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Better conditions, not better pay, for teachers

  • 14 June 2019


Emotional blackmail is the rotten foundation on which teacher working conditions are built. We don't do it for the money, we are constantly told. We do it 'for the kids'.

Don't want to volunteer your Sundays to the musical? It's a shame that the kids will miss out. Don't want to coordinate debating for free? So sad for the kids who don't get to form a team this year. Can't give up your one free lunch break to coach the soccer? I guess that's fine, but it would have been a fantastic chance to get the kids out and moving! This kind of emotional blackmail is particularly effective because it does not need to be explicitly articulated. Saying 'no' to an adult can be difficult. Saying 'no' to the pleading eyes of a child feels like a crime.

For years, teachers have been programmed to ignore the systemic gaps that leave their extra labour uncompensated. Instead, we are encouraged to internalise guilt when we don't go out of our way to facilitate opportunities outside the official scope of our jobs — even when taking on these responsibilities is at the expense of our own wellbeing. Stressed and overworked teachers are, apparently, to blame for denying students fantastic prospects, not the school systems that foist an untenable workload upon their employees. Not only do teachers suffer because of this but so do students, who do not have their teachers' full attention and energy.

How are teachers supposed to say 'No more!' without becoming the bad guys? This is where unions can step in. The transactional dynamics of obligation and guilt are so prevalent in schools that explicit entitlements, enshrined in enterprise agreements, are needed to protect teacher wellbeing. Approximately 40 per cent of education professionals hold union membership, making teaching one of the most highly unionised jobs in Australia. Yet education unions have been largely ineffective at enacting substantial and tangible change for teachers in recent years.

This is because education unions tend to focus on one thing when it comes to enterprise bargaining: money. Working conditions are sometimes addressed, but mostly in the context of preventing further degradation, rather than substantial improvement. In teaching, this has led to a subtle creep of job scope as more administrative tasks become ingrained in the professionm, while teacher release time remains basically stagnant.

It's a common cry among progressives that teachers should get paid more. In some instances, this is