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All photographs taken by Fiona Ludbrook on location in Kenya and Tanzania and yes, I really do love elephants!
For the past two years, I have worked as a casual relief teacher in Ballarat. I chose this precarious form of employment after twenty eight years of teaching full time. Being a casual relief teacher or CRT, as we are more frequently called within the profession, provides me with the flexible employment and immense variety. I really enjoy casual relief teaching at this stage of my teaching career.
It does not however, provide me with employment security, sick leave or being paid at the rate per hour I would be if I were teaching in a part or full time position, given my considerable years experience and having long ago reached the top of the pay scale.
CRT work allows me to support my colleagues who are absent or on leave. Bare in mind, that except for long service, or leave to attend excursions or professional development, the teacher you are replacing is under additional professional pressure and stress, due to illness, bereavement, or carer's leave, none of which they take lightly. To return to work to find their classes are up to date and have been professionally administered and maintained, relieves a considerable burden for them, especially in the case of an extended absence of a week or more, or instances where absences may for whatever reason be recurring!
If I were a new graduate, working as a CRT, due to not gaining an extended or on-going position within a school, I would despair. CRT work is one area of employment where age and experience are an asset and advantage. Often, experienced, "no spring chicken" teachers, can predict student behaviours and problems likely to occur, extinguishing the sparks of rebellion and discontent before they eventuate. It is unpredictable, challenging work, with limited opportunity to develop.a rapport with students, nor evidence of learning progress or positive feedback evident to teachers working with a class on a regular basis. Professional rewards are somewhat different for CRTs; they include semi-regular flexible employment within one work place and positive student/teacher interaction. Being booked to cover an absence of up to 6 weeks, is also clear affirmation of your work being valued and held in esteem!
This said, I would encourage graduate teachers to undertake CRT work to gain that classroom experience and as a stepping stone to short or extended employment contracts and ongoing employment. Certainly, CRT work is a great way to establish yourself within a school.
As a CRT in Victoria, you are employed directly by the School Council, not the Department of Education itself, something that many CRTs are not aware of. This makes negotiating pay increases and improvements in conditions fall outside the parameters of Industrial Agreements pertainig to colleagues employed on short term and extended contracts and an on-going basis in schools. It explians why CRT pay rates in Victoria have lagged behind those of other states. It is good reason to join either the Australian Education Union, or the Victorian Independent Education Union, depending on whether you work mainly within government, or non government schools. As individual School Council employees in disparate locations fragmented across the state, we are in no position to seriously negotiate improvements in our pay or conditions. Our unions can do this on our behalf and do have that state-wide, systemic overview. The more CRTs members the teacher unions have, the more clout they have to negotiate improvements on our behalf. Sadly, CRTs are currently the most under unionised sector of all teachers, which does not bode well for getting pay rates on parity with other Australian states in the immediate future.
The best advice I can give to anyone fully qualified to teach within Victoria, registered with the Victorian Institute of Teaching and wanting to undertake casual work is to:
As for maintaining the 20 hours of professional development demanded by VIT to maintain teacher registration:
Beware of all the negative literature about casual teaching that is out there on the VIT and DEET websites. Reading these was thoroughly depressing; enough to imply CRT's should just go out and slash their wrists before they start. In summary, many believed their work was not appreciated by staff at the schools where they worked, there was no back up for discipline and welfare and they found it difficult to find out information relating to their hours and conditions, let alone rates of pay. Luckily I read this stuff after I had done a good semester's CRT work and found it to be, in contrast, a professionally affirming and rewarding experience. Added benefits are you only need attend those tedious meetings if you are replacing someone for an extended stint, there are few corrections and rarely reports to write or deliver. Personally, these were aspects that I found exhausting when teaching full time, to the point I was suffering from professional burnout.
At the school where I work, students are generally polite, courteous and repectful and engaged in their learning. Their regular teachers set work for them to go on with in their absence and I follow and deliver what they have assigned for their class. Fellow staff are invariably helpful and supportive and the school listens to the feedback of its CRTs and implements changes to support our work. It includes CRTs in some professional development days.
Expect to be flexible. Expect to cope with unpredictable situations where technology fails you and bookings have not been made.
Expect to be impressed by the quality of work and programs our colleagues are implementing in their classes and how "universal" so many aspects of teaching and learning are.
Expect to be paid way more if you do casual teaching in other states, at this point in time, but then again, compared to minimum wage rates, it is very good money indeed. Another reason to be in the AEU or VIEU
Expect Centre Link to not understand that employment opportunities cease for teachers during school holiday periods. Even though your "semi regular" work will resume, in between, they will expect you to keep on looking for work. They may make you undertake short courses on job interviews and application writing, stuff that ironically you sometimes teach to students!
Expect Centre Link to guide you to doing their idea of voluntary work. Here too be creative. A friend of mine already volunteered with the local soup kitchen and on top of this they wanted her do work with the Salvos, or similar charity. Instead she said she would volunteer at the local airport, filling gaps they did not have staff to undertake. She was a very experienced commercial pilot, as well as an English teacher. By the end of the summer holidays she started paid employment teaching overseas pilots 'Aviation English'. She now has relatively secure employment thanks to volunteering for something that could provide a pathway to ongoing work.
Think outside the box if you are a CRT, or considering doing CRT work. Like my friend who is now teaching 'Aviation English' make the most of opportunities that come your way.
Don't get despondant if it takes a while for the phone to start ringing at 7.15 at the beginning of term. It usually takes a week or three and then work will be fairly consistent.
If you are on leave without pay from a substantive position in teaching, in a DEET school, as I have been, you will not be eligible for any form of Centre Link support or benefits, so will need to ensure you have substantial savings or some means of supporting yourself through school holidays and times when CRT work is thin on the ground. I worked as a tour guide, in a dog boarding kennel and eventaully set up Pets and Plants Ballarat, to provide me with income during school holiday periods.
Finally, remember some CRTs. like myself are happy to be working casually, because they want the flexibilty, others use it to earn some income and keep their hand during family leave, whilst many are anxious to find ongoing, secure employment. Regardless of which category you fall into, you will likely find the camaraderie and collegiality of fellow CRTs is one of the best features of the work. It is a great way to make new and lasting friendships.
Fiona Ludbrook was born in Ballarat but spent much of her adult life as an educator in Melbourne.