Teachers around the country are in protracted disputes over wages and conditions with their ALP government bosses. Federal education minister Julia Gillard has come out in opposition to teachers' unions' proposal to place bans on administrating national literacy and numeracy testing in pursuit of claims for real wage increases and to demand an improvement of working conditions.
Gillard is suggesting teachers are recalcitrant for refusing to administer the national testing program. She has claimed 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", according to the April 18 Age newspaper.
The attitude towards public education displayed by the federal ALP government and its state counterparts, and their treatment of teachers, demonstrates just how they want their system to "work". For decades governments have neglected state education infrastructure, and, in Victoria, the current undermining of teachers' working conditions and professional standing are simply a continuation of the destructive counter-reforms of the years under Liberal premier Jeff Kennett in the 1990s.
Huge mass meetings and weeks of rolling stoppages across the state this year have clearly expressed teachers' frustrations with the government's intransigence. Victorian education minister Bronwyn Pike refuses to meet with Australian Education Union negotiators, and has not budged on the government's lousy offer of a 3.25% pay rise.
The government refuses to hear our concerns over unrealistic workloads that detract from delivering quality education. Instead they expect us to give up holidays and work even longer hours in return for anything beyond their offer.
Governments, corporate leaders and administrators all reiterate that quality teaching is the key to good education, but they refuse to acknowledge the obstacles to developing effective professional standards, voiced by thousands of teachers around the country. It is ignorance to suggest that standardised testing is any measure of quality teaching. Quality teaching requires that teachers be treated as professionals foremost, with respectful regard for the important work we do for our students and society as a whole.
Our current brace of bosses have demonstrated 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 the 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 taking industrial action who are committed to improving the quality of public education. Sacrificing our own time and money, and doing whatever it takes to defend and improve public education is surely one indicator of a teacher's best qualities.
[Peter Curtis is a supporter of the Teachers Alliance, a grouping of rank-and-file Australian Education Union members in Victoria.]