Teachers' Voices Demand Recognition

Teachers around the country are in protracted disputes over wages and conditions with their ALP government bosses. Federal Education Minister Gillard has come out in opposition to teacher unions’ proposition that we place bans on administrating national literacy and numeracy testing in pursuit of our claims for real wage increases and the addressing of our working conditions.

Gillard is suggesting teachers are recalcitrant for refusing to administer the national testing program. Pretending to be some sort of an authority on education she has stated the testing regime is necessary for the “…best understanding (of) what’s happening in our education system” … (to) “make sure we’re keeping the system working the way we want it to”. (The Age, 17/4)

The Federal ALP government and their state counter parts’ attitudes to public education, and their actions on teachers demonstrate just how they want their system to ‘work’. The Victorian governments’ contempt for teachers in the state system has been such that it has allowed the Liberal Party to present, albeit hypocritically, a conciliatory position on wages. Decades of governments have neglected state education infrastructure, and the undermining of teachers working conditions and professional standing are nothing but the continuation of the destructive counter-reforms of the Liberal-Kennett years.

Two massive mass meetings and weeks of rolling stoppages across the state have clearly expressed teachers’ frustrations with the intransigence of government administrators. Education Minister Pike refuses to meet with the AEU negotiators, and has not budged on its lousy ‘offer’ of 3.25%. The government refuses to hear our concerns over workloads that detract from delivering quality programs and teaching. Instead they expect us to give up holidays and work even longer hours in return for anything beyond their wage ‘offer’.

Governments, Corporate leaders and Administrators all reiterate that teacher quality is the key to good education and schools, but refuse to acknowledge the obstacles voiced by thousands of teachers around the country to developing effective, quality professional learning. It is ignorance to suggest that standardised testing is any measure of quality teaching. Quality teaching requires that teachers be treated as professionals foremost, that is, with respectful regard for the important work we do day in day out for our students and the society at large.

Our current brace of bosses have demonstrated to us time and again a complete lack of comprehension in this regard. Teachers and their organisations’ reasonable demands and requests of governments and its administrators have been met with nothing but disregard. If our administrators were serious about improving state education they would listen and engage with teachers and their unions, for it is they who know what needs to be done to achieve genuine improvements. It is the teachers who are taking industrial action who are committed to improving the standing of our profession and public education. Sacrificing our own time and money, and doing what ever it takes to defend and improve public education is surely one indicator of a teacher’s best qualities.

Peter Curtis is a member of the Australian Education Union (AEU).