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"I am one of the public school teachers striking in NSW this week. We are not okay."

How can I be a teacher in a government school and not constantly think about social justice? 

Kids are not showing up for the same race and my students in western NSW are leagues behind their peers at inner Sydney private schools (where I went to school) by the time they reach Year 7.

I am frustrated that, as a teacher at a public high school in New South Wales, and a government employee, I can’t publicly speak out or be critical of the system that I see, or the government of the day, to highlight the issues facing rural schools such as mine. But my students and my and community deserve their privacy too. So, I am writing this anonymously. 

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Teachers are burning out and leaving in droves. 

I’m only in my third year of teaching, but if I burn out it will be because of the cycle I watch repeat itself daily.

My students’ parents often are following the path laid down for them from childhood. Without immense grit, some luck, and real intervention and who knows what else, some of my students seem destined to follow their parents - violence, drug use, gaol time, instability, and a never-ending poverty cycle. 

For me, and most teachers I know, Tuesday’s strike is not really about a 7 per cent pay rise. What we need most - what our students need most - is more time. Time for the incidental conversations with a student staring at the ground, time to check in about an off comment made in class, and of course, time to plan lessons, mark student work, contact parents, and do admin jobs.

I don’t have enough time to give to my students, and so I watch another sad cycle at school. Students who feel disconnected from their teachers misbehave. Misbehaviour takes time to follow up, and energy to manage it in the classroom. Teachers take sick days either because they are physically exhausted or mentally spent. 

At our school, we have one casual teacher. We are less than five hours from Sydney, and “too remote” to attract what we need. 

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When lessons are covered by a casual, students behave worse because of the lack of follow-through, and because casual teachers can’t have the same strong, consistent relationships with the kids as their classroom teachers. 

Without casuals, we take ‘extras’ – covering each other’s lessons – which takes up more of our time. So, we have less time to plan lessons for our students, less time to mark, to differentiate work for students of different abilities. We don’t have enough time to give our teenage students the wellbeing support they need.

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Recently, I spent 100 per cent of my free periods in a week (and I only had three thanks to those ‘extras’) trying to help kids with issues outside of the classroom. One needed help with accessing youth allowance because she was kicked out of home, one has debilitating anxiety that makes her vomit, another needed help submitting a scholarship form, a fourth student needed to vent about her complicated home life and the huge emotional burden she carries for her little sisters, and herself. 

So, I didn't get to write my year nine reports that week. That became my Sunday job instead. This cycle is what may end my teaching career prematurely. 

I don't know what the solution is. I often wonder whether teachers at schools like the one I went to have the same cycle. Do their students, girls like me who grew in $10 million mansions by the beach, get teachers who have time to prepare meaningful lessons? Do they get teachers who are covered by a casual when they're sick? Do their teachers get cover for professional learning so they keep improving and getting more skilled in their subject areas?

I don’t mean to say there are no welfare issues in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, but I suspect their teachers have more time. They have a full-time dedicated counsellor.

So the gap widens.

How can you be a public school teacher and not stay up at night, thinking about social justice?

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The feature image a stock photo from Getty. 

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