Strike it lucky

I’m a teacher in the Victorian Public Education system, and I’m going on strike on Thursday.

Why would I do that?

Sure, Ted Bailieu promised to make us the best paid teachers in Australia at the last election. He is now comprehensively breaking that promise – but I only became a teacher last year, and I almost halved my salary to do so. I don’t care about the money.

What matters to me is that yet again, education is being undervalued. Sold off for parts. We are being told that if we are to get pay rises that are less than inflation, less than the cost of living, we must offset them with “productivity gains”. In Ted’s eyes, this means more contact hours. Yet I have a teaching load of 0.47 (less than half) because I am part time, and I am working myself to the limits of my endurance, and I still don’t have time to do the job properly.

How do I get more “productive” by spending more time teaching, when I don’t have time to do the preparation and marking that I should be doing, without spending countless hours at night and on weekends marking and preparing?

And don’t talk to me about the school holidays. That’s when I catch up on the marking and prep I didn’t have time to do during term. Friends of mine are leaving teaching in droves – happily giving up the school holidays in order to have a life the rest of the time.

The truth is that teaching is all consuming. And I am passionate about what I do – I wouldn’t have become a teacher otherwise. But half way through my second year and I am almost burnt out. Along comes Ted Bailieu, with an unmistakable message that education isn’t valuable, my skills aren’t worth rewarding, and I am not working hard enough.

I am incredibly fortunate to work with an amazingly talented, passionate and impressive group of young people. My colleagues amaze me every day with their talent, dedication and enthusiasm for what they do. I love my job, I love my workplace, I love my colleagues, and I adore my students. But I want a government that believes that education matters. I want a government that is willing to invest in the future of our children. And I want a government that keeps its promises. It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.

That’s why I’m striking on Thursday.

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17 thoughts on “Strike it lucky

  1. I went through the last few years of secondary when so many smaller schools were being closed (5 around my school) resulting in crazy class sizes. In my year 11 physics class, 1-2 people had to sit on the prac benches at the side because we didn’t have enough chairs/tables.

    Strikes and union actions greatly impacted my studies – music classes were cancelled, Spanish classes as well (13 students didn’t meet the required minimum of 15), and the teacher was forbidden to teach outside of school hours, or she would lose her job. Extra curricular events like excursions, drama productions, most sport groups were also cancelled. I lost a month of year 11/12 classes to strikes – there were whole sections in the exams that we weren’t taught.

    The Kennett government certainly didn’t believe in education, and I’m appalled that this government is heading in the same direction.

    I supported teachers then, even though my studies were directly and drastically impacted (I suspect that if music/Spanish hadn’t been cancelled, I wouldn’t have studied comp sci at uni!)
    And I support the teachers now.

    Unfortunately, most of the public do not understand a teachers’ workload (at any level). They look at the ‘holidays’, believe that a teacher’s work day ends at 3:30pm, and are convinced that teachers have it easy. I don’t know we can change this …

    1. lindamciver

      You are so right, Kym. Too many people think we have it easy. I can’t imagine how they can think so, but they do!

  2. Joe

    Mind you, I don’t actually recall ever knowing anyone who thinks good teachers have it easy, workload wise.

    In battling against false perceptions, it’s worth contemplating what those perceptions might be.

    Thinking out loud and candidly about perceptions that I have known people to hold…

    Maybe it’s more two other perceptions involved…
    1) “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”
    and
    2) Sure, there’s a lot of work. But the contact hours leave the rest pretty flexible.

    I recall in particular the tertiary education perception that as a generalisation (with exceptions of course) the mediocre students or those of lacklustre motivation to anything else might consider a DipEd or a “teacher’s college, rather than a ‘real’ university”.

    Maybe that flows into the community … the prejudice that a large percentage of the body of teachers are made up of people who lacked one or more of the talent or motivation or confidence to do something else?

    1. lindamciver

      Go read the comments section of The Age, Joe. Actually don’t, it will make your brain leak out your ears. But many people apparently do think we have it easy. The bitterness and lack of respect is depressing. You’re right about the prejudice, though. I wish I knew how we could change that! I’m pretty sure my students don’t think I’m lazy, or lacking motivation, or talentless – but will they become adults who believe that about teachers? I don’t know.

  3. Dana Tymms

    Well written, Linda!
    But Ted Baillieu and his government undervalue so many things, including the environment and renewable energy.
    The right to strike is also important. Best of luck tomorrow, Dana

    1. lindamciver

      Thanks Dana. Too true. There’s a great article on The Drum about how this government’s policy on education is ideological rather than evidence based. Same goes for environment, energy, health… very sad.

  4. mtc

    I support you linda. My darling wife is a teacher and she is a slave to the system. Especially this time of the year with report writing. last night she finished about 11.30pm and gone again this morning at 7.30am. Pretty hard to find that sort of committment from people on twice+ the salary. best of luck with the strike, it really does seem to be the only way to get a dire mesasge across. I voted for Baillieu and I expected more. Whilst many teachers are not in the profession for the money, they do live in the real world. My wife just got her car insurace renewal from aami and it has gone up 29.5%.

  5. Congrats Linda and all of your colleagues.

    Sometimes you do what you have to, in order to right a wrong.

    Something that always leaves me a little empty in these times of action, is the lack of wider thinking, or at least appreciation of the gravity of the plight, by the general public.

    As someone who in the past, and no doubt the future, has had to resort to industrial action to attempt to achieve parity, let alone advancement of my employment conditions, I remembering being left a little ‘cold’ by the ambivalence of some around me. By those, I mean the general public.

    Whether it is a product of a busy society, a perception of greed, or even a pang of jealousy of what is perceived as luxury type employment conditions, but an unwillingness to delve deeper into the issue than the 30 second news grab, presents a lack of buy in from those that matter most, the voters. Anyone who knows a teacher remotely well, understands the real life, or lack thereof, that one leads in the education field.

    I am a Professional Firefighter and have been for over 22 years. In that time, I have had to take some pretty extreme action to protect not only my employment, but more often than not, protecting the ability of me and my colleagues to do our job effectively, with appropriate equipment and protection. The follow on is that the general public can rest assured than in their particular time of need, we are able to do our very best to assist.

    On numerous occasions I have had the barbed ‘Dorothy Dixer’ posed to me about how much leave I get each year. When I answer “9 weeks”, the look on the face of the inquisitor is priceless. However, when I explain that the 9 weeks is made up of 5 weeks annual leave and what are effectively banked hours from working a 42 hour week, things alter ever so slightly. When I add that when we work Weekends, Nights, Public Holidays, Good Friday, Christmas Day etc and get NOT ONE CENT EXTRA, the colour of informed opinion then begins to wash over them. This is where a little deeper thought and understanding brings a new perception.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love my job, but I do it because of course I choose to and I have to work. I am very fortunate to enjoy what I do.

    Like Educators, we too at times, take home baggage after hours. Whilst it is of a completely different nature to that of exam papers and lesson plans, the point being that we both do what we do because we love it. However, that should not discount any employment conditions, undermine public safety or lessen the quality of education or the lives of those delivering it.

    This is not a call for kudos, it is a call for people to be educated about the educators.

    The end beneficiaries are not the educators, it is those being educated.

    Shane McCluskey

    1. lindamciver

      I wholeheartedly agree, Shane. It is incredibly demoralising to fight for what you believe in and be vilified as a money grubbing slacker. I’ve been reading comments on The Age and I am now thoroughly depressed. How fortunate that I can spend my day kicking back drinking margaritas, secure in the knowledge that my work day is 9-3:30 and I have oodles of holidays in which I do no work.

      I wish.

  6. Kylee

    I know exactly how you feel. I burnt out in 4 years – and what happened? I was made redundant, as my school had to merge or be forced to close down. I love teaching, and wish to return – but I do not want the same thing to happen again! I don’t want to return to teaching with the profession in the state that it is at the moment.
    The teaching profession has the highest levels of people on stress leave and a high level of staff on part-time. This is a huge indicator of how much work teachers are expected to do – and we are expected to do another hour a day? And ‘performance indicators’? This will take out all the collaboration that teachers do in order to get through their work. It would end up being even a worse place to work without any friendly staff to work together for the greater good – your kids’ education.

    1. lindamciver

      Too true Kylee. And then there’s the question of how you measure performance. I team teach a lot of my classes. Some of the kids on my team mate’s role prefer to talk to me. Some of the kids on my role prefer to talk to him. This is one of the great bonuses of team teaching. But which of us claims the bonus for the performance of those kids?

      1. Joe

        My daughter is in grade 1 this year.

        At her school there is a Student Representative Council and every class in the school has a designated rep. My daughter is one. (Yay her!) Even the prep kids (or kindy, depending on your state) have reps.

        I also note that since the classes grow in size each year, the classes are thoroughly shuffled from year to year. Only a few kids from each class will share a class the following year.

        This year I noted to the school principal that of the nine grade 1 classes more than half the student reps were in my daughter’s class *last* year… ie just one teacher had nurtured half the bold confidence of this year’s grade 1 council.

        He said he couldn’t really *afford* to think about that.

        But that’s the kind of teacher I want for my kids. I don’t see any way to “measure” that performance, nor teach that teacher. I couldn’t give two figs for official numeracy and literacy scores … my kids will “know enough”, and for well being and happiness in life (not to mention a healthy society and stable economy) a tiny notch of appropriate life confidence runs rings around a vastness of exams passed.

  7. Aline

    I lasted less than a year as a primary school teacher. You can’t pay me enough to ever go back to teaching. It is a highly stressful and thankless job – You are not just a teacher these days, you are also a social worker, a counsellor, a parent, an advocator, an adjudicator…the list is endless…People used to tell me how lucky I was having all those school holidays – What they don’t realise is that without those holidays, more teachers would burn out quicker. Also, teachers take work home with them. People don’t realise the time spent marking work, preparing lessons, as well as the meetings after work, etc. I take off my hat to all teachers – I hope you get what you ask for (even though you deserve so much more).

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