When does membership of Federation look like marriage? For Jo Sheppard, it’s like this: “We are strong comrades and passionate activists for public education.
"We come together in good times, such as regulated class sizes, and in bad — the federal government’s failure to commit to years five and six of Gonski. We aim to be richer but we are, realistically, poorer. In ‘sickness’ we have Professional Support Officers at Federation and in health we have fabulous Teachers Health! We’re together for better, such as continued full Gonski schools funding, or for worse — TAFE privatisation, removal of Safe Schools and plans to get rid of more than 130 experienced Corrective Services teachers.”
Jo grew up in union spirit: “With a builder/construction worker as a father, unions have always been a part of my home life. It was the easiest decision to join Federation.”
This is her seventh term as the Federation contact at the Shoalhaven Tutorial Centre, a regional resource attached to Bomaderry High School on the scenic south coast, and she's ready for more. Steve Flack is Fed Rep for Bomaderry High School, which encompasses the tutorial centre, and Jo, who is based at the centre, liaises regularly with him.
“When we had President Maurie visit our school with the Gonski billboard, Steve and I ensured that staff from all faculties came out at lunch, got a Gonski hat or t-shirt and posed for a picture. It was amazing to see so many of us taking such pride in fighting for our students’ right to the minimum resource standard,” she said.
Jo is also Special Education and Social Media Contact for the Shoalhaven Teachers Association and, from this year, its Secretary. These roles enable her to work effectively with Steve on Gonski campaigns and she uses her Association social media role to keep the school up to date with Federation’s social justice and public education concerns.
“Social media is a popular platform for everyone, especially teachers,” Jo said. “Sure, we all have our individual points of view but we come together in solidarity, which is a
She works hard to ensure transparency is maintained between staff at all times “because whilst we might not all agree we do have to work together. “I firmly believe that each staff member is entitled to his or her opinion and should not be prevented from raising these issues.”
“It is imperative that Federation representatives be present as support when a member of staff needs us,” she adds. One such occasion was when she came to the aid of a fellow special education colleague who was experiencing a form of sexual discrimination. The strength of the union’s support structure came in useful as she was able to tap local Organiser John Black for advice.
Jo has identified 28 members at her school who have yet to “Make the Switch” to direct debit of union fees and has supplied them with forms and prepaid envelopes to encourage them to move. “I explain it is absolute peace of mind to know my membership is financial in case I need to know something about my job situation,” she said.
She packs a suitcase whenever possible and takes off for faraway places — Canada, Cuba, New York, Orlando, Los Angeles and England — with the highlight being a Caribbean cruise this year ticked off her travel bucket list.