Joel Gibson, Sydney Morning Herald
Joel Gibson is The Sydney Morning Herald’s opinion page editor. He regularly publishes articles on issues in education, aiming to canvas several sides of a debate or introduce a fresh angle to an old argument.
The article, “Treasure this – teachers offer twice the passion for half the pay”, published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 21 July, 2011, was an open letter from northern beaches teacher Dany Alarab to his local member, the NSW Treasurer Mike Baird.
The article outlined the demands placed on Dany’s time, but pointed out that he was not unusual in his dedication to a satisfying but poorly-paid job:
“I am not special. I am not asking for a pat on the back. This is my job and I enjoy doing it but I do not know how much longer I can continue like this. I have worked in the private sector, in human resources at Bayer and in hotel management, so I have experience in other industries but I have never worked harder than I do now.”
It went on to outline the rorts in the government’s tender program for maintenance and other work in schools, and concluded:
“I do not deserve a wage freeze, nor do my colleagues. The students of NSW public schools do not deserve to see their best teachers moving to the private sector as a result of these wage freezes and the inevitable industrial action that will follow. I am asking you to please reconsider this destructive policy and find cost savings elsewhere in the budget.”
As a result of Joel publishing this letter, the NSW Treasurer Mr Mike Baird MP agreed to meet with Mr Alarab.
The PTC NSW Media Award for 2011 acknowledges the support provided by Joel Gibson in identifying this open letter and raising this as an issue of importance to the public in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Treasure this – teachers offer twice the passion for half the pay
An open letter to Mike Baird, from a teacher published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 21 July, 2011
I write to you in despair as a result of the 2.5 per cent public sector wage freeze policy announced by the government.
Teaching these last two terms has been particularly difficult. I arrive at school at 7.15am and prepare my resources for the day. Once the bell goes at 8.55am there is literally no break until 3pm. Recess and lunch are usually spent with students to catch up on work missed, detentions, reports on classroom incidents, committee meetings or supervision duty. Monday afternoons I spend with students at “homework club”. The rest of the week, between 3pm–5pm, I write lesson plans and prepare resources.If I have any marking, I generally take it home with me.
Last term, I spent four weeks in my own time with my head teacher applying for a $20,000 grant from the federal government to introduce Asian Studies into our curriculum. We would often leave the staffroom at 7pm and go home to complete the rest.
If I take a “sick” day it is usually to complete marking at the end of exam periods as I physically do not have any time left in my day.
I am not special. I am not asking for a pat on the back. This is my job and I enjoy doing it but I do not know how much longer I can continue like this. I have worked in the private sector, in human resources at Bayer and in hotel management, so I have experience in other industries but I have never worked harder than I do now. I am 36 and have been teaching for seven years. I can either go for promotion or move back into the private sector and get paid twice as much for a job which is half as hard, but half as fulfilling.
I do not know any area of my job where I could improve my productivity or achieve “cost savings”. I am proficient in all areas of information technology, I run video workshops for students, I help them design websites, I train a girls’ touch football team at lunchtimes, I am involved in the school’s upcoming drama production, I attend all school fundraiser evenings to raise pathetically small amounts of money, I am undertaking a degree by correspondence and I complete all of the tasks mentioned earlier.
The NSW government loses millions of dollars each year through a corrupted tender system which uses “preferred suppliers”. Once listed, these suppliers increase their prices and schools have no choice but to purchase equipment at inflated costs. When builders or plumbers do a job for a school, there is no foreman or competent workplace supervisor on site and they often over-quote and complete unnecessary work. Tradespeople arrive in the morning at a school then leave, complete other work, and charge for a whole day. I recently applied to purchase three data projectors and three personal computers. The quote from the preferred supplier was $1400 more than market value. These are small anecdotes but if you multiply them by every state school in NSW these costs start to add up.
There are savings to be made but you are looking to make them in the place where you will lose the most value; your teachers. The wage freeze you have announced is really going to hurt our ability to attract and, more importantly, retain good, hardworking employees in state education. The removal of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission as an independent umpire in wage negotiations is also extremely disappointing.
By taking away the independent arbitrator in a dispute, you leave public sector workers with no alternative but to strike. I have not been a fan of all of the decisions made by the NSW Teachers Federation, but these announcements have forced me to rethink my attitude towards collective action.
What are the cost savings of an inspirational teacher who captures the imagination of a troubled student and steers them in the right direction, equipping them with the knowledge to make a positive contribution instead of ending up in the criminal justice system? These little “miracles” happen daily in NSW state schools, far more than in any other educational system – simply because we educate all of society, rich and poor.
I do not deserve a wage freeze, nor do my colleagues. The students of NSW public schools do not deserve to see their best teachers moving to the private sector as a result of these wage freezes and the inevitable industrial action that will follow.
I am asking you to please reconsider this destructive policy and find cost savings elsewhere in the budget. Thank you for reading my letter and considering my views.
Dany Alarab, a Northern Beaches teacher, sent this letter to the NSW Treasurer, who has aqreed to meet with him next week.