by Severin Karantonis, The AIM Network: http://theaimn.com/contract-teaching-taking-a-toll/
A union survey has revealed a jump in the number of new Victorian
teachers on short-term contracts.
According to the Australian Education
Union (AEU), close to two-thirds of teachers in their first five years
on the job are employed on fixed-term contracts.
The number of new
teachers employed in ongoing positions has dropped 10 percentage points
since the union surveyed its members last year.
“Try working on a ten-week contract, trying to learn the curriculum,
120 student names, 25 teacher names, inventing your own resources,
putting up with screaming, swearing, abuse and going home at night to
apply for other jobs and being scared to death you won’t get one”,
writes one such teacher venting on an online forum. “You can’t focus on
teaching when you have to write extremely long detailed applications for
other positions every night.”
Australian teachers, on average, are also working almost five hours a
week longer than teachers in other industrialised countries, according
to research published by the OECD in its June Teaching and Learning
At an average of 42.7 hours a week, Australian
teachers work 10 hours longer than their counterparts in Finland, the
international poster child for student outcomes. But the OECD figure is
likely an underestimate.
“I’d love to know what teachers get done on 42 hours of work a week”,
commented one teacher in response to the OECD study results. A Teachers
Health Fund survey last year found that in Queensland a 54-hour week is
typical. A study by Monash University researchers exposes the toll that
long hours take on student-teacher relationships, detailing that more
than one in four new teachers suffers from “emotional exhaustion”.
Speaking to the Age, Professor Helen Watt explained that this group
report “much greater negativity in their interaction with students, such
as using sarcasm, aggression, responding negatively to mistakes”.
The strain isn’t made easier by the perception that teachers have it
easy. LNP Governments are eager to distract from their cuts to the
public system, and love the lazy and incompetent teacher trope. In
reality, teachers shoulder the impossible task of patching up the holes
left in the system by indifferent governments. Conditions for teachers
since union militancy peaked in the 1970s have stagnated at best, and in
many ways worsened.
Sometimes where I work, in the western suburbs of Melbourne, I hear
older teachers fondly reminisce about how things used to be. During my
placement, I shared an office with a teacher who recalled what it was
like when lunchtime was actually a time you could eat your lunch. Some
teachers would play cards, he said.
Other teachers remember the culture of militancy before the Victorian
Secondary Teachers Association was amalgamated into today’s AEU.
who’d started teaching in the early 70s explained that back then they
would walk out of the room if there were more than 25 heads in a class
or if the maximum face-to-face hours set by the union were exceeded. In
that period, the hated inspection system was abolished - an important
victory - only to have the Performance Development system thrust upon us
To reverse this trend, we need much more than the AEU’s current
strategy of limited set-piece actions during EBA periods, and lobbying
or pinning hope on Labor. It wasn’t always easy then, but when teachers
used sustained industrial action, state-wide but also importantly at the
local grassroots, they won substantial improvements.
Today we face our own challenges, with no-strike clauses so far
keeping a lid on the local actions that were so important then, but
there’s no doubt that a great many teachers (and support staff) are
rightly dissatisfied and angry. This needs to be the basis for a revival
of our compelling example of fighting unionism, not idle reminiscing.
This post originally appeared on Red Flag.