Feb 14 Teacher Stopwork – No love for the government

Nothing makes me feel more connected to my colleagues than losing a day’s pay to strike and make your voices heard.
(Thursday is my day off, so no pay lost for me this year. I still attended the rally.)

After being away for the school year in 2012, I returned to industrial action that banned teachers from working beyond the 38 hours per week that we are officially paid for. This, in theory, was meant to have quite an impact on the school community, who would then complain to the government and the big wigs on Spring St would change their minds about funding public education.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s working.

There is not a single teacher I know who can prepare classes and assess work in a 38 hour week. The 38 hours is broken down into 7 hours of teaching per day, plus 3 hours of meetings for the week.

At the moment, I am working most lunchtimes and I get to school at 8.15. If I have a meeting, I leave at 4.30pm, but by the time I ensure things are planned for the following day, it’s at least 5pm. That’s early to leave by anyone’s standards.

Most nights I do a bit of work to ensure that I can teach without turning up to class and saying, “sorry guys, I have nothing planned because I am working to rule”.

I am often saying, however, “sorry guys, this won’t be assessed, I am checking that you have completed it and that’s all at this stage.” But when the major tasks start piling up towards the end of term, and parents want to know how their child is going, we are going to be hiding behind piles of papers larger than we have seen before, feeling overwhelmed and bewildered as to how this action is helping us at all.

My year 12s have waited almost 4weeks to have their holiday homework returned to them. (I’m marking it today on my day off… breaking the work ban rules AGAIN) It has to be assessed and returned with feedback so they can improve and refine their skills before the SAC on that topic in the middle of term 2.

The bans are actually creating stress for teachers. I do not feel empowered by these bans. I don’t feel supported. I feel like I am drowning. And so we work on weekends and late at night, as we (and other professions) have always done, and thus there is very little impact for the government to hear about, let alone care about.

This kind of action goes against the grain of every teacher. No one likes to see students miss out on opportunities – camps, sport, excursions – or be disadvantaged in any way with regards to their learning.

The media seems to be constantly focusing on the pay rise aspect of the industrial dispute. It’s not about how much I earn. Anyone in education will tell you they’re not in it for the money, even our colleagues in the private sector who earn more than those of us in the public sector.

Despite the workbans being a source of stress, I choose to support the industrial action because I don’t agree with the Liberal government drastically cutting spending on public education. Major building works have virtually ground to a halt in schools. Scholarships to allow teachers to be trained in specialist areas have been cut by about 60%.

My main concern though, is the possible introduction performance pay. This push from the Baillieu government could destroy collegiality in teaching. We have already seen how the introduction of the My School website placed enormous emphasis on the NAPLAN test, showing schools’ performance and excellence (or lack thereof) in just Literacy and Numeracy as graphs and numbers.
There’s no mention of how much the students improved, how enriching the education was for them at that school or how those who refused to come to school had been supported and encouraged, and were now a functioning part of the school community, for example. Tests don’t take all of the other immeasurable variables in education into account.

If you told me that I would get a pay bonus if my year 12s all got over 40 (out of 50) in English as a study score by the end of the year, I would, quite honestly, feel as though I had lost before the race began. This is not to say my class is terrible. They are not – they’re ace. But what about the student who gets lots of D and D+ grades, who comes to me for help, is comfortable enough to ask lots of questions and allow me to assist her, and she improves to get a C or a C+? In that case, I have done my job. I have worked with her, added value to her education, and along the way, I’ve shown her that an adult cares about her progress and is there to help her achieve her best. It’s a life lesson, not just an English lesson.

All I want for the students I teach is for them to leave knowing they did the best they could do at the time, given the circumstances. Sometimes, circumstances for kids are terrible. We have to take into consideration how much support the education system provides to students and their families, aside from the formal testing of their literacy and numeracy skills. If the funding keeps being cut, we can’t provide that support. Funding policies get tighter and tighter for things such as disability and impairment assistance, teacher aides, VCAL, TAFE and other pathways into vocational training. Our ability to ensure students who are at risk don’t slip through the cracks is compromised when funding is cut and staff are placed under greater pressure.

We want our students to become independent thinkers. We want them to feel as though they had a well-rounded education, with great opportunities to develop their talents in whatever it is that they love to do – writing, singing, playing sport, being a leader, a mathematician, public speaking, reading, acting, dancing, painting, photography, being an activist, being a pain in backside until things get done, making furniture, fixing cars, fixing computers, writing code, making movies, cooking, nurturing others, comprehending the world around them, standing up for what they believe in and what they know is right. I want them to critically look at the bullshit they are fed daily and make up their own minds about it all.

No one wants them to be great at taking a test.

We want to develop functioning, contributing members of society.

We want them to find their place in the world and be fulfilled in whatever they choose to do.

And the analogy of losing the race before it has even begun is so against what we do in education. We are not in competition with one another. If I wanted all my students to get over 40 in English, I wouldn’t share resources. I wouldn’t team teach. I wouldn’t present at conferences to share my ideas. Because I’d be in competition with every other teacher of that subject.


Studies have shown that when there’s a lot at stake, and in creative or higher-order thinking tasks, money as a motivator does not work.

Check this video out – it’s worth the 10 minutes of viewing – and is so clearly explained.


About SKR

30-something Australian who happened to live in Budapest for 8 months in 2012. Returned for a holiday in 2014 & 2015. Became a mum in 2016.
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2 Responses to Feb 14 Teacher Stopwork – No love for the government

  1. Danni says:

    Brilliant post Steph. I have a number of friends who are (or were) teachers and all of them work their butts off – none of them are in it for the money. It was always about providing the best leaning environment for their students, and helping them to grow to be valuable contributors to society.
    This whole situation just makes me angrier about the fact that the politicians who are in charge of departments have no clue about what it’s like to actually works in those industries. People who lead the education department should have been teaching for YEARS and should actually know what it’s like to be spending Friday nights marking assignments, or have experienced the joy of seeing that student go from D’s to C’s.
    It sounds cliche but teachers help grow the people of tomorrow – the people who will run our country and heal us and run in the Olympics and write screenplays and become teachers themselves. Teachers should be supported as much as possible, and it makes me so sad that you’re not.


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