Teachers pushed to limits

There’s a lot you can learn from your first job, writes AEU Tasmania President David Genford.

At age 16 I was lucky enough to gain employment as an indoor sports umpire.

It was a fantastic job which served me well for three years while I was studying. 

In the mornings I’d referee junior games, in the afternoons I’d cover adult matches.

The shifts weren’t too long and the work itself wasn’t overly demanding, but like most young Australians, I always appreciated that feeling of relief come knock-off time.

There were days when we were short-staffed, and I can’t remember how many times I was asked to stay back and work overtime, umpiring a second, third, fourth match.

But I never turned it down – It meant extra money for this once cash-strapped student and the overtime penalties were welcome.

I didn’t want to let down the players when we were short-staffed, but I can’t say I would have done the extra work without being paid for it.

Fast forward 25 years and there’s still a lot of overtime, but now it’s in schools and it goes unpaid.

Now the “shifts” are long, and the work is demanding.

Students instead of players, lesson preparation instead of helping out around the clubhouse.

While teaching at Taroona High School during Term 1 this year, there were little-to-no days where I would clock-off work at the end of my contracted hours.

It’s because in this profession, overtime work isn’t exactly optional, it’s compulsory. And the penalty rates? Forget it.

Can you imagine a teacher telling a student, “sorry, can’t help you with that question, my shift has just ended”?

Or, a teacher not planning for tomorrow’s class activities because they ran out of time in their “normal” work hours?

Tasmanian teachers, on average, work 11 hours of unpaid overtime every week. That means an average teacher has worked their contracted hours by Thursday’s recess break.

It is little wonder one in three teachers leave the profession in their first five years. 

How can we expect to attract and retain talented teachers, to lift the learning for the next generation of Tasmanians, if our educators’ unconditional workload is rewarded by the lowest pay in the country? 

Tasmanian schools are facing funding shortfalls, teacher shortages and an unmet need for professional support staff, as pointed out in the recent inquiry into abuse in schools.

The independent report explains: “One consistent refrain across all the schools we visited was that the demand for school support staff greatly outweighed the allocated resources for these positions by the Department of Education”.

Teachers are stressed, burnt out, lacking support and many are questioning why they are continuing to work in an undervalued profession.

A common, collective answer for that question is, because they do it for the students.

For too long the state government has relied on teacher goodwill, forcing educators to go above-and-beyond for students, without adequate resources to assist them.

If my workload was stretched thinner while umpiring, at least I knew I’d be thanked generously come pay day.

This government knows that on average, every Tasmanian school is missing out on $630,000 in funding every year, yet our leaders are happy to sit on their hands, withholding appropriate resourcing as teacher workloads stretch thinner and thinner.

Australian Education Union members across the state have been holding ‘wear red’ days during Terms 3 and 4 this year, highlighting that teacher workload has ballooned unacceptably high.

No one wins when teacher workloads worsen, and no one is at more of a loss than our students.

AEU member educators this week showed their workload has them seeing red. School and college teachers, principals and support staff walked out on time, at the end of their working day, on Thursday in a stand against the government’s ongoing disrespect for teacher workload and student learning conditions.

If you saw a large teacher presence outside your local school after class hours on Thursday, it wasn’t because bus duty staffing increased, it is because Tasmanian teachers are fed up.

They are taking a stand because they care about their students and want to feel valued in their employment.

Will this government take notice or will we risk losing more high quality teachers and mentors for Tasmania’s future leaders?

The optimist in me hopes teachers on Thursday felt that feeling of relief once knock off time arrived. 

But I know Tasmanian teachers won’t be able to rest until they see real long-term solutions to their ongoing and growing workload.

It’s also highly likely teachers who walked out on time Thursday caught up on work from their home office – it’s in their nature. 

My first job taught me that going above and beyond came with reward. If only that was the case in our most important professions.