The day a casual teacher told me Federation was so great she would be a member for life made up for the times when some teachers couldn’t see the benefit of unionism.
The young teacher had joined Federation as a student member without knowing what Federation did or stood for. I was calling to upgrade her membership and it was not until she found out how much support the union offers members through all stages of their careers, from Professional Support advice to Beginning Teachers Conferences, casual and temporary teacher accreditation seminars through to the free library service that she really understood the benefits achieved through solidarity.
Beginning teachers often don’t have much time to ponder the issues of inequity in our education system or be active in the Gonski campaign: they are simply trying to keep afloat atop a sea of lesson plans, programming, evaluation of their students’ and their own performance, report-writing, and, of course, achieving accreditation at the Proficient level.
That is why I believe the conversations Project Officers have with beginning teachers are absolutely vital to Federation’s future success.
All Project Officers are teachers in their first five years of teaching; they have been teaching long enough to know what it was like learning to surf the waves of stress and anxiety as a beginning teacher and can still relate to those just trying to stand up on the board.
The time beginning teachers spend with Project Officers on school visits is possibly one of the only times in the year when they can have a conversation about why they should invest in their careers though membership or why Gonski must be achieved to help disadvantaged kids achieve their potential.
On school visits, another source of encouragement, as new educators, is the opportunity to meet principals who not are not only passionate and long-standing Federation members but have been doing inspiring work to ensure students in their schools become successful learners.
One principal of a primary school told us he changed the school hours, in consultation with teachers and the community, to conclude lessons at lunchtime in the hope it would lower the suspension rate. The school, at the time of our visit, had not suspended a single student that year. These conversations served to foster our ongoing drive to improve the learning outcomes of our students once we were back in the classroom.
The Semester 2 Project Officers for 2016, Tim Davis Frank, Kate Jackson, Adam Picken and I set clear financial goals for each term.
Days started at 6.45am in the Gonski car, heading out from Federation in Surry Hills to schools on the very outskirts of the Sydney region, and our days ended well after 6pm, making calls to potential members about the benefits of membership and helping teachers update their memberships.
We visited educators on the Central Coast and presented seminars about how to gain and maintain accreditation at Beginning Teacher Conferences in Arrawarra, Tamworth and Leeton.
One of the highlights of being a Project Officer, as well as being a part of the New Educators Network (NEN), was flying to Perth to attend the AEU National NEN Conference in Perth. Workshops in recruiting, how to address discrimination against LGBTIQ colleagues in the workplace, and how to campaign effectively, provided invaluable practical strategies for our activism.
In 2016, the Project Officers brought $1,366,602 in memberships to Federation through conversations that not only inspired hundreds of teachers to see the benefits of solidarity but to keep teaching in the public system. This is vital for Federation and crucial for the future of our kids.
Amelia Kerr is also Councillor for the Inner City TA