Brewery experience a lesson for life

When I started my career, teachers were regarded as professionals like doctors or engineers. Now they are regarded as service providers.

After 41 years of teaching and 25 years as IEU Rep, John Cullen is looking forward to some well earned leave.

John started his career at Marcellin College Randwick as a geography teacher in 1977 and immediately followed the advice of his father, a forklift truck driver at the Tooth’s Brewery (now Central Park, Sydney), who said ‘join the union’.

“Dad had just received a new uniform and free boots because of the Union so he thought it was great,” John said.

John’s first head teacher also told him the few dollars a week union subs were worthwhile to keep up to date with the profession, and these two pieces of wisdom stuck for life.

In 1984 John transferred to his current school St John Paul College, Coffs Harbour, where he has specialised in geography ever since.

John has family in the area and his wife is from Parkes, so a regional lifestyle beckoned.

“Country youngsters are resilient. They appreciate the simple things in life. Country living is good for the health and the soul.”

John has seen many changes to the profession over the years.

“Teachers learnt on the job more when I started. Now we have ‘assessment of learning’, ‘assessment for learning’ and ‘assessment as learning’ in a variety of strategies and practices. Some of these interventions are good but I’m not sure they are all leading to better teaching standards.

“The focus is all about improving teacher standards and accountability of teachers. When I started my career, teachers were regarded as professionals like doctors or engineers. Now they are regarded as service providers, and that approach affects the way teacher, parent and student interviews are conducted and the perception some families have of teachers being available.

“Advances in technology has meant there is a much greater expectation that teachers are contactable via SMS and email outside of the usual school hours.”

Serving as IEU Rep for 25 years, in collaboration with Mark Adams, John has seen a change in attitudes to unionism over the years.

Nowadays, casual, temporary and part time positions are undermining teachers’ confidence in joining unions, he said.

“It’s quite challenging explaining to teachers under 35 the benefits that have been fought for over the years. They are quite fearful of damaging their job prospects when they are in temporary positions and employment seems to be on a whim.

“I say for the price of three cups of coffee a week you get the benefit of that collective support behind you as well as other benefits like the teacher exchange program.

“I did an exchange to England in 1989/90 to Nottingham High School.

“By coincidence, I bumped into my exchange partner during the Ashes series at the SCG a few weeks ago.”

John said Catholic employers have behaved in a “scurrilous fashion” by withdrawing arbitration from the EA process and withholding pay increases as a bargaining chip during the industrial campaign, and he said a strong union involvement was crucial.

His IEU Rep partner Mark will make sure the chapter remains well served at St John Paul while John takes off Terms 2 and 3. But he’ll be back on board for his 43rd year of teaching in 2019.