Early childhood teachers deserve prac payment

Last year the IEU negotiated increases in the payment made to teachers supervising university students undertaking professional experience, or the ‘prac’, in schools and early childhood settings.

The payment will rise from $21.50 a day to $28.50 a day this year, $29.25 a day next year and $30 a day in 2017.

However, it has come to the IEU’s attention that one major early childhood employer, SDN Children’s Services, is not passing on the prac payment to its teachers.

SDN is keeping the money paid by universities to buy resources for centres, despite the fact that resources are already included in the annual budget.

UWS Early Learning- Penrith Director Tessa McGavock is perfectly positioned to comment on this issue. She has 35 years experience as an early childhood director, but she also teaches as a casual academic, supervising students taking the early childhood education degree at the University of Western Sydney.

Wearing her academic hat, Tessa said a good prac experience is crucial for students.

“The prac is essential. It gives students a chance to put theory into practice. I can see a difference in students before and after prac.

Tessa said a bad prac experience can have a serious affect on students, to the extent that some will even consider leaving the profession.

“We have to mentor them quite extensively if they have a bad prac.”

As a Director, Tessa said the prac places a heavy burden on teachers.

“I have to stop what I am doing, and come in half an hour or an hour before my shift starts to observe them teaching in the room. I have to do assessments, give them feedback, prepare for the experience, write up reports, look at their lesson plans.”

Tessa said she has spoken to colleagues about the prac and they all agree it is an onerous burden.

“We’re putting our professional reputation on the line when we write a report. If we push through a student who is not good the university will look at our comments and think twice about giving us students in the future.”

Considering the prac is a crucial part of encouraging students to work in a hard to staff profession, Tessa said everything should be done to make it as successful as possible.

“Not paying the supervising teachers could be seen as another indication that early childhood teachers are not seen as ‘real teachers’ by employers. ‘Real teachers’ in schools do not have to forfeit their payments.

“I don’t take prac students for the money, as it is not that much. I do it because it’s good professional development for me and for them. But if there were no reimbursement at all I would think twice about taking students. There is a principle involved.

“We already work in an industry where we are paid a pittance for what we do and the expectations on us are continuous.

“I don’t see much point in an organisation taking the money, as it’s not something they can budget for, so why not pass it on to the teacher or director?”

Early childhood employers that do pass the prac payment include: KU Children’s Service, Uniting Care, Big Fat Smile, Illawarra Area Child Care, Only About Children and UWS Early Learning.

IEU Organiser Lisa James said SDN must recognise the hard work teachers perform in supervising prac students. The IEU has written to SDN requesting they review their practice but SDN CEO Ginie Udy responded stating that SDN have no intention of reviewing their policy regarding the supervision of university students.

Sue Osborne Journalist

Sue Osborne