Schools Community first

Ayse Alanci. Photo supplied. Illustration: IStock/beastfromeast

When Ayse Alanci put up her hand to become union sub-branch president at the start of 2020, she could not have predicted what the year would bring.

Ayse Alanci joined the AEU because she believes the union will always be there to support teachers. So, when the role of sub-branch president came up at Albanvale Primary School, she was only too willing to put up her hand.

“I thought, ‘You know what? I’m happy to be the one to liaise with you all’,” she recalls. “I’m a real people pleaser, so I was very happy to step up.”

‘It was my first time doing the role and, my goodness, did I pick a year for it!’

Jumping in at the start of 2020, little did Ayse know just how seismic a year it would prove to be, nor the enormity of the role she was taking on. A few weeks later, Australia was rocked by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, changing everything. “Honestly, it was my first time doing a role like this and, my goodness, did I pick a year for it!”

The crisis hit Albanvale hard, with the school in Melbourne’s west making the headlines as it was forced to close due to a cluster during the second lockdown. It was a frightening time, with the incident involving both students and their families, and several of their teachers. It proved to be a real sink or swim moment for Ayse.

“It was such a nerve-wracking time for me as well as my colleagues, but I knew I had to put them first,” she says. “I had to do whatever I could to help them before I worried about myself. I understood where they were coming from. I knew how hard it was. So, I put myself in their shoes and just did whatever I could, because a lot of our staff were very anxious.”

Ayse swung into action with the full support of her principal Sue Vermezovic, another proud AEU member. “Sue’s amazing. She’s a union member and has always been open to it. One of the ways that I found the confidence in the role was because she fully supported me.”

Together, they prioritised open and clear communication, ensuring not only that all teachers had easy access to up-to-date information, but also supporting the families affected and the ripple effect throughout the broader school community.

“We were all really worried about the staff members and the students that got the virus, and you’re also worrying about your loved ones,” she says. “It’s not just that you’re scared about contracting COVID, there’s the fear of the guilt factor, too. What if I got someone else sick? I have 25 kids in my classroom – and thank goodness I didn’t get sick, but I was certainly worried, knowing I was liable to pass it on.”

‘I know some staff members were nervous about coming forward, but I could speak up for them.’

Several of Albanvale’s teachers wound up in hospital, including one in ICU. Ayse worked alongside the school’s leadership team and with the AEU to manage remote learning while also dealing with the direct impact of the cluster on their community. “Communication was the number one factor,” she stresses. “You have to be approachable in these situations.”

She worked closely with AEU organiser Matthew Burke, whom she describes as another invaluable supporter. “Matthew was amazing, because I was fresh into this role, with no idea what was going on, and I reached out to him for help. It all comes back to the AEU being so open and readily available, or I couldn’t have done this on my own.”

With Matthew’s help, Ayse organised events to ensure her school’s staff could have their say. “I also composed a Google form, so people could add what they wanted to hear back from the union,” Ayse adds. “So, I guess I was the middleman, because I know some staff members were nervous about coming forward, but I could speak up for them.”

Flourishing in the role, Ayse looks forward to continuing to work hard for her sub-branch. Now that we’ve moved on from the initial crisis, she hopes that some of the skills learnt along the way will help them bounce back, stronger than ever. 

“It came to show just how resilient we are as a staff, and our students as well. We know that we can rely on each other. And now that we’re back in the swing of things, we can focus on all the other pressures of the job, from planning to reporting. Teaching really never stops.”

And another thing… 10 QUESTIONS FOR Ayse Alanci

The most important things I take into the classroom every day are… A smile and a positive mindset. I know this sounds cheesy – however, most of my students have tough backgrounds and sometimes all they need is comfort and a person who makes them feel safe. 

The most important things to leave at home are… Your personal problems. No matter what is going on at home, it is important to leave it all behind. Students feed off your energy, both negative and positive.

The best advice I ever received was… My previous team leader told me being ‘nice is not suffice’. It’s important to challenge one another and question. This is when our planning becomes really fruitful.

My top piece of advice to someone starting out in education would be… I’m going to be mentoring a new graduate for 2021, and my advice to her was to be organised. I can’t stress enough how important it is. The moment you aren’t, everything snowballs.

My favourite teacher at school was… This is a little sad, but I have never had a favourite teacher. I was a kid who moved a lot. I remember, so vividly, my prep teacher would always yell at me for writing incorrectly and, ever since, I made a promise to myself that one day I would be a teacher and never let any student feel like that. 

The people I admire most are… My students. Considering the tough backgrounds and what they go through in some circumstances, it’s extremely impressive how resilient they are.

The music or book that changed my life was…  Music is huge to me in my personal life and to pinpoint a specific song or genre is near impossible. But music is my escape. Without my music I would be lost.

In my other life, I am… In terms of profession, I would be a counsellor or a psychologist. I have always been passionate about emotional wellbeing.

If I met the education minister, I’d tell him… To consider teacher workload – it’s incredible and overwhelming. And to quickly settle the Enterprise Agreement.

The most important thing the union does for its members is…  Support. The union is open for its members at all times. They are easy to contact and ask questions, and to find answers. It’s honestly comforting.

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