – home schooling showed many of us what an awful job it is (and that was only with two kids at home!). I do take issue with ACT Directorate giving teachers 2 planning days per term, pupil free days. We were told this term they for report writing, reports then came home with no comments on them, a total waste of time. I get the growing feeling they are now milking “covid induced workload”.

Teaching students itself is not an awful job, that’s what keeps us going to work every day as for most of us we get satisfaction in providing that learning environment. It is the overwhelming layer of risk adverse paperwork required to ensure what the department requires is ticked off. You mentioned you home schooled – we appreciate that – how much time did you have for other duties during those days – very little one would assume. Our workday doesn’t start and finish with school times, we choose to spend as much time as possible to ensure our lessons give the best outcomes for the diversity of our students – many of whom don’t have the luxury of loving parents like yourself prepared to put in the time to their future life skills.
What this strike is about is trying to secure a future for this vocation, to ensure all students and the workforce providing the education have the best outcome available. Many teachers like me are approaching early retirement after 30+ years in a job we are passionate about, but burnout is a real thing, and we are deeply concerned that the current status will not attract the career teachers we were able to look up to when we first started.
And remember it is not about the pay – it is about the conditions in the workplace.

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