school

"It's not about the bloody money." What teachers in crisis actually want.

It has just ticked over into the first school holidays of 2022, which means the “must be nice having 87 weeks of holidays a year” comments are out in full force. Some things never change.

In Queensland we had a late formal start due to COVID. This made settling into routines more difficult - so although we taught less, the consensus was that the term felt longer.

Despite what Kevin the keyboard warrior would have you believe, teachers were working through COVID closures – supervising the children of essential workers, setting up classrooms and doing the planning and admin that usually gets neglected in the first manic weeks of school. 

Watch: Thank you to all teachers, everywhere. Post continues after video. 


Video via Mamamia.

However, this year, because most students were at home, teachers were afforded one thing that is usually in short supply – a little more time. 

And that got me thinking about the conversation around the teaching crisis and what it actually is that teachers are asking for. And it might surprise you to know that it’s not about the bloody money.

We need more time.

One of the things most people don’t realise about teaching is that it’s actually two jobs. The first occurs while students are at school. In this period, you are delivering the curriculum, providing assessment and feedback, building relationships and managing a classroom of 25+ personalities. 

It’s the visible part of teaching and it’s hectic (verging on bananas) at times but it’s what we signed up for. It’s the rewarding part.

Then there’s the second part of the job. The invisible part. The part that takes up an equivalent amount of time and only seems to be getting bigger. I’ll call it teacher admin because unrelenting, boring a** f**k-duggery is too wordy. 

ADVERTISEMENT

In short; it’s emails, it’s data collection and analysis, it’s report writing, it’s resource making, it’s planning, it’s marking, it’s meetings, it’s duties, it’s recording behaviour, it’s buying classroom supplies, it’s sourcing and wrangling resources, it’s putting up thoughtful classroom displays, it’s logging jobs for IT and facilities maintenance, it’s professional development. 

It. Is. Never. Ending.

"We need respect." Image: Getty. 

Most experienced teachers know you will never get to the end of your to do list. It’s not a realistic goal. So, we are all very good at 1. triage and 2. feeling like failures.

I get 2.5 hours of planning time per week to complete these tasks. Half an hour of paid time per day at the absolute most. Everything else must be done in my own time.

How many other jobs can you think of where literally half is done in your own time? Where you work through nights and weekends, where you come into work during your annual leave. Okay, maybe you can… but do you call people in those professions’ lazy?

We need respect.

You know what I never do? Judge the professionalism and dedication of workers in other industries. I can’t remember a time where I’ve gone online and said: “Pilots: overrated; how hard can flying a plane be?”. I’ve never told an engineer “you’re not worth the money you make”. It would never cross my mind to tell a firefighter “you guys seem to have a lot of down time, what a waste of taxpayer money”. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Why would I? I don’t know the intricacies of their job or what pressures they face. I don’t do their job so I’m not in a position to comment about it.

The same respect is rarely extended to teachers.

A look at the comments on any news article related to education will provide you with a smorgasbord of vitriol that is rarely seen in response to any other profession. 

It’s not just the online hate we have to deal with. It’s parents verbally abusing you in person, expecting responses to emails at all hours, arguing “MY Tommy would NEVER do that!” even though Tommy does ‘that’ on the regular and doesn’t care who sees.

But it’s little wonder that we are being constantly disrespected by parents, students and the general public when we are so often offered up as sacrificial lambs by own leaders.

We need to be trusted.

Not long ago, Victoria’s acting Education Minister characterised some teachers in public schools as “duds” and said teacher quality was the key factor in declining education results in this country. Way to lead, Minister!

Despite the fact the teachers are University educated, formally tested in literacy and numeracy and independently licensed, our leaders make it abundantly clear that we are not trusted to do our jobs. 

What we teach and how we teach it is strictly prescribed, regardless of whether it meets the needs of our students. We are required to submit reams of evidence for every academic decision we make. We submit unit/weekly/daily lesson plans and timetables which account for every minute of our time. We spend hours formally recording a variety of interactions with students and parents. If we want to deviate our practice from the norm, we have to submit lengthy reports to prove things we already know.

Teachers spend more time with their students than almost anyone else. We are experienced professionals with relevant, up-to-date expertise. We should be given the benefit of the doubt when we share our insights, because our insights are valuable. 

We need a seat at the table.

Listen to No Filter, hosted by Mia Freedman. Post continues after podcast. 

ADVERTISEMENT


The majority of education department policies are written by people who haven’t set foot in a classroom in years… and it shows. Jargon-filled policy documents which set lofty, abstract goals are bad enough, but the worst are directives which are completely impractical in a classroom setting.

Policies issued in the early stages of COVID are a perfect example. It is simply not possible to keep young children socially distanced in a classroom setting, but that was the Department’s expectation. 

I remember giving an engaging lesson about how COVID spreads and discussing the measures we needed to take to keep each other safe. The kids seemed to get it.

Within 10 minutes I saw two of my students pressed body to body sharing a scooter and another licking the custard he spilled directly off his table. Long story short, they didn’t get it.

Giving teachers a seat at the table isn’t just about poo-pooing Departmental policies. Teachers are some of the smartest, most passionate and industrious people out there. We are experts at finding creative solutions to problems with limited time and resources. If only you would ask us. 

About the money…

Narratives around teacher dissatisfaction seem to centre around the money, but I think this misses the point. The current pay (in and of itself) isn’t amazing, but when combined with other things (holidays, some flexibility in work hours, ability to make a difference), it’s fine. 

Of course, higher wages can be a marker of esteem in a profession and can also be used to attract highly skilled individuals who might otherwise look to other sectors. But people aren’t leaving a career they love (and its accompanying benefits) because of the money. 

Teachers like me are leaving because it is soul-destroying to put every ounce of energy and passion into your job, to genuinely care for people and then be held in contempt by society at large. Paying me more while ignoring all of the problems I’ve outlined above wouldn’t have kept me in the profession, holidays or not.

You might think, “oh well, that sounds like your problem”. Perhaps… if it was only me. But the stats don’t lie - teachers are leaving the profession in droves. And the ones that will suffer, are already suffering, are your kids. Which means it’s your problem too.

Feature Image: Supplied.