What is in a name?

In praise of visiting (not casual) teachers

NSW ACT IEU Organiser and recently retired principal Karen Forbes makes a heartfelt plea:

For a number of years now, I have slowly tried to make what I always thought of as a simple change in the schools I worked in: to stop calling casual teachers by the term ‘casual’ and rather refer to them as ‘visiting teachers’. What’s in a name you ask? As Juliet says to Romeo: “A rose by any other name, would smell as sweet” because she loves him for himself, not his name. And I think it’s high time we showed a little more respect to our casual teachers by changing the name from casual to visiting.

By definition, casual teachers are employed, well, casually; that is on a day by day basis. I understand this is a term that needs to be used industrially as part of our enterprise agreements, however, why can’t we keep that terminology in the industrial side of things, but make a slight change at school level? It seems to be, in some cases, that this idea of being called a casual has led to the connotation of being not quite a real teacher – you don’t have a full-time or permanent job, that you might not be up to date on the latest ideas in education, your accreditation may be taking longer to achieve or even may not have happened yet or even (an oldie but a goodie), the students ‘muck up’ more on a casual teacher – you know the stuff!

Well, I’d like to propose a change in name for our hard working and often undervalued casual teaching staff – let’s call them visiting teachers instead. I firmly believe that a rose by any other name makes a difference here, let’s have a look how.

When we have a visitor to our homes we are welcoming: we use the visitor’s name, we make them feel as if they belong and that we are happy for them to be there. Why can’t it be the same for visiting teachers, the ones who come along and slog out the day when someone is away? If we apply the same attitude to our casual teachers, what a difference it could potentially make.

‘The casual’s here’, ‘Can someone take the casual to the staffroom/classroom’? ‘What’s the casual’s name again’? We’ve all possibly said or at least heard these phrases more than once in our lives if we work in schools. But what if we changed that to: ‘The visiting teacher is here’ acknowledging both that the person is a qualified teacher and that they are visiting so let’s welcome them and make them feel valued as a member of the community. When we speak with the students about visiting teachers we suddenly set a different tone – visiting, visitor – most students are aware of being polite and courteous to a visitor, so why not to a visiting teacher?

And when we change that part of our attitude, we also change our thinking about how the visiting teacher needs support (just like all teachers) with things like accreditation and registration; with being made to feel a welcome part of the school community; with being valued as someone who has expertise in their area and is happy to visit your school and teach on a day to day or temporary basis.

I encourage you to have a change in your thinking and start remembering that those ‘casuals’ are qualified visiting teachers in our schools, so let’s treat them that way.