Actually, Minister, We Do Need To Talk About Workload
This powerful letter was sent to Minister Burch by an AEU member on September 20 in response to the Minister's public remarks dismissing our concerns about unsustainable workload levels.
Dear Ms Burch,
I am writing to you regarding a recent radio interview in which you said that ACT teachers have fewer face-to-face teaching hours than other jurisdictions. The implication of this statement is that we do not need to review this aspect, or other aspects, of our working hours. The statement and your consequent position imply that we are unnecessarily drawing our working conditions to attention; that we are "whinging".
I contest these implications for the following reasons:
Fewer face-to-face teaching hours than other jurisdictions does not mean that our working hours are tenable or acceptable. It is not a matter of crude comparisons of this type, but rather a close, detailed and sympathetic look at exactly what teachers in the ACT have to do. Just because it is different elsewhere, does not mean it is right here, or elsewhere.
Teachers’ actual working hours and the expectations of what we will achieve in our work are enormous. I am an SLC in the system and enjoy my work very much. I recently achieved recognition as a Highly Accomplished Teacher and became an Executive Teacher Professional Practice in 2013. Each of these accomplishments bear testament to my work ethic and my deep interest in my profession. I am also involved in a variety of other roles which go beyond core expectations. I actively involve myself with a broad range of educational roles, because I believe education is of vital importance, and I am willing to contribute to our joint goals. I am not writing to you from a position of disaffection, but rather from a deep distress at what I can only perceive as wilful ignorance of the amount of work teachers do, and a lack of support shown by you in such statements to all teaching staff. Teachers' working conditions are not properly acknowledged or addressed.
I am a part-time teacher: 80%. I have chosen to do part-time hours because when I worked full-time I could not complete my work in the number of waking hours available in a week. I work between 9-14 hours per day. I get up between 4-5.30am every weekday in order to prepare for my day and generally stay at work until 6-7pm. I work every weekend on both Saturdays and Sundays; usually between 4-10 hours each day depending on the time of the term and of the year. I am unable to remember the last time I had even one full weekend day off. During stand-down I work one week and try to have time off during the second week. During the January holidays I spend a number of days preparing for the coming year. In the past I have kept an accurate record of every hour I worked, and the stand-down period does not even begin to compensate for the enormous hours worked during the terms. I don't have time to keep these types of records anymore. As you can see this litany of hours does not equate to anything like the 29 hours 24 minutes per week that my part-time roster mandates.
The reason I do these hours is not only because of administration, which has definitely increased in the decade I have been a school teacher. It is also because there is more and more pressure to, for example: create more complex and detailed lessons; plan for, and implement, differentiation; create adequately scaffolded assessment items and classwork; give detailed and comprehensive feedback; communicate with parents; attend, implement, reflect on and record professional learning; in short to cater for all types of students in all types of ways. I do not contest these aspects per se, as it is of utmost importance that we do strive to educate our students in the best way possible. However, doing this takes time, effort and a great deal of personal investment. The hours I cite above do not mention the fact that, because I spend so much time at work, I no longer socialise, I go to bed about an hour after getting home, so have very little relationship with my family; I no longer regularly attend personal interest activities; housework is ignored. My life is ransomed to my job. This is in no way permanently sustainable or acceptable.
My story is not unique. Last night (Friday) I was still at work after 7pm; I was not the only teacher still at my school, working. I had a conversation yesterday with a colleague who said he had marked 200 papers in the last fortnight - these were English essays which each take about 15-30 minutes to mark. Where did those hours come from? I spoke with another colleague this week who said she regularly stays up until midnight to work, another one in recent weeks told me she works in the early hours of the morning 2-4am.
So, while I have a deep interest and joy in my job, and am prepared to put in the effort to ensure that students are as well educated as I can possibly achieve, I am deeply unhappy to hear your glib comments on radio that we have fewer “face to face teaching hours" than other jurisdictions. This type of statement masks the reality and creates a false impression of what teaching actually entails. It also marks teachers as unnecessarily complaining and further reduces our value and perception in society.
I ask you to make a full investigation into the actual hours teachers work. You could come to schools and speak to teachers, or even spend a day shadowing a teacher to see what the job entails. Your comments were unsupportive of the constituents you are bound to support and indicate some ignorance of our role.
I also ask you to carefully consider the claims being made by our union in the latest Enterprise Agreement. Teachers are not unrealistically seeking changes to our conditions. We want recognition of the vital, complex and long hours we do in the form of support from people such as yourself. We need tenable working conditions which incorporate ways to alleviate some of the difficulties we have. This could include administrative support; appropriate pay for the hours actually worked; introduction of methods to help reduce some of our extra working hours such as reduced face to face teaching hours. We also need formal, public and ongoing acknowledgement of what teachers do rather than dismissive, uninformed and unsupportive sound bites.
ACT Teacher and AEU ACT Member