Membership matters

Reflecting on five decades

The growth in the number of students with learning difficulties has increased substantially. We started with maybe six when I first began, and now have over 60 students.

IEU member and experienced teacher aide Joy Aquilina retires at the end of 2022 after a long and rewarding career. Emily Campbell spoke to her about the importance of union membership during her five decades in education.

Joy (pictured right) began her career in early childhood education immediately after leaving high school.

“After growing up and leaving school, I realised I loved being around children but did not want to pursue a university degree, so I secured employment at the Brisbane Town Hall Child Care Centre,” Joy said.

“During this time, I was working with children during the day and studying for my kindercraft certificate by night, undergoing training to be a teacher aide.”

Supporting diverse young learners

Joy continued working for years in various early childhood education centres around north Brisbane. She married, had four children and assisted with bookkeeping in her family business.

“I ended up doing relief work at Sandgate Preschool to assist the teacher and was tasked with supporting a young student who had Down Syndrome,” Joy said.

“It was during this year my spark for learning support and desire to work with children who have a disability was ignited. “I got a job as a tutor in Sandgate State Primary School, where I worked 20 hours per week and completed my Certificate III teacher aide qualification, specialising in English and Literacy.

“Teacher aides were trained to assist students in all sorts of subject areas, including reading, writing, oracy and maths, and to support the teachers.

“Eventually, I secured work at St Michael’s College in Caboolture, after moving to the area and enrolling my two youngest children in the school,” she said.

Joy said St Michael’s has been a rewarding and inclusive workplace for 23 years. “St Michael’s was the first school I had worked in that allowed teacher aides in the staff room, and I immediately felt right at home.

“My favourite aspect of the job was transitioning into the Learning Support Department, where I’ve since completed my Certificate IV in Learning Support, helped train up new teacher aides and spent many hours in Professional Development (PD) learning the different aspects of working with children who have disabilities or learning difficulties.

“I have completed a Certificate in Kindercraft, Cert III in English and Language, Cert III in Education and a Cert IV in Learning Support.

“It’s incredibly rewarding getting to know the students and their little idiosyncrasies and helping them to finally grasp a concept they’re learning.”

Membership matters

Joy has been an IEU member for over 20 years and has experienced major changes to working in schools during that time.

“The uptake of technology in schools has been rapid, including the use of laptops in the classroom and the technologies available to our learning support students to help them with their everyday school life,” Joy said.

“Additionally, the growth in the number of students with learning difficulties that are verified has increased substantially.

“We started with maybe six when I first began and now have over 60 verified students,” she said.

Joy has been a dedicated member of her IEU Chapter for over 20 years, serving as a single bargaining unit (SBU) representative during collective bargaining and as a Chapter wellbeing representative.

“In the beginning of my tenure at St Michael’s, the log of claims focused mainly on teaching staff,” Joy said.

“As my confidence evolved in my workplace, my desire to see the teacher aides represented – and issues pertaining to them be heard and acknowledged – grew, so I ended up as Chapter Representative.

“IEU membership is important for professional protection and, as a member, it was reassuring to know I could rely on our union or ask for support or advice when necessary.

“Our union has made a substantial difference and improved working conditions for my colleagues.

“For example, we previously only got one day off for attending a school camp, which was up to a week in length.

“In 2017, this was removed and amended so now employees who attend camps are entitled to an overnight allowance of $50 per night if they are required to remain at the camp.

“Some of the significant IEU-won working conditions include accessing long service leave after seven years, PD opportunities and carer’s leave being included in personal leave.

“Superannuation increases and the opportunity to co-contribute means I’ll be able to retire comfortably and enjoy myself travelling too.”