• B. Hennessy

Both of my parents are teachers, here’s why this week's strike matters

Within the system it is a well known and heavily policed fact that teachers, as employees of the Department of Education are not able to speak to the media without first receiving the permission of the Department. This may explain to some degree why you aren’t aware how we came to the situation we are in, where collectively across the state NSW teachers have said enough is enough, and today, will be going on strike for the first time in ten years.

Yes, you may have seen the shocking statistics, like the fact that by 2023 NSW will simply not have enough teachers to meet demand. In fact, right now across our state there are schools where students are missing valuable periods of learning time, because schools simply do not have the teachers to put in front of them. And, if there are teachers to stand in front of them, there is no guarantee they are trained in that subject. For example, state wide we are 800 STEM teachers short, meaning students are being taught by teachers, who whilst brilliant, did not specialise nor are qualified in that field.

You could even have heard that teachers in essence received a pay cut in 2020 as the 0.3% increase in their wage was less than the rate of inflation.

You may have read or heard these stories, but I think without understanding the individual toll on teachers behind these statistics you may be amongst those disgruntled with tomorrow’s disruption. You haven’t heard these stories because of the proverbial gag in their contract. I however, am not under contract, so let me tell you.

For context, both of my parents are teachers, a Principal, and a Vice Principal in fact, in a small rural town. So what does the teacher shortage look like here?

Let's start with how teaching is depicted. It’s an idyllic career where you go to work at 9:00AM, leave at 3:00PM, make a difference in kids lives through the power of education, and then every ten weeks go on vacation.

Not a bad gig, right? Well, here’s what it really looks like….

My parents arrive at work no later than 7:00 AM. As there is a staff shortage, despite it not being a common practice for a Principal or Vice Principal they both teach a heavy class load. During their day their responsibilities also include, time tabling casual teachers each day, managing disciplinary matters, parental meetings, department meetings, the school budget and every other thing that may pop up during the day. At the end of the day my mother will typically get home at 9:00 PM, on a good day. Because, contrary to popular opinion, the school day does not end when the students leave.

But it doesn’t end there, once she is home, she logs back on and the workday continues until 11:00PM some nights, when the last issue has been attended too.

Wash, rinse, repeat, for ten weeks.

Then holidays, right?

No. Then spend the holidays coordinating the next term, trying to squeeze blood from a rock, that is, trying to find teachers to put in front of classes.

But, the power of education, right? Changing children’s lives, right?

Yes, that is right, but it is also one shard of a mosaic that makes the picture of a school. Yes, they turn up for the students who come books in arms everyday ready to learn, but they also turn up everyday for the students who need school as a safe space, for the students who rely on them to help when things are hard, weather at home, on the playground or just outside of the gates.

This is not a one in a million story I am telling, all across the state there are teachers every single day who work CEO hours, for less than half their pay, with twice the responsibility. Because they know, that education is the most powerful tool we have, to end the cycle of poverty, the cycle of abuse, to lift people up. They know, if they drop the ball or throw in the towel the repercussions are not an angry client, it’s not even just an angry parent, it’s the jeopardisation of a child’s future that brings them back every single day even when the conditions are continuously falling.

No, this isn’t just about the pay, it’s about successive failures from the Government and the Department to address the root issues impacting teachers. Yes, pay is a part of it, mainly the fact that the Coalition State Government refuses to negotiate a 2.5 per cent annual growth cap on public sector wages that they created. But at the foundation of this is sustainability, teachers will burn out, they will leave the profession, our state is already in a teacher’s shortage crisis, we can’t afford for it to get any worse.

The conditions need to improve, more time needs to be allocated to planning, more incentives need to be created to bring people into the profession, and policies need to be developed in consultation with the teachers who live this experience every day. So today, if you feel frustrated with teachers after months of homeschooling, try to remember that this strike is not occurring in a vacuum. It is a product of teachers being overworked, underpaid, under-appreciated, and ignored by the Government. It is the product of some of our most essential workers being treated as disposable ones. Remember, behind every single statistic you read about the teacher shortage today, there is a human being who is doing the best they can for your children.

So, why are we here? The question is, why didn’t this happen sooner? And when will we finally give teachers more than thanks?