Starting out in our profession means learning many new things. One crucial lesson is making sure you know your rights and entitlements.
Every teacher will vividly recall their first year of teaching: the responsibility for your own class, dealing directly with parents for the first time, working with colleagues, and navigating the processes which makes the school and our public school system tick. Not to mention the workload!
Those starting this year will already have heard plenty of advice: don’t work yourself into the ground, make sure you have time during the working week to do the things you like outside of work, use your more experienced colleagues as a source of sage advice – or for just a simple debrief. All of this is true.
If you are reading this newsletter at home, you’ve also been advised to join the union. Thank you. As a highly unionised workforce – the overwhelming majority of school staff are AEU members – teachers know the importance of working together to achieve common goals.
Whether that be in the interests of the students we teach, or protecting and improving our rights at work, teaching and union membership go hand in hand.
The union has successfully used our collective power at the bargaining table to ensure the conditions of beginning teachers reflect the fact that they are developing their teaching skills and must be allocated less work in recognition.
The industrial agreement, which mandates the working conditions of teachers, requires that first-year teachers have an allocated workload that acknowledges the extra time needed to develop their practice and to participate in induction and other support activities.
This means that all first-year teachers should be allocated at least 5% less work each week compared to their more experienced colleagues. In most schools, this means a new teacher will have about an hour less face-to-face teaching per week.
The union has also fought for and won time for first-year teachers to have a teacher mentor in the school, who should also have this role properly counted in their weekly workload. Ideally, a beginning teacher and their mentor will have some of their non-teaching time scheduled together to enable the right kind of support.
The union has also successfully campaigned for and lobbied the government to introduce a new pilot program starting this year, which will further reduce face-to-face teaching hours for 700 new teachers over the next two years.
The union has also successfully campaigned for and lobbied the government to introduce a new pilot program starting this year, which will further reduce face-to-face teaching hours for 700 new teachers over the next two years. Teachers involved in the pilot will have their face-to-face teaching load reduced by 20% in their first year, with further reductions in their second year of teaching. A 5% reduction, per graduate teacher, in face-to-face teaching for mentors is also part of the pilot. The AEU is currently negotiating with the Department of Education and Training to extend this to all beginning teachers and their mentors.
Negotiations for a new Schools Agreement covering wages and conditions are in full swing, with the AEU advocating for a range of workload reduction measures, including an ongoing reduction in face-to-face teaching for all teachers. Achieving this outcome would provide teachers with additional time in their working week to plan and prepare their classes, and would see the employment of many more teachers in our schools.
In addition, we are advocating for each teacher to have an increase in non-teaching time, to be used for personal planning and preparation for their class(es). The aim is to bring more of the work teachers do after hours, during the evening and on weekends, back within the 38-hour week.
Our union works best when all AEU members – teachers, principals, assistant principals, and support staff – work together through the union sub-branch at each school. The sub-branch is simply the group of AEU members at each workplace – but, importantly, as a group they have lawful rights to be consulted about changes to the work required of staff, class sizes, and workforce planning, including the number of ongoing versus fixed-term contract positions, among many other things.
Most sub-branches elect a local leader or group of leaders. These union sub-branch representatives are able to provide all members with advice and support about practical workplace issues, especially beginning teachers.
Understanding your rights at work begins by joining the union. Ensuring that you get access to those rights means working together with other members at your school.
Beginning teachers should get active in their school’s AEU sub-branch from the start: attending meetings, sharing experiences and information, asking questions, and getting involved in broader union campaigns for fair school funding and social justice. And, by the way, if you’ve read this article and have not yet joined the AEU – now is the time become a union member and work with us to improve your life at work.