Today is a strange day for me. After weeks of focussing on my day job I find myself doing something that I never thought I would – participate in stop work action, better known as a strike. My reasons for doing this are both complex and simple.
The press, and even the union are beating this up as being about pay. And it is. After all, our current government promised to make Victorian teachers the best in the state. When that promise was made, their were no conditions mentioned. But as the negotiations started, it rapidly became apparent that conditions would be applied. Conditions that have the potential to take our system from being the best in Australia to the worst. Conditions that promote divisiveness in the workplace instead of cohesion. Conditions that further reduce our opportunities to spend time with our own families.
Currently we have a maximum of 26 students in the classroom. Under current law, kids are required to be at school until they are 17. Although there are some alternatives, for most this means attend a Secondary College. The government wants to put 30 kids in the classrooms. This means that instead of being able to allocate 1.92 minutes per period to your child, I will have to allow your child only 1.6 minutes. And that is not taking into consideration time required for front of the room instruction. But at the same time I am required to individualize your child’s learning programme in order to provide him or her with the best opportunities to learn.
Yesterday I was in front of approximately 125 different individuals, from beautiful Year 7’s to dedicated Year 12’s (okay, so not all the year 12’s are dedicated, but I can dream can’t I). And I did my best to provide each teenager with the best educational experience I could. If Bailleau has his way, that will increase to 150 kids IF I have a 6 on with one double period. If I had 6 single periods, it would be more than 175 kids. On my best day, I am working with only 75.
So explain to me when am I going to mark papers, plan effective, engaging classes that meet the needs of each individual child, make necessary phone calls home, follow up on behaviour issues, as well as VOLUNTEER my time to supervise SACs, in an effort to adequately prepare YOUR child for Year 12 exams. Oh, and fill in for teachers who are absent due to ill health. Already most of us regularly take home work because there are not enough hours in the day. And our Premier wants to increase our contact time.
The pay increase is linked to performance. Only the best teachers are entitled to the full pay increase. But how is that determined? Is it the teacher who drew the lucky straw and got the Dux of the school in their maths class, a student who was predicted to top everyone 2 years or more before they did year 12, or the teacher who regularly provides engaging classes, but unfortunately, has a particularly academically weak group? Who determines it? With teachers constantly competing for better pay, there will be no more sharing of resources, schools will be encouraged to teach to standardized tests, and teachers will feel unable to work as part of a team, as we do now.
As you look forward to a relaxing long weekend, spare a thought for your child’s teacher, who no doubt is planning to spend this entire weekend writing reports, and either last weekend or next weekend too. 150 of them for me. But for others, many more. I wonder what my children will be doing with their father this weekend? We have not had a Queens Birthday Weekend since I returned to teaching 4 years ago!
But you know something? Tomorrow, I will go to work at 7am, arriving there by 7.30am, enter my classroom by 8am, so that I am available to give extra support to students who choose not to come to my staffroom because it is too far for them to travel, and I will look with joy on those who come in early, especially the girl who is passing for me, but failing for everyone else, and who is there by 8.15, or earlier, waiting for me to arrive. I will start my class officially at 9am, and at 3.15 I will walk back to my staff room exhausted, having finished another 6 on, satisfied that I have done my best today, but seeking another way to improve. Because as teachers, we are ALWAYS open to new ideas for our lessons. And I will pull out the maths test that I need to correct before I write my Year 7 reports and mark those, and I will review the SACs that I have given my year 12’s this year, to ensure that they have been marked correctly. And maybe I will get out the door by 5pm.
Teaching is not a job, it is a calling.