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Pandemic school chaos shines light on true value of our teachers

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Queensland Teachers’ Union general secretary Kate Ruttiman believes the pandemic will change how the profession is seen, treated and valued.

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Ruttiman is the first woman to hold the influential role, and also the first woman to be honorary president of the Queensland Council of Unions. She senses that the pandemic has emboldened the trade union movement.

A former teacher herself, she believes the QTU may now have some powerful allies for future industrial battles – parents and the broader school community.

Where loyalty might normally be to schools, Ruttiman said Queensland’s experiencing with home schooling, while not as extensive as other states, demonstrates the skillset needed to lead a classroom.

“One of the things that we need to understand about the pandemic is that people are actually starting to see the work that teachers and school leaders do and the challenges they face every day,” Ruttiman said.

Families differ, so where some might have one child learning from home, others might have several, perhaps someone with special needs, and external influences to navigate.

“Then parents start to think about what it’s like to have 28 kids in one class, and multiple classes over the course of a day,” Ruttiman said.

Ruttiman said teachers were well-trained, and well-equipped with the skills needed in modern classrooms, but needed more resources and less red tape. She called on families and the school community to remain loyal to hard-working teachers, whether they are proposing a different way of supporting an individual child or calling for more funding for outcomes.

“You’ve got to have their backs,” said Ruttiman, a mother of two who has always taken a keen interest in their education.

“Trust that the profession knows what they’re doing and get involved.”

In Queensland, and across Australia, when students have been required to learn from home, socio-economic differences quickly come into play. Private schools often have technology-based solutions readily available, and the capacity to run full online classes, where some state schools can only email out worksheets or send home textbooks.

Auditor-General Brendan Worrall told a parliamentary committee today it was evident not every state school was able to ensure students had computer access to continue classes online.

“It’s probably not a level playing field,” Worrall said, with some schools relying on families to provide the resources or students would miss out.

A spokesman for the Queensland Department of Education said the government continued to work with schools and external partners to provide students and teachers with improved access to technology and connectivity.

“Where digital or online options were not available to students and families, schools have been working with individual families and providing hard copies of resources for students to take home, to ensure no child was disadvantaged,” the spokesman said.

“The mix of learning options – physical, digital and televisual – was, and continues to be, vital to ensuring all students have access to education.”

Ruttiman said funding was not only a State responsibility, regardless of the belief the Federal Government was focussed more on private schools. She said the challenges facing tertiary education should also be a concern because “teaching is the professional from which all other professions come”.

Ruttiman, who said she became a teacher to make a difference, has worked for the QTU for 24 years and still firmly believes in strength in numbers and the importance of the collective.

“I’m from a family of six girls,” she said.

“We had a younger sister who was special needs and whenever anyone would ridicule her we would close ranks. We were so protective of our little sister, she was like the sunshine for all of us.”

In high school, Ruttiman was influenced by economics, English and maths teachers, and then became an economics teacher turned union organiser. She now has a daughter interested in joining the profession.

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