Teachers: Overworked and undervalued

School teachers work an average of 15 hours unpaid overtime per week. This is equivalent to around $18,000 in lost wages per year. The Socialist recently sat down with a secondary school teacher, and rank and file Australian Education Union (AEU) member, to discuss the situation facing teachers today.

Next year in Victoria, negotiations will begin with the state Labor government for a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA). The AEU have started collecting data to inform their campaign, they have looked at overtime in particular. The focus is on what’s called “30 + 8”, 30 hours is for work related to classroom teaching and 8 hours is for things like compliance, curriculum development and professional development.

There is a feeling amongst teachers that this is the wrong focus, as the union already accepts that far more than 8 hours is required for work outside of the classroom. Outside of classroom hours, teachers need to plan lessons, mark students’ work, keep up with the latest training, as well as perform tasks such as yard duty, have discussions with students and so on.

All of this work is necessary and cannot be dropped, the problem is that teachers have too little time to complete everything. This results in teachers spending many hours at home doing unpaid overtime. In the last EBA, teachers won four professional days a year, or one per term. While this has been welcomed, it’s still insufficient.

The reality is that the public education system is in dire need of extra funding. It was put to The Socialist that, if all teachers were able to have their workload reduced by one class each, it would free them up to do other aspects of their job to a higher quality without requiring overtime.

As it stands, teachers stress and mental health is the number one health and safety issue in the workplace. They are unable to meet their impossible workload, and the students also end up with a lesser quality of education.

For teachers to be able to deliver high quality education, this must be remedied. It’s not just about paying teachers for their overtime. While this should be fought for, it would not change the impact on the quality of education delivered, or improve the work-life balance of teachers.

Whenever it comes time for EBA negotiations, the government cries poor and claims they cannot fund what the teachers need. However, the money could be found in a number of ways.

A big issue is the fact that private schools receive funding at the expense of public schools. The current situation places those with money at an advantage as private schools receive more funding per student than public schools. And this is on top of the exorbitant fees they charge to parents!

Socialists argue that private schools should receive no public funding. All children should have the right to high quality, free public education.

The Socialist was told that while the Department of Education is coming up with some good policies, unfortunately they amount to nothing because they aren’t matched by funding.

Funding for education, one of the most important aspects in society, must be prioritised. Taxing big businesses at a higher rate would bring in more than enough money to fund education properly and enable teachers to reduce their class load.

The focus of the negotiations with the government should be geared towards funding to enable a reduction in classroom hours and compensation for overtime. If teachers were compensated for their overtime, the government would quickly realise that it is more cost efficient to hire more teachers to share the load.

A plan that increases funding and decreases class loads would create tens of thousands of jobs for teachers. Currently, graduate teachers are lucky to secure a 12-month contract, let alone permanent employment. The demand for permanent employment should also be a focus of the EBA campaign.

In past negotiations, the government has relied on the perceived lesser ability of teachers to strike due to the needs of students and the work that will await them when they return. This is a cynical move that plays on the desire of teachers to do the best by their students.

Teachers should take confidence from the recent wave of successful teacher strikes in the United States. A campaign that brings students and parents along with teachers in the fight for higher quality education will be best way to win.

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