Welcome to Part 1 of a 2-part series, breaking down the year that was!
Reminisce with me as we look back at the breaking headlines of the year, and highlight what we have endured and celebrated in 2022.
Alternatively, listen directly by clicking the Play button above.
Please do remember to subscribe on your podcast streaming service so you never miss an episode!
- Our Gender Diverse and Trans Students – What’s the Truth? with Dr Cate Rayner
- The Science Vs. podcast, in particular this episode – Trans Kids: The Misinformation Battle
- If You’re Not OK, Your Students Don’t Stand a Chance (Dr Jody Carrington)
- Teacher exodus, the media, and school culture – with Adam Voigt
2022 in Review according to the media – Pt 1
Hi there! We are well and truly in the pointy end of the year now. And what an absolutely bonkers year it has been! I don’t know about you, but I had actually forgotten a lot of what had happened at the beginning of this year – I remember it vividly now, after doing research for this episode. But I think because the year has been so full, and we’re growing accustomed to an ever shifting workplace, it can be easy to forget what we’ve gone through.
You may have guessed it, if you read the episode title, that today’s episode is all about the incredible year we’ve had. I’m taking it from the slant of media reports, so full warning that you’re likely to feel a bit of righteous anger at parts of the episode today. Of course I’m going to talk about COVID, particularly towards the beginning of the episode. But that’s certainly not all we’ve waded through this year. In full self-awareness, I will let you know that my research process for this episode has been pretty simple, I simply searched on Google for articles within each month – that means that what I’m covering are likely the most clicked-on articles, and with that comes the risk that it will be slanted and/or biased by design. I have tried to limit each month, as of course there are loads of news articles out there, but I also didn’t want to miss anything important.
I will also give you a content warning before we jump in – we talk COVID, assault, mental health in this episode. So please look after yourself and bypass any sections you feel necessary. I will always lead with the article headline, so that will give you an indication of the next portion of content.
Due to this year being so massive, I decided to split this whole process into two parts. This episode will cover the first half of the year, and of course the next one will cover the second half of the year.
So let’s not waste any more time, as it’s a really full episode today. Let’s wind back, all the way to January of 2022.
Enter January, 2022. We were beginning our third year under the grips of COVID, and still seeing our paradigm shifting. I myself was hopeful of a return towards something resembling the normality of before the pandemic. January news focussed on of course the pandemic and return to school, but also included a sprinkle of articles about teacher shortages and the news that religious schools were actively discriminating according to sexuality.
This title from the Guardian on Jan 4 was one of the first of the new year to highlight the stress we were under – I’m not sure whether to say ‘still under’ or ‘already under’, because it’s certainly a bit of both. Even though we were on holidays, for many of us that only provided a certain level of relief. The title read: ‘Teachers seek urgent talks with NSW government in school safety amid Omricon surge’.
I’m sure every singe of one you will now be remembering those last few weeks of holidays, and the limbo we were in, not knowing what the first week of school would look like, let alone the year ahead. Many of us tried to plan as best we could, assuming we would be in the classroom. But of course it wasn’t just us teachers who were stressed about the impending return.
“Australian parents anxious as schools set to ‘go back stay back’ despite COVID outbreak” – from 7news on January 5. This story told of primary student Charlotte, who’s asthma is so severe the COVID could very well kill her. It was a story theme repeated throughout the pandemic – pleas from family and friends of those who’s bodies may not be able to handle the pressures of this deadly virus. With the new school year looming ahead, and two years of hindsight, arguments were rife as to the ‘best approach’ for schools.
On that same day, Jan 5, the SMH reported that NSW Premier was “incredibly confident kids will be in class on first day of term”. The article explained how the premier was working closely with the NSW Education and Health departments on a plan for the new school year, which included RATs playing an important role.
On Jan 9, ABC News reported that “Queensland was to delay return of school for most students from Jan 24 to Feb 7”. I personally remember seeing this headline in the news, and being furious that the nation was being told before us teachers were. We didn’t get official communication from our department for a couple of days, from memory. This was a pattern that had been repeating itself for a while, and wasn’t due to end any time soon. Particularly in QLD, the media was informed of decisions before those who were enacting those decisions on the ground were told themselves. That meant in our online groups, we were letting each other know what was happening, often long before any official communication. This lead to a lot of confusion and misinformation.
Mandatory booster shots were announced for NSW school staff on Jan 10, in an effort to ensure as much safety as possible given the reports that there would be no more home learning in that state.
By Jan 11 we were seeing reports like this one from SMH, saying “Australian needs a national plan for children, schools, and COVID-19”. Teachers were stressing, parents were stressing, students were stressing. None of us quite knew what was going on, and for some states they were due to return to the classroom in a matter of weeks.
On 13 Jan, In Daily reported “SA Schools to adopt hybrid return as four deaths recorded”. The article went on to explain how SA schools would have a hybrid model for the first two weeks of term, similar to QLD. Some year levels would learn from home, others from the classroom.
Looking back on this now, I am once again in awe of what we collectively pulled off. Imagine if any other profession was told that their team (of anywhere from 25 to 250 students, or ‘employees’, per leader) was going to work in a hybrid model, and that the leader was expected to personally train every single employee while some were online, some were in person. A nightmare, right? But we did it. YOU did it.
In a break from COVID news, we switched from the fire back into the fry pan. Also reported on Jan 13 by The Guardian, we woke to this headline “Attorney general defends religious schools’ right to sack teachers for views on sexuality”. It seems almost like they were trying to get this one through unnoticed, covered up by the mad rush of back to school mixed with COVID uncertainty. By the Guardian was on to it, explaining how changes to the Sex Discrimination Act would wait for a further review 12 months after religious discrimination bill passed. The article also touched on how this meant that changes protecting gay students would also be delayed. More on this topic in later months.
January 19 brought us back to COVID news, with this article from The Conversation: “COVID and schools: Australia is about to feel the full brunt of its teacher shortage.” And boy did we. I’m sure we all keenly remember the staff shortages, merged classes, year levels told to stay home. We remember it so well because it was not confined to the beginning of the year, but instead stretched all the way into term 4. I want to read you the first couple of paragraphs of this article – “The Omicron wave is likely to exacerbate Australia’s existing teacher shortages and demanding workloads. As school starts at the end of January and beginning of February across the country, many teachers will be at risk of contracting COVID. They will need to stay away from work, while others may choose to leave the profession altogether.
To address parental concerns about teacher absences, the Prime Minister recently announced teachers will no longer be required to isolate at home for seven days if they are close contacts, and if they don’t have symptoms and return a negative rapid antigen test. But unions have slammed this relaxation of rules saying it will only add to safety concerns for teachers and children.
States and territories are putting together a plan to open schools safely, which is set to be released on Thursday. But for schools to operate effectively, and avoid remote learning, Australia must also have a long-term plan for recruiting and retaining teachers. This means lifting their professional status, improving work conditions and increasing pay.”
This article was a refreshing change to the usual teacher-bashing preferred by the media. It discussed how we need a true national plan to raise the status of our profession, and looked into some of the data relating to our shortages.
On Jan 18, ABC News reported that the SA government was rejecting school term delays, and as such school would return as expected.
On Jan 23, the SMH reported that NSW schools would be handing out RATs to parents, with every school student and staff member expected to test twice a week for the first four weeks of term. The article mentioned the VIC would follow suit, with these being the only two states rolling out a mass testing program.
In another shift from COVID-related news, The Conversation published a piece on Jan 30 with the title “Teachers don’t have enough time to prepare well for class. We have a solution.”. This certainly raised a few eyebrows and rolled more than a few eyes. It’s no surprise whatsoever that our workload is increasing exponentially, taking more of our time away from face-to-face teaching. The article detailed findings from the Grattan Institute, which of course highlighted how time-poor we actually are. The article suggested three reform directions that the government aught to adopt. 1. Find other ways school staff can take on non-teaching work, such as extracurricular activities. 2. Help teachers reduce unnecessary tasks – which is a contentious one, because who gets to decide what is ‘unnecessary’ in each context. And 3. Rethink how teachers work is organised, such as policy decisions and industrial agreements. These reform directions are certainly long-term concepts, so it will be interesting to see if and how they are taken on board.
I’m going to pause here and give you a content warning for this next section for the topics of the floods and drug use. Stepping cautiously into February, we see yet more articles about COVID, teacher shortages, and discrimination. Alongside this are reports of the flooding endured by the east coast, and a report of a teacher accused of molesting a student.
Now this first news article is going to be a massive surprise to all of you. Reported by 7News, released on Feb 1, the title reads “COVID spreats to WA schools as first case reported at Perth primary school”. Holy dooly, did we not all predict that. A confirmed case at a school, only two days into the school year.
Feb 4 marked a busy news day. The Guardian reported “Citipointe Christian College principal lobbies senators for ‘right to discriminate’ against gay people”. Parents called for his sacking, and the media had a field day in the following weeks. It came to light that the school was requiring families to sign anti-gay and anti-trans enrolment contracts, and that the principal himself held no teaching qualifications or registration. Surprisingly, the FB groups were largely silent on this one. I wonder if it’s because we were all still caught in the grips of new-year-slash-covid craziness. I myself was down with COVID around this time, pushing back my first day actually in school to 4 weeks after we were due to originally go back.
This same day 7News reported that “Victorian public school teachers have won a reduction in face-to-face learning hours for the first time in three decades, after their union reached an agreement with the state government. The Australian Education Union and the Andrews government reached a deal on Friday, following months of bargaining and industrial action. For the first time in more than 30 years, government school teachers will have their face-to-face teaching hours reduced by one hour in 2023, which will increase to one-and-a-half hours the following year.”
An article by WA Today mentioned that “Perth students told to isolate due to COVID-positive teacher”, confirming the reports published a few days earlier.
An article in The Conversation on Feb 7 stated that “Teachers can’t keep pretending everything is OK – toxic positivity will only make them sick”. I think this line of thinking angered a few of us – we KNOW everything is not ok, especially over the past few years, but if we don’t put on a smile and go to work, the whole system will crumble. Many will argue that perhaps that’s exactly what needs to happen, but the pandemic has shown us that by large the governments are unforgiving and, well, I’m going to let you continue that line of thought yourself – if I voice it here I could be on the chopping block for professional misconduct.
WA Today brought to light what could be considered fraud in an article titled: “’Obscene greed’: WA’s priciest schools rake in fat JobKeeper profits”. This was a topic that came up again and again throughout the past few years – private schools making JobKeeper claims well above other schools, and indeed other industries. The numbers were astronomical, and surely outstripping the true needs of the schools. The article in WA Today noted that a group of 24 private schools in WA raking in a combined total of $77 million through federal JobKeeper payments in 2020, enabling most to turn healthier profits than they did pre-COVID. It astounds me that schools are allowed to operate for profit, and that these schools amassed enough money through JobKepper to give all WA teachers a nice payrise for a year or so.
Shifting back to the anti-gay stories of a few days ago, The Guardian reported on Feb 7 that a Sydney private school lists same-sex relationships alongside abusive relationships as ‘not acceptable’. The principal of the school defended its ‘statement of faith’, saying critics had taken it out of context. I’m not sure what context they’re talking about here, but there we go. Skipping ahead a little chronologically, The Conversation reported on Feb 9 that only 19% of Australians agree religious schools should be able to ban LGBT+ teachers. I think that speaks volumes of our current social culture.
Ahh February, a busy busy news month. In amongst the crazy, I’m certain you’ll remember particular headlines like this one from ABC News on Feb 8 – “NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet wants to shake up school hours — this is what it could look like.” Of course these articles refer to the NSW Premier’s plan to shift around school hours to ‘better suit community need’. While the thinking behind it has merit – of course societal changes have changed the needs of families and working parents – it angered a lot of the teaching community. The inference was that the school day would be lengthened, with teachers remaining responsible for the care of the children during all the extra time. I saw discussions about how kids are genuinely tired by 3, and wouldn’t be able to effectively work after that; that we would need significant pay increases to cover our extra time; that we aren’t baby sitters and our core purpose is academic instruction. Overall there were a lot of alarm bells ringing at this announcement.
In a leap back to the pandemic, The Conversation reported on Feb 9 that ‘Return-to-school’ plans overlook chronic teacher shortages outside the big cities. While this information came as no surprise to us inside the industry, it was pleasing to see some light being shined on the topic for those who aren’t familiar.
In a bit of a comedic moment, ANC News reported on Feb 9: “Masks too big for kids, ‘Facebook issues’ plague Tasmania’s public school return”. Reading from the article “The Tasmanian government’s back-to-school COVID packs have become the subject of online ridicule, with primary-aged children sent adult-sized masks — with parents being told smaller sizes will be available if needed.
Parents have been posting photos to social media, showing the comically over-sized masks covering not only their child’s mouth and nose, but their entire faces.
In a statement, a Department of Education spokesperson confirmed that only adult masks were sent to students, but a total of 600,000 junior-sized masks would be made available.
“One size of surgical masks were included in the student COVID-care packs distributed ahead of returning to school,” the spokesperson said.
“However, where that size of mask does not fit the student at primary school, there is a supply of smaller masks available at schools to ensure they are accessible for all students who want to wear them, given they are not mandatory.”
In a case of bad-teacher reporting, News.com.au lead with a headline reading :Sydney teacher allegedly smokes cannabis from bong with students”. This teacher was allegedly caught on video inhaling from a makeshift bong, surrounded by students in their uniforms. She was arrested for supplying a prohibited drug to students at her school.
Back to gender and sexuality diversity, The Conversation published a piece on Feb 15 stating that “4 out of 5 parents support teaching gender and sexuality diversity in Australian schools”. The article highlighted how it is often claimed that parents oppose the inclusion of gender and sexuality diversity content in the teaching of their children, but that their research shows otherwise.
On Feb 17, Elle Australia published a piece that brough joy to a lot of our hearts, as teachers and as parents. “It’s Finally Happened. Consent Education Will Be Mandatory Across Australian Schools From 2023. Today is a good day.” The article continues “Ministers Of Education around the country have unanimously made a commitment to mandating holistic and age-appropriate consent education in every school, from foundation to Year 10. The movement, spearheaded by activist Chanel Contos and her organisation, Teach Us Consent, have made this possible, fighting tirelessly to overhaul the current sexual education programmes we have in Australia. The curriculum will incorporate many facets of sexual education, ranging from power imbalances and coercion to gendered stereotypes, examining how each of these play a role in shaping sexual experiences. As it currently stands, the new curriculum is expected to roll out in 2023 across every school in the country.” This was really good news in the face of the recent articles about schools actively discriminating against anyone who is now cis-het.
Feb 18 saw another COVID report from The Guardian, this time stating “NSW encouraged to follow Victoria’s lead and extend rapid Covid testing in schools. Burnet Institute modelling suggests rapid testing has prevented 21,000 Covid cases in Victorian schools, with 24m more tests to be provided.”
Two days later ABC News reported the death of NSW teacher Michelle Hayes, who died from COVID-19.
Circling back to the earlier reports about private schools accessing significant JobSeeker funding, an article by The Conversation on Feb 21 rehashed some significant research. Their article title summed it up perfectly “Going to private school won’t make a difference to your kid’s academic scores”. The article highlighted how once socioeconomic background is taken into account, academic scores are pretty much the same regardless of the type of school students attend. Looking specifically at NAPLAN scores (yes I know, contentious issue), there was no difference in achievement trajectories between public or private school students.
Following on from this, The Educator Online reported on Feb 21 that “New study highlights funding gap between public and private schools. rivate school funding in Australia has increased five times faster than that for public schools, a new study shows. The analysis, conducted by Save Our Schools, is based on the Productivity Commission’s report on government services, highlights the growing funding gap between the two school sectors. According to the data, which compared combined commonwealth and state government funding for schools in 2009-10 to 2019-20, funding for private schools has jumped by more than $3,000 per student over the last ten years, while per student funding in public schools rose by just $703. The analysis also found that while Commonwealth funding of public school students increased by $1,181 between 2010-2020, state government funding dropped over this period by $478 per student. “In nominal terms, that is true, but when you take account of inflation, the funding hasn’t kept up with costs, so that means they’ve been cutting the real resources in public schools – and this has been happening for a decade right across the states,” SOS national convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said. “At a state level it’s also been disastrous for public schools, because state governments are the primary funders of public schools and on average, across Australia, they have cut funding.”
Feb 20 saw the Guardian report “NSW schools to switch to on-demand Covid testing of students. Parents and teachers will receive free rapid antigen tests ‘to use at their discretion’, Dominic Perrottet says”. A few days later, on Feb 23, ABC News reported that “Mask rules to be scrapped in NSW schools as COVID-19 restrictions ease”. Then the very next day they reported “teachers express concern over COVID numbers in schools.” Like that should have made the news. Can you here my eyes roll?
And now we get to a different kind of pain. ABC News reported on Feb 26 that “Northern NSW residents prepare for flood impact as severe weather warning for heavy rain issued”. There was no way to know what was about to unfold. These next few headlines will bring back many many painful memories for us all here in NSW and QLD. Reuters reported on Feb 27 “’Rain bomb’ hits Australia’s northeast, killing seven in floods”. The next day Kids News produced this headline “Flooding breaks records and closes nearly a thousand schools in Qld”. News.com.au joined with “Schools to close, work from home order as Queensland flooding continues”. 7 News reported “Families stranded on rooftops as flood carnage devastates Queensland and northern NSW communities. The death toll from the floods in Queensland has risen again – as a fresh emergency develops across the New South Wales border.”. I’m sure you all remember, and some of you are still feeling, the significant impacts of these floods. One of my own colleagues has only just been able to return to their home in the past few weeks, and I’m sure some of you know others who will never be able to live in the same place again. The damage and loss is incalculable, with a full year’s worth of rain falling on parts of the south east in a matter of days. Entire towns were evacuates, thousands of schools and businesses closed, and many lives lost.
And so we head into March with brand new disasters, and even more on our plates.
March in the news started out with this headline from The Age “School vape warning: Boy, 5, unwell weeks after puffing, Merlino says schools on alert”. A couple of days later the SMH followed up with this headline “Schools lock toilets to tackle rampant vaping”. Vaping has come into full vogue this year, and I’m sure we were all shocked to hear of younger and younger students taking part. Headlines like this one sprung up every now and then, driving conversations about safety and responsibility. I remember throughout the year hearing of teachers standing as sentinels outside student toilets, and toilets being closed during class times, in an effort to curb the trend.
On the same day as that second headline, the Age published this perplexing one “Higher general teacher salaries, smaller class sizes ‘not key’ for students”. The article discussed how smaller class sized, improving teachers’ pay and conditions, and boosting the reputation of teaching had ‘virtually no effect on student outcomes’. This makes me think of my episode about Dr Jody Carrington, and her philosophy that if we’re not ok, the kids don’t stand a chance. We all know that our best teaching, and the kids best learning, occurs when we are calm, happy, and feel in control of our day. Those things mentioned as having no effect on student outcome would surely have an effect on the teachers themselves, and I’m confused as to how this doesn’t ultimately flow on to the students. The Educator Online published a similar article titled “Higher paid teachers won’t improve Australia’s schools, report says”. The article discussed how increasing wages and enticing more people into the profession will do little to fix the core problems facing our education system. I think they missed the fact that more teachers means more availability to have more non-contact time. I feel that we are never going to remove responsibilities, we’re never going to go backwards on data collection, for example. But if we had more boots on the ground, we could release teachers more often for these tasks, or have a team leader who would be in charge of a year level in primary, or subject in secondary, who’s sole job could be those sorts of tasks. That sort of relief can’t happen without more people in the profession, and higher salaries would certainly draw and/or keep people here.
March 9 saw another article about an abusive teacher, this time in the SMH. The headline read “Moriah College’s head of English charged with possessing child abuse material”. His alleged crimes did not relate to the production of any such material, and did not relate to any student at the school he taught at. I’m going to leave that story there, as it makes me sick to think about.
On March 15 The Guardian was reporting “NSW school returns to remote learning as spiralling Covid cases hit classrooms. ‘There should have been a steady graduated lifting of the risk mitigation strategies’, says teachers union chief”. Yep, we all knew that. Several schools were returning to remote learning due to spiralling cases. That same day the SMH also reported “School principals facing record levels of stress and burnout: survey”. Again, no surprises there. Principals have held our schools above the water throughout this pandemic, but were being overlooked just as much as us teachers. Having to deal with teacher absences, ever changing restrictions, and concerns of parents put them in an impossible position, one that many felt they could not possibly leave as they would be ‘giving up’.
The next day the Guardian reported that Australia would be short more than 1,700 teachers in three years just within NSW alone, with the same number being predicted for QLD high schools in a separate article. We see more of this sort of reporting peppered throughout the remainder of the year, with what feels like false alarm bells rigning. Here we are, again shouting our concerns from the roof top, into the eyeballs of vaguely interested internet users.
On March 16, 9 News reported that “More than 1000 Queensland children diagnosed with COVID-19 a day with fears numbers are on the rise”. Infectious disease expert Dr Paul Griffin was quoted as saying “I think it is clear there is an increase in cases in schools at the moment.” Duh.
While us teachers were dealing with all of this, our then acting federal Education Minister decided to pop his head up. I’m sure you’ll remember this one. The Guardian reported “Stuart Robert says ‘dud teachers’ not an issue in Australia’s independent schools”. I’m going to read you some parts of the article. “Robert accepted the decline had occurred across the board, but also singled-out independent schools for praise, suggesting the government wanted to bottle their success and “take it across the country”.
Although there were no “silver bullets”, Robert said, teacher quality came “screaming out” as the most important fix, as studies showed that bringing the bottom 10% of teachers up to the standard of the average would reverse the decline.
“Now, I don’t think that’s a problem in your schools, because frankly you can hire and fire your own teachers,” he told the Independent Schools Australia and Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia national education forum.
Referring to the principal of his alma mater, Rockhampton grammar, Robert said there was “no way … Dr Moulds would accept a dud teacher in his school, like, for a second”.
“So for your school you just don’t have them – you don’t have the bottom 10% of teachers dragging the chain,” he said.
“But for every teacher you don’t have in your organisation, guess where they go?”
Robert said Australia must “face the brutal reality” and “stop pussyfooting around the fact that the problem is the protection of teachers who don’t want to be there, who aren’t up to the right standard”.
The Australian Education Union president, Correna Haythorpe, said Robert’s comments “are absolutely shameful and can only be viewed as insulting to the dedicated, high quality public school teaching workforce”.
“Public school teachers have always been an easy target for politicians like minister Roberts who think that a cheap and easy headline which attacks teachers about declining educational outcomes will let his government off the hook for their failure to prioritise public education,” she told Guardian Australia.
Haythorpe accused the Morrison government of an “outrageous preference for the private school system”.
The Queensland education minister, Grace Grace, said the comments were “outrageous, inaccurate, and an insult to hard working teachers across Queensland and Australia”.
Grace said Robert had “been acting in the job for five minutes and thinks he knows it all”, suggesting his speech “reeks of a boys’ club … sneering at the state system that educates around 580,000 students in Robert’s home state of Queensland”.”
It always astounds me when the Government does things like this. The public education system is literally run in their name. Wouldn’t you think they’d try to instil some pride into it?
In a very welcomed report on March 19, 9 News headlined an article with “Australian Sign Language to be taught in NSW schools from 2023”. The article explained how it could be introduced as a first or other language in school, from kindergarten up to year 10. If your school is rolling this out next year I’d love to hear about it!
The next day Kidspot released a bit of an amusing article titled “MAFS fans call for Olivia Frazer to be banned from teaching.” MAFS of course referring to the reality show Married at First Sight – Olivia was a contestant who became a focus on the 2022 season for her ‘bully’ behaviour, with many online stating they would never want her as their or their children’s teacher. These people clearly forget how manufactured reality tv is, but it did provide a bit of a break from the general doom and gloom of the news reporting cycle of the month.
March 21 saw us loop back to the embattled Citipoint Christian College, with The Guardian reporting that teachers were asked to sign employment contracts that warn they could be sacked for being openly homosexual. The school said at the time that the wording of the document was “under review”.
This same day ABC News published an article that brought me much joy. Headlined “Fears Australian schools could be doing more harm than good in their quest for healthy eating”, the journalist talked with multiple paediatric dieticians, who raised concerns over the way food is approached in school settings. They mentioned how a lot of approaches are unintentionally rooted in diet culture, and the lunchbox audits are ludicrous. The article discusses how we as adults should not be teaching children to place moral value on food – that all foods have value in different ways. It also discusses how we could ideally be moving toward a model of division of responsibility – the parents provide the food to eat, and the children choose how much and in what order. The dieticians cautioned how other approaches, such as dictating the order food is eaten in, and how much food is eaten, can lead to disordered eating and eating disorders later in life. They praised teachers for doing the best they can, with good intentions, but encouraged thought about different approaches within the school setting. I loved this – the idea of allowing children to view food as a source of nutrition but also as a source of joy, and not putting unrealistic morality in a place where it does not belong.
In a win for Tassie teachers, Examiner reported on March 22 “Teachers in state schools to get a pay rise, and will be paid for voluntary overtime”. If you’re a teacher in Tasmania, I’d love to hear about how this has gone!
March 25 saw an article which reminded me of the power and tenacity of our students. The University of Sydney published “School strike for climate: why are students still striking?” – an article which outlined how our next generation of students are taking it upon themselves to learn about climate change, as it isn’t a significant part of our current curriculum, at least not in a meaningful way.
March 25 also saw the first of the reports of schools not closing early for the Easter break. Over the coming days we saw similar reports from other states, including one from ABC news outlining how WA had announced a “significant easing of restrictions in schools for the start of term two”, despite just recording their highest daily number of cases.
In the last few days of March, Sky News reported “South Australia announces change to vaccine mandates: Unvaccinated teachers, transport staff to be allowed back to work”. A move that would be followed by the other states shortly after.
And on the final day of March, The Guardian headlined with “Principal of Citipointe Christian college resigns amid concerns about school policies towards LGBTQ+ students and staff.” You might think that would be the end of the drama in that regard, but it wasn’t.
Our April news coverage of the education sector started with this promising headline in The Educator “Labor pledges ‘full and fair’ school funding model”. The article continued on to say “Every Australian school will be put on a path to their “full and fair” level of funding under a Federal Labor government, Anthony Albanese has announced in his reply to the release of the 2022 Federal Budget. Declaring that “education is the biggest and most powerful weapon we have against disadvantage”, Albanese pledged a $440m Schools Upgrade Fund that, from 2023, will give public schools the same level of funding for new buildings and world-class facilities that independent schools receive. Federal Labor will also spend $14m to employ 60 full-time First Nations language teachers in Australia’s schools if elected in May.” Almost immediately we saw counter-reports with quotes from the Australian Education Union, such as this one in the Educator Online ““Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Coalition Government have presided over deep cuts to public education,” Australian Education Union federal president, Correna Haythorpe, said in a statement. “Mr Morrison has refused to take responsibility for the school sector that teaches the vast majority of Australian children. His failure to fund public schools properly means every student in Australia is missing out on $1,800 school funding, on average, every year.” Haythorpe said this shortfall will be made worse by the funding pledges made in the Coalition’s 2022 Federal Budget, which she warned would cut public school funding by $559m. But the Federal Government insists there have been “no cuts to government schools whatsoever”. Another article in the Guardian focused on how the Union had criticised the policy for a concerning lack of detail about when public schools will get extra funding. We shall have to wait into the new year to see how this develops.
On April 5, The Guardian reported that “School principals will lead support for students in flood-hit communities, NSW government says”. According to the article, school principals in northern NSW would be responsible for distributing new support measures to held teachers and students return to school after the devastating floods, because they “had the best knowledge and were best placed to ensure support went to those who needed it”. Because, you know, these principals weren’t dealing with their own tragedies – they had to be the rock for their community as well. Kudos to them, but also, come on guys. Principals have enough on their plates at the calmest of times, why would you then shoulder this extra responsibility onto them in such a horrific time. I mentioned earlier reports of principals burn out – did no one think this might add to that?
The media had a bit of a crush on principals at this time, as the very next day The Educator Online published this article “What principals think of the new Australian Curriculum”. Explaining how Education Ministers from all states and territories endorsed the new curriculum, The Australian Secondary Principals’ Association (ASPA) said the stronger focus on Indigenous perspectives through the curriculum is a very positive move and should be celebrated. The Association also celebrated the inclusion of such bodies in the consultation and review process.
By mid April we were seeing reports in the media that highlighted the conversations happening within the staffrooms. The Age headlined “‘We are all chasing our tails to catch up’: Student behaviour a rising problem in Victorian schools.” The article continued “Disruptive behaviour and poor wellbeing among students have emerged as bigger problems in Victorian schools this year than learning loss after two years of disrupted schooling.
Primary school principals say they are grappling with new behavioural issues among students, including new cases of school refusal, alarming social media activity and vaping on school grounds.” I touched on this in my talk with Adam Voigt, and he mentioned how this all comes back to school culture. It should have been no surprise that such young people would be disrupted coming back into the classroom after the previous couple of years they’d had. But we were all, students and teachers and parents alike, expected to continue on as if nothing had happened. There was no ease back, there was no grace, there was no social or emotional support to help our most vulnerable humans, our children, back into an altered seeming of pre-pandemic normality. There was also no support for us, the teachers. We, even now, are still reeling from the impacts of the height of the pandemic. We’re still burnt out, stressed, all those difficult to navigate emotions. And as I mentioned before, if we’re not ok, our kids don’t stand a chance. So of course we ended up in a perfect storm, it just seemed that at this point the media finally caught on. Did anything come from it? Nope. But it was there for all to read, and maybe it helped a few people understand what we were going through.
Shining a light on some students for a change, and surprisingly not in a negative way, 7 News reported : Aussie kids bid for world robotics title. A group of students from Sydney’s Barker College are representing Australia at the world school robotics championships in Houston, Texas.” The article detailed the success of a number of students, with the team taking out the prestigious Chairman’s Award.
Three days later, however, the media went back to the usual snarky tone with his one published, unsurprisingly, in Sky News “Schools could be told to call students ‘class’ or ‘crew’ instead of ‘boys and girls’ to avoid offending children questioning their gender”. The article discussed how using gendered language can be alienating for gender diverse or questioning students, and encouraged schools to not separate boys and girls on sporting days. I remember this topic coming in hot and fast in the FB groups, with many defending the traditional separation on sports days due to ability differences. This got me a little cranky, as the science says in children their athletic ability is the same. I did a whole episode about this with a doctor who works with children about their gender and identity, and in that episode I referred to another podcast that did a very deep dive into the science of gender and sport, particularly within the scope of transgender athletes. So the reality is that girls often underperform in sports compared to boys purely because of social expectations. I’m talking about traditional gender roles here – girls are expected to wear skirts and dresses, and are therefore discouraged from the same sorts of active play that boys may partake in while wearing shorts. Girls are also literally encouraged and expected to partake in different types of play, that are more sedate and calm. Boys are expected to be active and run around. When you impose those limitations from birth, of course many girls are going to underperform athletically compared to their male counterparts. They literally haven’t had the same opportunity to develop their skills. It’s only once testosterone kicks in that any sort of true biological difference can be accounted for, and even that is questionable when it comes to transgender adults. But in terms of children, there is no scientific reason behind separating by gender – if you give them the same opportunities, they will perform equitably athletically. I’ll link in the show notes to both my episode and the other one I’m referring to here, because I know MANY of you are sitting there shaking your heads right now.
In a bit of a surprising development, SBS reported on April 24 “Daniel Andrews slams ‘cruel’ politicians driving debate over transgender athletes. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has lashed “cruel” politicians fuelling debate over transgender kids playing school sports, suggesting it is a non-issue.” The article continued “Cruel politicians are driving Australia’s national debate over transgender girls and women playing competitive sport, Victoria’s premier says. Daniel Andrews has gone into bat for trans children competing in school sports competitions, attacking the federal coalition for standing by Warringah candidate Katherine Deves after her long history of transphobic comments came to light. “Seems to me that the adults in this debate are altogether more cruel than the kids, and that’s a damning indictment on those who are pushing this,” he told reporters on Sunday. “What’s next? A trans girl can’t play a female role in the school play? Like, is this the biggest issue in our nation today? I don’t think it is. “And I think only desperate people, who are into wedge politics, who are trying to deflect from the fact that they have been in power for almost a decade and they’ve done precisely nothing with it, would push this.” The premier argued sporting bodies have already established protocols for trans women competing at the professional and elite amateur levels, and suggested the school sports aspect was a non-issue. He said no school community, parent or teacher has raised the subject with him during his 20 years in Victorian parliament. “Trans kids are 15 times more likely to self harm. I don’t think this debate is doing any of those young Victorians any good, or their parents,” Mr Andrews said. “It’s not easy to be trans. There is a lot of stigma. There is a lot of prejudice. I don’t think that adding to that is particularly kind. I think it’s cruel, in fact.”
Anyway, moving on, April 26 brought an opinion piece in the SMH titled “Children are back in the classroom, but teachers are weighing up their options”. A title which has been echoed in a thousand different forms this year, both in the media and in personal conversations. So many of us are at breaking point, so many leaving. The very next day, The Educator Online reported “Australia risks US-style Great Teacher Resignation – expert. Barely eight weeks into Term 1, a nationwide report revealed that Australian principals are struggling with the highest burnout rates in a decade. The latest report into the health and wellbeing of Australia’s school leaders found that principals and their deputies work on average at least 55 hours a week, while a quarter of those report working more than 60 hours a week. With Term 2 now underway, teachers and leaders continue to feel the pressure of massive administrative workloads, booming student enrollments and widespread staff shortages.”. It went on to echo earlier reports of the teacher shortage. Such reports became a bit of a joke, when others like this from The Guardian came through a few days later “Victoria stands down 420 public school teachers over vaccine mandates. About half had failed to get a booster shot before the March deadline and have been placed on unauthorised leave”. Many people, in staffrooms and in the public, commented on how any government could send teachers packing while we’re dealing with such a shortage. Of course now many of those teachers are allowed back into the classroom across the country, but it certainly did not improve the stress levels throughout the year.
On April 29 was a very bittersweet report in The Australian, titled “From Ukrainian war zone to Sydney school zone. We are in awe.” In awe is correct – for these children to be integrating into our schools after having lived through and escaped the horrors we were all witnessing on our screens, it is nothing short of wonderous. I hope these children and teens have been able to find some stability and solace in our schools, and that they have been welcomed with open arms. I hope their families have been supported as much as they need.
That report was overshadowed, however, by news that NSW teachers were to strike against unbearable working conditions, and a pay “increase” far below inflation. A lot of the public sneered at this – we had been employed all throughout the pandemic, we get oh so many holidays, yada yada, so how dare they even think of striking. I remember seeing reports of parents utterly concerned that their students had missed so much schooling recently, it was completely unfair of them to miss another day because of the selfish desire of teachers to strike. To those parents, my internal reply was always “you do realise that your kid will be missing a whole lot more school if all these teachers just up and quit, instead of striking for a single day”.
And so we moved into may, on the brink of a strike which was vocally supported by so many other state unions.
The first article of the month that warrants attention here is one in the SMH titled “Push for special schools to be phased out under inclusive education plan”. What a contentious discussion point. I can see the pros and cons of both side of this argument, and it was certainly a bit of a touchy subject online. At the very least it would require significant funding, restructuring of both physical spaces and pedagogy, training existing personnel, and hiring of enough people with the necessary skills to accommodate the needs across significantly more sites. This is going to sound a bit backward, but I do think one of the biggest pros to this plan would actually be for students who aren’t living with a disability to learn and live alongside those who do. Because a lot of schools are unaccommodating to students with additional needs of this level, our children and youth may grow up never witnessing another way that people their age are living in. And I think that does them a real disservice – if the exposure is never there when students are younger, the feeling of ‘otherness’ may never truly go away.
On the 4th of May, SMH reported “Teacher bears blame, injured students gets #350,000 for classroom fight”. A fight in which one of the students sustained permanent damage to his iris. The articles reads “After a decade-long court battle, the District Court of Western Australia last month deemed while the now-25, then-16-year-old was partly responsible for his bad behaviour, the teacher was negligent and failed in her duty to keep him safe. The Year 12 student and at least one other classmate had been throwing computer stands at each other when the teacher, Sandra Davis, confiscated the items and told one of the boys to leave the room due to his aggressive behaviour. She then went outside to speak with him. During this time, the victim and another boy retrieved the confiscated computer stands from Ms Davis’ desk and once again began throwing them at each other. The sharp end of the stand penetrated the victim’s left eye and left him with injuries including the loss of his iris, and limited vision. The student trio were known as the class clowns, with the victim telling the court they would each feed off each other’s energy and “try to be the funniest person in the room”. Ms Davis had been struggling to control their behaviour in the moments before the incident. Judge Troy Sweeney concluded while Ms Davis was a respected teacher with 30 years’ experience, it should have been foreseen that leaving the classroom while it was in a disruptive state enhanced the risk of bad behaviour.” I mean, there is a LOT to unpack in this story. I’m sure many of us have been in a similar situation, and probably acted in a very similar way, so I think we can take this as a bit of a warning and a bit of a duty-of-care check. We really need to be cognisant of the possibilities, and make sure safety is the first thing on our mind.
The next article, published in WS today on May 5, is very concerning. An extra layer of content warning here for attempted murder, so please skip forward about a minute if you’d rather not hear this one. The title reads “Teenager admits trying to murder teacher with 25-centimeter knife”. The article continues “A student from Perth’s inner suburbs has confessed to attempting to murder her teacher after she hatched a plot, allegedly with another student, to kill the woman and then set the school on fire. The 14-year-old girl, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was arrested on November 1, 2021, after stabbing her 55-year-old Year 8 co-ordinator in the armpit with a knife while inside her office. The knife punctured the teacher’s skin creating a 1-centimetre wound, but did not seriously injure her as she stood up and turned just as the student lunged.” Holy dooly. We all know the violence we face in our job, in fact one of my most read articles, which was republished by Mumma Mia, was about violence against teachers. I gathered stories from teachers across Aus, NZ, and the UK, but nothing came close to this. Even in my follow up article about the research around violence, nothing quite like this came up. Perhaps that’s purposeful – I wonder if stories like this might get squashed before going to print.
That same day we saw reports of the NSW teachers strike. I’m going to run with this one from the World Socialist Web Site, which was titled “Australia: Tens of thousands of NSW teachers strike against intolerable conditions, pay cuts”. I think that very factual headline is far more reasonable than some of the others that came out at the time. Many news outlets were less than polite about the whole thing, and I distinctly remember being very angry at the way the strike was portrayed. I’m sure some of you listening, particularly those from NSW, are still feeling a bit raw about the whole ordeal. As if we didn’t and don’t have enough on our plates – striking is never a fun day off. I remember in the Facebook groups a lot of calls for teachers to actually not use the day for catch-up work, as would have been so tempting, as that would have completely defeated the purpose. Isn’t it nuts that teachers are so swamped, that a planned strike day designed to protest and raise awareness of working conditions, is an attractive lure for catching up on the very work that is swamping us. What a stupid dynamic.
On May 8 came an article that I almost cut from the list. It honestly reads like a thinly veiled advertisement, but it does raise some interesting points. Published in SMH, it is headlined “‘Incredibly loose’: The real problem with Australia’s school curriculum”. The article discusses how our curriculum is more like a vision statement, and that teachers have very little time to prepare the curriculum. The start of the article is from an education consultancy, and he goes on about all the failings of the system and the ways he thinks it could be solved – unsurprisingly by something his company could provide in the form of a more prescriptive curriculum tied with ready-made, but of course not compulsory, resources. Here again I can see both sides of the coin, but the comparisons in the article to other countries are something that has always irked me. Our society is so very different that we truly cannot compare our education system to those in Europe or Asia. There’s just too much cultural difference.
Ah, but the very next day SMH published this one “All Australian schools to sit NAPLAN online for the first time”. Wasn’t that a fun time, hey? Absolutely without problems, everyone loved it, it was a great time. We all love NAPLAN and see it’s utter importance to our jobs, and the incredible benefits to our students.
That same day The Educator Online published a headline that lies right by my heart “Australia’s schools are in crisis, so why isn’t education a national priority?” I’ve said it time and time again – public schools are run in the Government’s name, so why aren’t they acting as such? It’s almost like the collective governments aren’t proud of their education systems. And as this article discusses, it comes down to funding. “Over the years, a growing body of research has highlighted how greater funding for public education can deliver long-term economic benefits for Australia. However, we approach a crucial election at a time when the economy is reeling from pressures such as rising inflation, interest rates and global supply chain disruptions, Australia’s leaders are instead prioritising the lowering of living costs – an action item they rightly argue cannot wait. Prominent economist Adam Rorris points out that capital investment in the poorest 20% of Australian public schools, along with targeted increases to recurrent spending, could help generate approximately $5.2bn every year in economic activity. “More than $100 billion in benefits over the next twenty years. An additional annual investment of $3.8 billion per annum would bridge the gap between public and private schools in per student capital investment,” Rorris said. “Closing this gap would deliver an ongoing annual return of 37% above investment and an additional 37,000 full time construction jobs – many more than the 1,000 or so jobs that the much-vaunted JobMaker has been able to provide to date.” Some influential education leaders say education should not only be a priority for government, but our top priority as a nation. “Australia’s education policy framework has to be based on sound theory and practice,” Greg Whitby, executive director of the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, told The Educator. “It shouldn’t be used as an ideological football. I’d like to see an approach that’s inclusive of early learning through to ongoing lifelong learning post-schooling.” Mr Whitby said the policy needs to be “built from the ground up” and “respect the professionalism of teachers to frame challenging and demanding learning experiences for every student.” Wouldn’t that be lovely.
Instead, on May 18, The Age headlined “Students sent home, teachers under pressure as flu rips through schools.” A problem we all saw coming a mile away – COVID still very much around, with varying isolation rules state by state, heading into what medical professionals were dreading in the form of a unique flu season. With the past couple of years being spent on high-alert for any sickness, the flu this year has raged supreme. We haven’t had the normal exposures we would have, meaning that the flu this year has hit people harder than in previous years. For many, it’s involved what I’ve recently seen referred to as fluvid – the double whammy of covid and flu, or even parainfluenza which is a whole different thing again. Us teachers and our families have been dropping like flies, and usually in the perfectly inconvenient way of one family member first, then the next, then the next. Never all at the same time, as that would be too convenient. So of course our schools were thrown into staffing chaos again. I even went back full time myself to help plug the holes at my own school. So here we are, mid May, still in flux, still in chaos, still burning out at a rapid rate.
The next day, on May 19, SMH reported “Catholic school teachers vote to strike over pay and conditions”. In a move mirroring the state sector, NSW and ACT Catholic teachers and support staff planned to strike for the same reasons. Imagine that – working conditions are also unacceptable to teachers in the private sector. Almost seems like we need a complete overhaul.
As if to add credence to this, on May 25 The Conversation published this one “Almost 60% of teachers say they want out. What is Labor going to do for an exhausted school sector?”. “During the 2022 federal election campaign, schools barely rated a mention. While the Labor government’s cabinet will not be finalised until next week, we expect Tanya Plibersek to become education minister. She will have plenty to do. The education sector presents the new government with several pressing challenges. These range from teacher shortages to concerns about school funding and student and teacher safety and well-being.” We will park this conversation for the moment and circle back around to it a little later.
Because it’s not just us teachers who are struggling. COVID has really impacted our students too. ABC reported “Lockdowns caused ‘high psychological distress’ in 70pc of high school students, study finds”. And I think it’s really important to remember that. I touched on it before, but our students have been through something that we ourselves never experienced as children or teenagers, so it’s super important that as we move into the new year, we remember that some of our students may have never had a ‘normal’ year of schooling. They’ve been disrupted during their most formative years of growth and development, so of course they’re going to be experiencing schooling in a very different and unique way.
Our next story brings us back to the embattled Citipointe college, with The Guardian reporting on May 26 “Citipointe college referred to Human Rights Commission over withdrawn student enrolment contracts. Queensland school says it has now abandoned anti-gay and anti-trans contracts and ‘statement of faith’” The article explained how families were to be lodging five complaints with the QLD Human Rights Commission. Finally we were seeing some legal action after these months of outrage.
And now we come into June – almost half way through the year!
Just as we entered the year talking about stress – remember we talked about how we were uncertain what the start of the school year would look like. The first article off the ranks for June in The Conversation was headlined “Teachers’ stress isn’t just an individual thing – it’s about their schools too”. Well, yeah. I… was a bit unsure of this article. It almost reads like something I would have produced in university, no offence to the authors. Maybe it’s just because I’m living this experience that they’re writing about, I’m unsure. But let me read you a snippet “Stress is common among teachers, and recent reports suggest it’s getting worse. We need to understand the sources of this stress to improve support for teachers. Growing teacher shortages in Australia underscore the need for this support. It is also important to identify whether there are patterns of stress experienced by individuals and groups of teachers within a school. This knowledge will tell us whether support for teachers should be targeted individually or to a teaching staff more broadly. Our study involving 3,117 teachers at 225 Australian schools shows sources of stress do vary among individual teachers. At the same time, the school environment – workloads, student behaviour and expectations of teachers – appears important. At some schools the stress experiences of individuals mirror those of the teaching staff more broadly. So managing stress is not just the responsibility of individual teachers. Schools have an important role to play in developing a workplace that helps to minimise their teachers’ stress.” The article goes on to list the sources of teachers’ stress, and they perfectly mirror what Adam Voigt said in my discussion with him in a previous episode – workload stress, student behaviour stress, and expectation stress. If you want to dive into that a little more, go back to the episode with Adam Voigt, it’s a really valuable listen.
On June 8, SBS reported “Period poverty and stigma in Australia is ‘a bigger issue than you might think’. Here’s why. Queensland’s move to provide free pads and tampons in public schools has been hailed as progress in the battle against period poverty and stigma, but experts say more work is needed.” The article discussed how QLD was following in similar footsteps of other states. It ended with this, which I think is very important “A 2021 report by SA’s Commissioner for Children and Young People found that one in four children and young people surveyed in the state reported experiencing problems getting period products when they needed them. In addition to ensuring access to period products, bathroom and disposal facilities and “comprehensive education about menstruation”, the report said the “cultural and social norms and stigma existing at an individual, community and systems level preventing open discussion and normalisation of menstruation must also be addressed”. “The research by the commissioner has also shown that the lack of period care does affects young people’s education, their commitment to sport and other social interactions,” Ms Hall said. “And just the general stigma that’s associated with menstruation in general, at the moment, has flow on effects to people’s association with dignity and self worth. “It imposes on people’s basic human rights and opportunities to education, social security and all the rest.”. As a woman myself, I know firsthand the impact menstruation has. Even in my thirties, it is still a bit taboo to talk about, the unreasonable air of shame still lingers. I think we have a very long way to go before it is seen exactly how it should be – a completely normal human experience.
June 12 brought us a happy article published by ABC news, titled “Adelaide school students helping bring endangered fish species back from brink of extinction”. The article details how Holy Family Catholic School in SA, along with a few other schools, had set up an aquaponics centre in order to breed fish, in the hopes of bringing the southern purple-spotted gudgeon back from the brink of extinction. Of course the school uses this very large project as a resource for a number of different teaching areas, and they’ve even found attendance has risen, particularly among those disinclined to school. What a great story to have in the news! Love it!
June 16 brough a bit of an explainer article from The Guardian, about a topic that seemed strangely controversial at the time. Headlined “What the new year of preschool education means for parents and children. Explainer: Children in Victoria and NSW will have access to a year of play-based learning before they start school”. It explained “In short, young children in Victoria and NSW will have an optional extra year of education, albeit more informal than school. The overhaul will consume and expand some existing services in both states. In Victoria, kinder for four-year-olds will be recast as “pre-prep”, with the transition beginning in 2025. By 2030, every Victorian four-year-old will be entitled to a free, 30-hour-a-week program. Most existing kindergarten programs in Victoria are offered for 15 hours, and while the state government subsidises it for all children, it is only free or low-cost for some underprivileged groups. From next year, existing kindergarten services will be made free. I’m from NSW, where kindergarten is part of school. That’s right, the naming system is different in each state. In NSW we’re talking about changes to what is known as preschool. While that term applies to the education of children three to five years old, the new investment mostly applies to the year immediately before primary school. The government is going to refer to this one year as “pre-kindergarten”, but that’s not an official term yet. It’s the same play-based education as preschool, but access is being widened from 15 to 30 hours for that one year, and will eventually be made free.” I personally think it’s a great idea, if it’s done right. I hope it brings with it a rise in respect for early childhood professionals, as well as an extremely long-overdue payrise.
The next day the media circled back to mental health of our students. The Conversation headlined with “After years of COVID, fires and floods, kids’ well-being now depends on better support”. The article outlined the traumas our students have gone through, and the impacts that these can and do have in the immediate aftermath, but also 12 or more months later. It called for more metal health support for students, and a shift away from funding chaplains, who do not require specialist training in psychology, to instead funding adequate and appropriated trained support staff for all children. As if in response, later that afternoon News.com.au headlined “Education Minister Jason Clare to overhaul school chaplaincy program”. The article continued “The Albanese Labor government is moving to dump the compulsory religious element of the national school chaplaincy program. Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said the major change was aimed at giving schools greater choice around pastoral care. The voluntary scheme supports more than 3000 school communities across Australia. “The government will open up the program to give schools the option to choose either a chaplain or a professionally qualified student welfare officer,” Mr Clare told NCA NewsWire. “We believe that principals and school communities are best placed to understand their students’ needs, so we will give schools a choice about the services they need and the staff they hire.” The $60m-a-year school chaplaincy program was introduced under the Howard government. Its religious streak has been a point of contention ever since. Australian Education Union boss Correna Haythorpe welcomed the news. “Public schools are no place for religious proselytising and instruction,” she said. “The AEU has always said that students and families who need support should be able to access evidence-based mental health, social and wellbeing assistance from qualified professionals.”. I know chaplains can be very effective and very well-loved in their schools, but I personally do believe the work they do is better served by a trained mental health professional, one that does not have a religious foundation. I an atheist myself, and never felt comfortable going to my own school chaplain, because I didn’t want to head about religion in any way – I know that that’s not how it always pans out, but to my teenage brain, that’s certainly what was going to happen. I also personally think it is exclusionary in the sense that our schools can be incredibly multicultural. But that’s a different conversation for a different day.
The Age published an article with an eye-brow raising headline on June 19 “ ‘In it together’: How to tackle teacher burnout to avoid mass exodus”. I applaud them on their use of click-bait techniques, and as a teacher it’s almost certainly one you could scroll past. We don’t need to be told to do more work in order to not burn out. But this one was actually a bit helpful, with one single recommendation that I thought worth mentioning here. I’ll read you some snippets of the article “Schools in regional Victoria are trialling techniques used by frontline health workers to avoid teacher burnout, as almost 60 per cent of teachers are considering making an early exit from the profession. Trialled by three schools with high levels of family trauma among students, a peer support model called “reflective circles” could be applied statewide, researchers say, as schools search for new ways to support staff stressed out by increasingly challenging student behaviour. Researchers at La Trobe University, which led the three-year study, said school staff were managing more emotionally challenging situations such as disruptive students and unhelpful parents after two years of lockdowns, but often lacked mental health support structures for themselves.”. Skipping ahead a bit “Reflective circles are simple and come at almost no cost, which is important for schools, Southall said. Twice a term, four to six teachers gather to process their experiences, reflect on their reactions to challenging incidents, and consider how the situation might have been perceived by the other person involved. Importantly, principals form their own reflective circles across the three schools, so that participants are at the same level and can speak freely. Roberts said the reflective circles had helped staff manage emotionally draining situations “because people feel supported”. “Nobody at our school is doing it on their own, we are all in it together, everyone is responsible for everyone,” she said. An analysis, published in the academic journal Teachers and Teaching, found that of 40 educators who took part in the pilot program, all reported positive changes to their own mental health, and an increased ability to cope in the classroom.”. So there you go, something you could consider setting up at your own school, or even just between you and some of your teacher friends. Yes it comes at a time-cost, but the benefits seem to outweigh that. I mean, we all chat to each other anyway, this is just in a more organised manner.
On June 24, The Guardian reported “Queensland drops Covid vaccine mandates for teachers, with NSW to follow.” But how many would actually return?
On the 27th, The Guardian headlined with “‘I can’t stay. It’s not enough’: why are teachers leaving Australian schools? Australia is facing mass teacher unrest and an exodus from the profession. Teachers on the cusp of leaving explain why”. I’m sure I don’t need to go into the specifics of the article, as you would well know yourself why teachers are leaving, and perhaps why you are considering it yourself. Here are some of the subheadings from the article – ‘Our skills are not respected or valued’; ‘The expectations are destroying me’; ‘We are not actually trusted’; ‘There’s a general baseline of stress’; ‘Jumping through hoops trying to secure a job’; ‘We’re not dealing with the impact of the pandemic’; ‘There would never be enough of myself to give’.
Which brings us to the last headline of June, published by the SBS on June 30 – “‘More than thanks’: Thousands of teachers strike over staff shortages and pay. Striking public and Catholic school teachers have called for “more than thanks” as they campaign for better pay and conditions.” The article reads “Thousands of public and Catholic schools have rallied in NSW and the ACT demanding better wages and working conditions. The decision to take 24-hour joint strike action on 30 June was made after a meeting between the executives of the NSW Teachers Federation and the Independent Education Union of Australia (NSW/ACT), with members of both unions rallying in Macquarie Street, Sydney, as well as in regional locations across NSW and the ACT. It is the third strike in six months called by the NSW Teachers Federation and Independent Education Union NSW/ACT, representing 85,000 teachers.”. I mean, if that doesn’t scream loudly enough to the world about the current state of the profession, nothing ever will.
And so here we are, at the mid point of the year. We have seen the media discuss disasters, scandals, and little sparks of joy. What a ride! I hope you’ll join me in the next episode to break down the second half of the year.