Teachers aren’t just doing it for themselves
Victoria, it appears, is leading the fight for teachers’ rights, recognising the countless unpaid work teachers are expected to put in without any financial compensation.
The Australian Education Union (AEU) is holding strong, threatening to ban activities previously taken for granted such as writing detailed comments while marking, supervising sport, music, theatre activities, debates and other projects, which are often outside of their contracted 38 hours.
The heart of the problem is this: teaching is valued differently to other professions, with various governments and the greater public relying on the generosity of teachers’ time to fulfil duties which, in any other profession – except nursing – would simply not be tolerated.
The Victorian government refuses to recognise that offering monetary incentives to individual teachers is counter-productive to the way teaching functions. Unlike the world of business, where individuals are encouraged to shine by doing overtime, teachers are expected to perform many duties outside of their designated hours.
Teaching is about collaboration and mutual understanding. Simply offering bonuses to “high performing staff” – whatever that means - serves to divide loyalties and creates a competitive and stressful atmosphere not conductive to learning.
Because teaching is a female dominated profession, gender bias often plays a big role in the way teacher duties are perceived by governments and the greater public. These roles are seen in two contrasting ways: one, schools are treated like businesses, evaluated on the basis of their performance, and rewarded accordingly – usually financially.
Two, the ‘caregiver’ mentality so deeply associated with teaching works only to disadvantage dedicated and honest professionals.
Teachers are considered inherently good and giving, people who are dedicating their lives to furthering the aspirations of vulnerable, young minds. This caregiver mentality is precisely what keeps teachers underpaid; it inhibits their ability to request pay increases as assertively as, say, a marketing co-ordinator, and enhances the spiral of silence, which encircles teacher obligations.
With the rise of specialist (selective-entry) and private schools, Australia’s chronically underfunded public schools are the unavoidable losers of this model, as they are lawfully bound to accept any student who applies.
Therefore, setting targets for student performance based on tests such as NAPLAN only serves to widen the gap between high and low performing schools without actually tackling the underlying issues, and injects funding into the best ‘performers’ while leaving those who clearly need it more in the lurch.
In addition, teachers are often expected to perform miracles with students who clearly need extra help. In this role, teachers have to play counsellors and venture outside of their training, with little support from the wider school community.
This is not always the result of principals unwilling to help their colleagues; frequently, the lack of funding stifles opportunities for professional development, and creates a culture of inadequate teaching and stressed-out, time-poor teachers.
The Victorian branch of the AEU is finally taking a stand on the teacher’s behalf, telling them that they don’t need to feel guilty for wanting to be paid more. The average Victorian graduate salary for teachers is $57,000, which is relatively high for a graduate position, as compared to law, engineering and so on. However, teachers hit the pay glass ceiling within 10 years, whereas other professions continue to rise.
But here’s the kicker: according to various surveys conducted by teacher unions and academics, between 25 and 40 per cent of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. This creates a significant shortage of experienced, senior teachers, which the Labor and Liberal governments have sought to remedy by offering teaching scholarships and creating more teaching courses at universities.
As a result, the entry threshold has been significantly lowered and now admits far less suitable candidates, which inevitably impacts the overall education of Australians.
Teaching also includes myriad of other skills, such as mentoring, encouragement and counselling. As a university tutor, I am very aware of the multitasking required of all educators, regardless of the schooling level.
Although I am not responsible for the development or legal supervision of very young minds, I still wish to make my lessons as interesting as possible. Students come into my subjects with varying levels of ability, and I have often found myself dedicating more than the designated 15 minutes of consultations per week (for which I am paid) in order to help some students catch up.
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy my work immensely, and I continue to reapply semester after semester. Yet it is sometimes difficult to cope with the onslaught of emails and the expectations of many students to give them more time than I actually have.
Teachers are often praised for the hard work that they’re doing. But no one has ever survived on the commendation of his or her character alone. At the end of the day, teaching is still a job, and teachers are still people who like to live materially comfortable lives.
They are not super-humans who have taken it upon themselves to raise everybody’s children. They have their own lives, their own aspirations and are entitled to have their overtime recognised and rewarded the same way as other industries.
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