There was quite the carnival atmosphere as about 300 members from the IEU and the NSW Teachers Federation arrived in a sea of yellow and red at Missingham Park Amphitheatre in Ballina, beside the Richmond River.

The two unions came together to show their anger and disappointment with the NSW Government and Catholic employers. The day started with NSW Teachers Federation member and principal of Evans River K-12 school, Glen Cook, who is a Bundjalung man, presenting the Welcome to Country.

Speakers shared stories of how the teacher shortages are affecting them, their students, colleagues and families.

Jennifer Allen, teacher at St Carthage’s Primary School, Lismore, said: “On a daily basis, teacher shortages mean changes, split classes, extra students, adjusted lesson plans, and teachers standing in doorways between two classes. Schools are busy places, and the staff shortages lead to uncertainty, a lack of communication, a breakdown in relationships and trust. Ultimately, these conditions are our students’ learning conditions.”

Mary Howard, teacher at Xavier Catholic College, Skennars Head, said: “Teachers are tired but we are also fired up. When our employers tell us we don’t care about our students and their families by stopping work, we see red. No one cares about children and their families more than we do. But we have to take a stand and say enough is enough. We are stopping work because we care about quality education.”

Clare Axman, teacher at St Mary’s Catholic College Casino, said: “I watch as incredible early career teachers step into teaching with their hearts on their sleeves, only to have their morale battered by a broken system that doesn’t support them. It pains me to see such talent, compassion and care become tired and washed out – then washed away as they take a different career path.”

IEU member Leanne Broadley got the crowd chanting and singing while IEU member and drummer Michael Raeburn and Teachers Federation member Karen Newton added rhythm for a rousing version of Solidarity Forever.

Richard Ryan