Strike! Strike! Strike! A Question of Values

I believe all children are entitled to three things.

A stable home, access to healthcare and to be provided with quality education. It is the latter where I am trying to make an impact.

Now, when I hear the word “Strike,” I must admit, I flinch. It conjures images that I can only associate with negativity.

Perhaps it’s the memory of my, at the time, single Mother raising two boys in our home – juggling jobs, life and parenting. Striking brought added financial and emotional stress. Striking was an inconvenience.

Perhaps it’s the Private school Secondary school education – surrounded by self-entitled people who carry an air of inherited importance. Striking for ones beliefs was more a sign of weakness than one of strength.

Perhaps it’s the media’s view – that striking is encapsulated by sweeping shots of a group of angry people in casual clothes before being quickly rebuked by a well-spoken Liberal member in a suit stating their position. Striking was wrong – in principle and practice.

I have, nonetheless, decided to strike.

It was not an easy decision to come to, to take part in tomorrow’s Stopwork. But, I believe, it is the right thing to do. I reflected and critiqued each point I came up with before making my decision. Essentially, I came to the conclusion that I teach my children daily to stand up for anyone who is being treated unfairly and, most of all, to stand up for what you think is right. In essence, I must act out what I emplore my students to do.

Other people will make their judgments as to why I am striking. They will, almost universally in the case of those outside of the industry, focus on the monetary aspect. That teachers are striking for more money. “Bloody teachers.” Obviously, pay is a factor in the to strike. It is certainly not the only.

To tell me that I am striking “because of the money” is incorrect at best and insidious at worst. For this is where I believe the majority of the problem lies. The issue of money is raised and used to divert attention away from other core issues. Trivialised and compared with other industries, the nature of teaching, and its problems in this State, can be forgotten when discussing the education of our young because of this divisive element.

I’ll tell you for free that if I was after more money, teaching would (obviously) not have been the profession of choice.

I became a teacher because I believe strongly in the power of education. The ability to empower other people to reach for greater things in life, and hopefully teach them skills to achieve it, is a wonderful thing.

I am striking because I believe wholly that my views on education are not shared by the government elected to represent my voice.

Children are amongst our most disadvantaged as they rely entirely on others to support them, to nurture and guide them. This current government does not seem to hold this as a priority.

The recent cuts to EMA (Education Maintenance Assistance, which supports the most needy of Victorian children) demonstrate this entirely.

The Liberal government claims that parents of prep children (as an example) are better off under the new $200 gift to eligible* parents.

Apparently – this leaves them in a better position than when parents received a $300 start-up bonus and $117.50 cash in hand.

Worrying.

What had me more concerned was that schools will no longer receive their share, $117.50 for each student receiving EMA. Those who disagree with a teachers’ strike  will probably assume that that money is meaningless to a school and deservedly belongs with the parents. I wholeheartedly disagree. If the government want to support families, they should offer community services or tax breaks. They should certainly not cut funding for children’s education. This decision has potentially disastrous repercussions for many children who need our support most of all. The opportunity for many children to go on excursions or camps will be lost. These are integral parts of a school curriculum, community and fabric. Considering that these are two of the most positive, eye-opening encounters that children can have within their education only heightens the magnitude of their loss.

Of course, these cuts won’t hurt everyone. This is where I feel the Liberal government is, as ever, aiming to attack those who cannot defend themselves and, instead, lubricating the path to the voting adult’s hip-pocket. As if society’s only concerns should be focused on this one issue, to the detriment of all else. Thus, the government encourages parents to believe that they are doing the right thing because parents receive more cash directly, as opposed to some of it being diverted into school funds. Why not? The only people that will care are those bloody teachers, who care more for their bank accounts than for the children they teach.

Leaving school this afternoon I was asked to hand out a memo from the Minister for Education in Victoria. A shrewd piece of propaganda designed solely to propogate the negative imagery that teachers have unwittingly earned. It pointed to several of the government’s (lame) attempts to improve teaching quality in the state.

It failed to address the issue of short term contracts. Many of the state’s teachers teach with no certainty for their future and no reassurance that all the effort they put into establishing a positive school culture will come to mean anything, especially if their NAPLAN scores aren’t excellent. Teaching as a profession is a great deal more than sitting in front of a group of people and teaching. It is about establishing a culture of learning and positive thinking. That schools can be a place for learning in all areas, where children are supported to engage in a range of activities to improve their view of life. Teachers who are concerned about whether or not they will hold a job in the upcoming month cannot do this to the best of their ability.

This leads me to the other issue that was ignored. Performance-pay for teachers. Highlighting another tactic of the right-wing government to appeal to those outside of teaching. The government claims that this will bring education into line with all other industry.

The problem is – schools don’t rely on having a handful of quality teachers that deserve to be paid more than others. Quality schools thrive when teams of professionals work closely together to improve student learning and enjoyment at school. The Liberal government seems to imply that many teachers are inept. From my experience, this could hardly be further from the truth. Most teachers you come across are of a high quality and, if not, they do not hold their position for long. Performance pay will not help to improve student performance, but merely divide teaching staff and tear at the very fabric of these communities we should be building. The fact that schools will have a quota of maximum eligible teachers further serves to cast doubt of the merits of such a system – the fact that only a certain amount of quality teachers within an institution be rewarded, while other teachers are left out in the cold. Good teachers should be rewarded for the work they do – and rewarded in a way that they were promised, at that. Poor teachers won’t remain in the system regardless, thus a merit-pay system is unnecessary and counter-intuituve to the positive progression of a school.

Teachers in our state were promised certain things under this government that have been subsequently ignored. To receive their rewards, teachers were asked to produce “productivity gains.” Whether this means us having more children, I’m still unsure.

In essence – teachers are being asked to improve student results whilst having the very things that would provide that taken away. The largest sole-indicator to a child’s success in education lies in his/her socio-economic status. This government seems less interested in bridging that gap than it does on saving a few dollars – and it’s saving those dollars by taking them away from our future.

Teachers are asked to increased children’s literacy ability whilst school’s are unable to fund Teacher’s Aides or Reading Recovery.

Teachers are required to provide a safe, secure learning environment for children to attend, yet are not offered the same in their place of work – the respect of their government or the security of work.

Our society demands a successful future. Bright, intelligent minds that will lead our country forward.

It should then put faith into the people who have devoted their professional lives to let this happen.

By the latest estimate – 150 public schools will be closed tomorrow. Evidently, something is wrong with the system and a whole lot of professionals within it have had enough.

96% of those polled voted in favour of the strike. 96%. That’s a huge number. If 96% of a business conglomerate voted to protest that something was wrong in the way their company was wrong, the company would sit up and listen. I would also not be vain enough to attempt to claim I knew the issues as well as those on the inside.

Yet many remain ignorant of teachers’ real concerns and the media is somewhat to blame. Sure, pay is a factor in this dispute. But good luck finding a teacher who is not in the industry with their best of intentions not resting solely with that of the students. Each element of our job revolves around those young lives. We are teachers, coaches, supervisors, nurses, doctors, referees, councillors, cleaners, interior designers, graphic designers, creative artists, planners, researchers and so much more all in the name of making those little lives a bit brighter. These highlight that there are many issues at play leading into this strike – and notably to its success.

I’m not striking for more money, I’m striking because I believe it is the right thing to do.

I believe it is right to stand up for people who cannot stand up for themselves, to speak for the voice that would otherwise be unheard.

* http://www.education.vic.gov.au/management/financial/ema/default.html

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