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Thursday 28 June 2012

Schools on strike: what teachers and mums think

So, this morning as I sat down to work from home after dropping my kids off to daycare I found myself hearing the headlines again on the teacher's strikes affecting NSW teachers and kids and wondering: say if I was working full time in an office? What would I arrange for my school aged kids [the twins start school next year, so from 2013 on, this is likely] when teachers go on strike? What would I do? I have no babysitter help on tap. What do other full time mums/workers do?

So I used the best public barometer possible - Facebook! - to ask my friends what the thought about it all. The replies blew me away. Talk about a passionate, knowledgeable lot. With their permission, their thoughts are reproduced here.

Veronica starts: "I was going to post about it this morning but I held back as it is a very controversial subject. I endured strikes for many years whilst my girls were in a state school but really its gotten ridiculous of late. I realise that teachers have their argument but what is it teaching our children?? That its okay to have a hissy fit and just stop work and rebel against authorities whenever you don't agree with something? I have worked for more than 20 years and on occasion have disagreed on issues of employment and pay but never felt the need to just walk off the job! I don't understand why private schools and catholic schools never do it, is it because they get paid more I wonder?"

Nicole - a primary school teacher currently on leave to have her first baby - added: "Catholic school teachers don't get paid more. I've worked in the catholic system for 13 years and although in that time there have been a couple of strikes organised that catholic schools participated in, I have never. I figure that we belong to a union. It is a part of the role of that union to negotiate conditions on behalf of it's members. If it can't do that then we should be looking closer at the effectiveness (or lack of) of that union.

Veronica replies: "Yeah I thought that was the case Nicole. At the end of the day I think children and families are the ones that suffer. Glad I pulled mine out of the public system for many reasons and this was just one of them."

Another teacher - primary school teacher Elizabeth weighs in: "The strike that teachers are taking part in today, is all about fighting for the rights of the children we teach. The government has chosen to introduce new "initiatives"that will directly affect the quality of education that your children will receive. We have placed on hold our wage negotiations in favour of fighting to guarantee lower class sizes, fairness for students with disabilities and making sure we have qualified teachers in all classes. We understand parents frustrations when we choose to stop work. We do not do this lightly!"

Fabiana, a mother of a 21 year old and a 19 year old said: "Well when my boys were at school , it used to shit me big time having to organise baby sitters etc. But now that they are no longer at school I really don't care for me it is a bonus less traffic on the roads LOL... One thing that does not make sense is that the O'farrell govt was voted in by the majority of the people, teachers and parents alike so what is everyone getting upset about, not just teachers but everyone they voted him in, They wanted him he was the best thing for the state and for them. So I say get over it and get on with it. It is what it is and striking and getting angry is not going to change anything. Well that is my view

Nicole, the teacher, adds: "Lets face it-No teacher teaches for the Money. No amount of striking is going to change that. The amount of liability that teachers face is so out if balance with the remuneration which is why the education system loses it's best teachers. Whilst I advocate for individual teacher accountability, the details of liability need to be readdressed. The conditions that Elizabeth refers to also need to be addressed so that the needs of every student can be better met."

says Veronica: "I agree Fabiana....we as voters have the power to make change and when we elect leaders whether it be state or federal govt we become accountable. Striking doesn't fix things.....if we don't like what the government is doing than we have the power to change it at the next elections. Unfortunately as humans we will NEVER be 100% happy with alot of stuff in our communities, states, countries but getting angry doesn't have positive outcomes. I believe as an individual in an organisation such as hospitals, schools & employment we can all make a difference in others lives whether they be children, adults whatever without having to change policies or get angry with the government."

Nicole adds: " Teachers in the state school system are under huge pressures to do admininstration, mark books, prepare interesting lessons, stand in front of a class of kids who have their headphones in, their phones on, playing games on their laptops and they are not allowed to do anything about it. Prior to unions our kids would be working down coalmines 12 hours a day so lets stop bagging them - they've virtually had most of their powers taken away anyway."

Veronica adds: "But how are they any different to any other schools?? this happens in most other schools as well and they also have to abide by law and policies in most cases but they don't strike. I am a nurse and saw what went on with the nurse's strikes where 'some' not all of them walked out of the job in order to get more nurses for every patient...yes it worked BUT the difference here was that there were still nurses back in the hospitals caring for patients. They didnt just abandon hospitals and patients altogether, only some of them walked out. Why can't the same happen with teachers? instead of disrupting childrens and parents lives as they do on what seems like a monthly/two monthly basis."

Karina, also a teacher, weighs in: "I work in the private school system and my kids are in private schools but I am with you state teachers all way!... It's about the kids..... that's way days like these are necessary!"

Adds Nicole: "There are so many issues that need open discussion. Striking really is just one small issue. Unfortunately those who are not in the education system (which includes our ministers) remain unaware. Whatever you can do to bring these to open discussion can only be beneficial."

Says Fabiana: "Look I really don't get it, according to the paper this is why the strike is on "Teachers are striking because the state government is refusing to change its position on its Local Schools Local Decisions policy, which gives principals the power to control 70 per cent of a school's budget and hire up to half of its staff." What is wrong with this? don't universities work like this? and catholic schools?"

Adds Veronica: "I agree Fabiana, which is why they are not a private school where the principal has most of the control with parents direction. I don't get it either."

Sandra, about to graduate as a primary school teacher, adds: "Giving the power to the principals helps get rid of dead wood teachers. In the catholic or private system majority of teachers are on yearly contracts therefore if they are not performing they go."

Elizabeth: "Private and catholic school parents pay to attend their school. Public schools rely on funding from the government to pay staff as well as resource the school. There are no guarantees from the government to fund our schools both in staff and support for students past 2014. What happens to our students when they cut funding and the principal can't afford to pay staff wages or more importantly meet the needs of the students. Especially those students with special needs. They have already closed support classes for language disorders and reading support classes. They have gotten rid of behaviour support teachers and district learning support teachers. It is now up to 1 single classroom teacher to meet the individual learning and emotional issues of up to 30 or more students. The governments reply to this is that classroom teachers will have on line training to deal with these issues. On line training that happens out of school hours. We need to look at England's and Americas school systems. How successful are they. This is the way that our government is moving to cost cut. What is the price of a quality education?"

Nicole: "Catholic school education relies heavily upon government funding just as the public system does. Elizabeth refers to some of the myriad of issues facing schools and teachers which will not be resolved by ministers who are themselves unaware and unknowledgable of the industry. One issue is for principals to have greater control over the staffing of their schools which would allow them to use the same funding in creative ways to better suit the specific needs of their school. At the moment the arrangement of staffing is all prescribed."

Veronica: "Damn FB, I am supposed to be folding clothes and watching a movie LOL......I agree that there obviously issues that need to be resolved but there has to be a better way to get the message across other than striking. Can't parents and teachers sign petitions, send letters to local government, as well as state govt leaders etc and if they are going to strike not have the whole school do a dissapearing act??? I'm all for supporting childrens education and claiming back resources lost. I also hear what teachers are saying how its for the benefit of the children but the constant striking and putting children and parents out constantly is having the same effect as the lack of resources, benefits, control they are fighting for. Ok....gotta go now.........

Elizabeth: "I agree with the not striking issue. No teacher wants to strike. Not only do we upset the community of parents that we work with but we also forgo our wage for the day. This issues has been worked on for nearly a year. We have signed petitions, visited our local member with a delegation of teachers and been in constant talks with the government. Nothing has gotten the guarantees that we need re class sizes, funding and staffing. We know that there are going to be changes that we don't agree with. That's life in any job. But these changes should not affect the quality of education that kids are getting. That's what we want the government to sign off on.

Fabiana: "Just wondering have any of you looked back at your old school photos from primary school? Only those that attended public schools? Well I did and I had over 30 kids in each of my classes. Plus there was only 1 Teacher in all my classes, no support teacher no district learning, wonder how the teachers coped and I know we had some rowdy kids in my class these days they would be considered to have ADHD or something or other."

Adds Fabiana: "Sorry Elizabeth just a question, if the government are not guaranteeing funding after 2014 would that mean that they need to privatise or sell off the public schools first? Or do you mean they are not guaranteeing the amount of funds that the schools are being allocated? Do the education department forecast the number of people of in the area with school children using the data from the local councils to understand the needs for those schools and then allocate a percentage of their school allocation budget or do all schools get the same funding? not sure how it works I know that we paid a over $400 a year for my son in high school that was just school fees not books etc for a "free public schooling" wondering how it works?"

Answers Elizabeth: "There has been no mention of privatising schools yet. They are just not guaranteeing they same amount of funding after 2014. As to how they work out funding, at the moment staffing of schools is based around student numbers. That's why with these changes that may no longer happen. Less money for principals may mean employing less teachers despite the number of students. Funding for kids with special needs used to be based on individual students. Now if a student has mental health issues or asperges they no longer qualify for individual funding. Schools are given a specific amount of flexible funding that is to be spent meeting the needs of these students as well as those with language disorders and mild intellectual disabilities. How this is work out we are not sure and the gover nment refuses to release the costings. Hope this answers your question.

  • Weighs in Genevieve: "Have to agree with nsw strike. If principals get full power the kids will.suffer especially for extra Circular activities and potty any child with additional needs."

    Adds Claudia, mum of two: " I've come into this late, but more control to principals equates more corruption. Nepotism and favouritism will be king. Qualifications won't matter. It will be who you know, not what you know. It is almost impossible to get a parent in the budget committee as it is, although the bylaws of the P&C require for one to be appointed. Giving the one person in the school 70% of the power only spells disaster. At the moment, to increase income, some principals are allowing an extraordinary number of kindy enrolments. This number is not maintained throughout the 5 remaining yrs. Resources all go to the lower classes to increase revenue. Tell me what level of education the higher yrs can expect , if resources are mostly spent on the lower yrs. In an ideal world, the principal would share it equally. Somehow I dont think that will be the case.

    Adds Maria: "Striking is the only way to make your viewpoint heard. A Union is the head but the neck of the union is it's members, and that's where the strength lies."

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