Fighting for quality education

Everyone’s been to school so many people think they can have an opinion about it.

Newly appointed IEU Organiser Karen Forbes is looking forward to being “an advocate for quality education”.

“I want to support members so they can make a difference in their workplace and to help them understand that standing together is the way to move forward,” Karen sai

She has 31 years experience as a teacher, most recently as principal of Corpus Christi Primary at Waratah in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese.

Karen has held various positions in the primary sector over the years, including principal, assistant principal, coordinator and teacher, all in the Hunter region.

She has been an IEU member since 1982, and held a Rep’s position in the early days of her career.

“It was all men drinking beer and smoking at chapter meetings in those days. It’s certainly not like that now. It’s good I’ve seen things developing from the roots.”

She’s seen other things change over the years too. When Karen’s two boys were small she had to temporarily resign from teaching because there were no flexible options like job sharing.

“When young women teachers came to me as principal to request job share and flexible options they took them for granted. I loved to point out that these rights were fought for by the Union.”

As a principal, Karen said there was a bit of juggling involved being a unionist as well.

“I was always very frank with my staff and I would tell them I was wearing my Union hat to bring Union matters to their attention and it might differ from what the CSO was saying.

“All the staff knew I was a member of the Labor Party and believed in unions. Not everyone thought a principal should act like that, but it’s my right to articulate my opinion backed by evidence.”

In 2012 Karen presented a workshop at the IEU’s Early Career Teacher Conference on managing challenging behaviours in the classroom.

Although a Newcastle resident Karen is based at the Union’s Wattle St office and represents members in the Lansdowne and Southern Suburbs branches.

She’s dividing her time between her two sons’ Sydney residences, with her weekends back at the family home at Newcastle.

One of her sons is a teacher and Teachers’ Federation Rep, so a chip off the old block, and the other owns a pub.

Karen said she’s looking forward to helping every child have access to quality education by supporting the staff that work towards it.

“I was lucky to have several fine mentors over my years of teaching. One in particular gave me some great advice: ‘Everyone’s been to school so many people think they should have an opinion about how schools should be run’.

“I try to keep this in mind when I hear politicians, social media commentators and members of the general public – many of whom have never worked in schools – freely give their opinion about education and what happens in schools.

“Rather than impose procedures and processes upon those who do work in schools, perhaps some of those people can volunteer in schools and see first hand how things operate and then voice an opinion.”