Exchange teachers get the lowdown on Union action

I am going home a better teacher, no doubt. I have had time to set goals, reflect, and alter the game plan for my return to work in Canada.

Canadian exchange teachers Jamie Siler and Melonie Olijnyk got real insight into Australian unionism when they attended IEU Council in June.

Jamie (pictured left) of Alberta, spending the year at Radford College in Canberra, was shocked to learn about union officers being locked out of a school.

“It was a pleasure to sit in on the council meeting in Sydney. There is a rich history of members looking out for and trying to improve the working conditions for everyone, including conditions for students,” Jamie said.

“It is hard to believe that in a first world country there are still schools refusing entrance to union officials who want to offer support; it really has me wondering what is going on there.

“I understand why the members stay, I believe it is to ensure the human rights not only of staff but also for students. But my goodness, what is happening behind closed doors?

“I think the union is doing a wonderful job of creating awareness of issues in schools, providing educational opportunities for members, and supporting the teacher exchange program. Job well done!”

Melonie (pictured right), also from Alberta, is on exchange at St Michael’s Primary School in Nowra, said respect and trust in teachers’ professionalism is higher in Canada. She was struck during the meeting by the discussion on workload and compliance issues.

“I wonder if mandatory union membership in Canada makes a difference to the way teachers are treated?” she said.

Regarding exchange more generally, Jamie said “Everything, the teaching, the staff, students, and the new lifestyle here has been wonderful. There have been a few key differences between my school in Canada, Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School, and Radford College.

“The first difference: time. Time to focus on planning and accommodating for lessons. My schedule here is such that there is enough time during most school days to organise lessons, research new ideas, create new resources, contact parents, write reports, and even collaborate with other teachers.

“I have at least one period of preparation time (usually more) on nine out of 10 days in Australia. In Canada I would either have one period of prep time per day for one semester and in the other semester there would be no preparation during the work day, or I could have one period of prep time every other day for the year. It is just not enough time; there is clearly a significant difference in the amount we teach per week.

“I am going home a better teacher, no doubt. I have had time to set goals, reflect, and alter the game plan for my return to work in Canada.

“But even greater than all that, is that my confidence in my teaching has been restored. It comes from having the opportunity to share ideas with co-workers, to work with new people, to see things with fresh eyes.

“This exchange has made me excited to go to work again, and the experience has left me feeling appreciated with a massive sense of appreciation for all that I have learned here.”

Melonie visited Australia in her 20s and worked in insurance and was keen to come back for the “weather’ and the laid back lifestyle.

Teaching Year 4, Melonie said “kids are kids” but she has become aware of the extra compliance requirements form government and systems placed on Australian teachers.

“I have tweaked and sharpened my skills and rethought some of my philosophy being here and placed into the classroom without nothing to fall back on.

“I will be going back to Canada with sharpened classroom management skills.”

To find out more about exchanges, contact IEU Exchange Coordinator Helen Gregory (pictured centre)