Members unite to take back the profession
Almost 200 IEU members from across all states and territories gathered at a national forum in Melbourne in May, brought together by a common known truth: teaching is being actively de-professionalised.
National and international guest speakers — including Paul Goulter, National Secretary of our colleague union NZEI Te Riu Roa; academics from across Australia; and key decision makers in education — joined IEU at the forum in examining exactly how and why teachers had lost ownership of the profession, who had enabled this to occur and most importantly how it can be reclaimed.
CEO of the Centre for Strategic Education Melbourne and guest speaker at the forum Tony Mackay outlined the three dimensions of a professional.
1. Knowledge base: Education professionals are competent in working with young people — not just delivering content. Having the ability and confidence to educate in dynamic environments is what makes teaching such a valuable profession.
2. Autonomy: Teachers should have autonomy when it comes to making professional judgements and decisions. Teachers know what is best for their students, and attempts to diminish this autonomy are diminishing teacher professionalism.
3. Peer-to-peer interactions: A professional’s practice in any field is shared and strengthened through peer-to-peer interactions. This speaks to the collaborative nature of teaching.
Mr Mackay said these were all characteristics of our professional teaching workforce which had been actively challenged by external entities seeking control of the profession.
Keynote speaker at the forum, Professor Howard Stevenson from the University of Nottingham in the UK made it clear: the professional judgement of teachers was seen as a problem for those who want to control the profession.
“This is why we are seeing an increasing loss of autonomy in the profession,” he told forum participants.
Professor Stevenson asked members to consider who is actually in control when answering the following questions:
• How many hours you work?
• What you teach?
• How you teach?
• What you get paid?
• What you wear to work?
• What you post on social media?
• How you mark students’ work?
• How often you mark students’ work?
• What colour pen you use to mark students’ work?
• What you can (or have to) put on your classroom walls?
• What the school curriculum looks like?
• When you do/don’t answer my emails?
Professor Stevenson reinforced that currently the crux of the frustration for the profession is that teachers and their professional judgement feature minimally, if at all, in the answers to these questions.
Those who do feature heavily, however, are employers, government agencies, and commercial edu-business — companies that often have little to no thorough engagement with the profession.
IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said the forum had provided a platform for members to gain insight into what was needed to take back control of the profession and that IEU Branches would now work at their state and territory levels as well as collectively to reclaim our professional voice and status.
“Our union’s Teaching: It’s Our Profession campaign will fight for concrete change and improvements to the status of the profession.
“Teachers need to be empowered as the professionals they are to make autonomous decisions about what is best for their students.
“They need to be freed from the unnecessary administrative burden of data reporting for reporting’s sake.
“We need to build greater understanding within the broader community of just how hard teachers work to provide quality education to every student in Australian classrooms.”
Mr Burke said where governments and others in the community will not listen to our calls for change, we must make them listen by campaigning strongly.
"The review of NAPLAN, which is now being discussed nationally, did not come of the federal government's own volition.
"This came from union members speaking up and letting decision makers know that standardised tests such as NAPLAN are not in our students' best interests.
"It is a step in the right direction; however, our job is far from done.
"Our judgement and perspective must always inform our profession.
"All too often the federal government has used edu-business-led research to justify unwarranted impositions on the profession.
"The presenters at our recent forum made it clear that this just won't cut it.
"We need research and strategies that are informed by the profession, and developed with those in the profession.
“We must find our professional voice because teaching is our profession,” Mr Burke said.
IEUA-QNT Branch Executive member Bryce Goldburg, who attended the national conference, said hearing from the various speakers was important in reaffirming and reinforcing what teachers already know when it comes to threats to the professional nature of teaching.
“These threats exist, and as teachers we feel it.
“But it is clear that the solution to combatting these threats lies in the power of our collective,” Mr Goldburg said.
Overwhelmingly, members at our conference resolved that the ways teachers can take back control of their profession include:
• Being critical of acts that diminish our professionalism: if we remain silent when others devalue teachers’ contributions, we enable the problem to continue.
• Using our professional voice: speaking up as a member and part of your Chapter is a powerful and authentic way to get the message across to decision makers, and to the wider community.
• Using our union’s strength: our colleagues in other IEU Branches understand the difficulties you are facing, and together our collective voice can make real change across the country.
• Being active: members of our union would not have successfully achieved any positive change if it weren’t for our active determination to make our workplaces better. If we want to see change, we need to make it.