15 March, 2008

WorkCover Blues I

Sorry about the long absence. I ran out of dope.

This is a true story. The names have been altered, but not the initials. In a kind of homage to Frank Hardy’s Power Without Glory, if you like. Criminal libel, come and get me. Just over two years ago, I entered the twilight world of the WorkCover claimant. This is what happened. Needless to say, I hadn’t thought I’d ever be in a situation like that.

I’d been teaching at Oxford Primary School in Melbourne’s far outer west for ten relatively happy years. And I had it pretty good, being the Information and Communications Technology specialist teacher and all. I mean, kids want to stay on the good side of the computer bloke. You never know when he’s going to need someone to test out games or let your grade have a bit of free time in the lab at lunchtimes. But I thought I needed a change, just the same. I was keen to move on and also find a spot a little closer to home.

Right before the end of 2003, a job was advertised that would suit me perfectly. It was an ICT specialist teacher position, and the job description was pretty much what I was already doing. In fact, this Solar Hills PS in Melbourne’s west wanted an ICT set up very similar to what I’d helped put in place at Oxford over the previous 5 years or so. So I could swan in, hit ‘em with all of the ideas that were starting to go stale at Oxford, and look like I was some kind of expert.

The Acting Principal, who chaired the interview panel, was someone I’d worked with previously, if briefly, and she seemed okay. TLOML had even worked there about twenty years previously so there were some familiar, if older, faces on the staff.

When I got the job, the techie at Oxford told me that he’d heard there was a lot of friction between the Principal, Min Worland, and the Assistant-Principal, Mary Gajic who was acting in the top job. Oh well, nothing to do with me. I wouldn’t have any trouble staying out of it. And when the job started, Mary was away in Europe on Long Service League, so the catfight potential was reduced.

But according to Min and the Acting A-P, Gavroula Parageorgiou, there were concerns over the job the staff were doing. Shit, I thought. I’d never been in a school where the staff were not well-regarded by the Principal Class people, so I hoped it wasn’t going to be too much of a pain in the arse for me to get them to use computers.

There were some warning signs during that first year. In the beginning, the Principal had seemed okay and I hadn’t seen her do anything too far out of line, but there was a bit of clubbishness about the school leadership group, which I was on, and a lot more denigration of staff-members when issues were being discussed than I was used to. Denigration that looked like it was unwarranted.

And I got the third degree once in a meetingfrom a couple of older female teachers who didn’t like the big changes I’d made to the ITC set-up, which were really pissy to begin with, but these two were threatened by them. Like getting staff using email for instance. You know the type.

Then the PE teacher resigned during my second week there, walking zombie-like into my class from next-door at about 9:30 in the morning, handing me a handwritten note and leaving the school immediately, and me with a double grade. He’d had a confrontation with the Principal over his teaching allotment and told me as he gave me his resignation that he wasn’t going to put up with her abuse anymore.

I didn’t really have a view either way about Min and Gavroula. I hadn’t really seen them do too much wrong up until that stage. But TLOML quickly developed a very firm opinion of them when she met them at a staff do.

“That Principal. I reckon she’s a bit funny.”
“Don’t be silly. She’s alright.”
“And the Assistant Principal or whatever she’s acting as. I can’t STAND her.”
“How can you say that? You hardly know her.”
“Oh, I don’t need to know her, you stupid man. And don’t give me any of that innocent-until-proven-guilty crap. She’s an absolute bitch. I know that.”

The apparently instantly-detestable Gavroula had even told me that she and Min were very disaffected with the Australian Education Union, in which I’d always been active.This was a bad omen for me. People who leave the AEU in high dudgeon, or worse, stay in it so they can obstruct what the AEU might be trying to achieve, and run and tell the Principal what people say at meetings, are impossible. They usually take that disaffection, and the petty bigotry that goes with it, out on anyone who is still active. They are without exception, unreasonable, spiteful, vindictive, and always behave atrociously. I wouldn’t have described it thus if it weren’t true in every case in my experience. And it is.

Gavroula showed her hand early when she confided in me that our AEU meetings should be held on a Tuesday, so that she could meet with Min straight after, because Min liked to be kept informed, you know. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. You’re going to get sick of me telling you that. I told her the AEU couldn’t let its meeting dates be determined by the convenience of a non-member and left it at that. The relaying of sometimes sensitive AEU information I’d have to think about and leave till later.

Mary returned from LSL and disappeared a short time later. Actually, she went on sick leave never to return, but there was a story behind it that I didn’t hear till much later.

It was starting to get curiouser and curiouser.


Koren said...

LL, your story is so familiar to me. From the in-fighting to the politics to the tactics used to try to throw AEU actions off course... it seems like the teaching culture these days. And it shouldn't be.

Hope you're enjoying the break. Looking forward to hearing the rest of the story.

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Tony said...

What, a serial? How long 'til episode 2?

Lad Litter said...

Thought it might strike the odd chord with anyone who's been active in the AEU. It's only the teaching-admin culture in schools where the leadership still wishKennett was in.

TV Digital:
Thanks for stopping by. I'll use a Portugese-English Translator when I check out your blog.

Yep, a serial, one of many. I can never get through a story in a single succinct post anymore! Instalment 2 soon.

Melanie Myers said...

Didn't know you were a teacher! Ech! School politics - tell me about it!! Actually do, I'm enjoying your serialised version far more than my real life one that I have to endure every day - a despotic, fame & glory glutton, don't give a shit about his staff, out-of-touch principal, huh? Can't relate to that at all! Oh, sorry that would be my principal that I'm referring too... But please, do go on...

Glad you're back :-)

Koren said...

My gosh Blakkat, I think we may have worked together...

Or is that sort of problem so endemic in schools?

Ms Smack said...

wow, that's an insight into schools! Shame they didn't have a nice working environment to do what they were there for; to teach!

Lad Litter said...

And you, Blakkat! The nasty politics is fortunately rare in my experience but even a little is too much.

Blonde Canadian:
Let's hope the common nature of soem of our worst experiences isn't the whole picture of teaching.

Ms Smack:
All of the people behaving badly in this series were out of the classroom and had too much time on their hands to feel paranoid and scheme against non-existent threats. Again, I believe this is rare.

Steph said...

Office politics are rampant, even in schools it seems.
How depressing.

Lad Litter said...

Unavoidable, as you know from your own experience. But some are more political than others.

Crushed said...

You need strong unions in schools these days.

Teachers are at real risk of violence, false accusations and God knows what else.

Even at my old school, everyone carries an ID pass now.
And a staff dispute lead to one teacher being charged recently (he took a video cassette home- they charged him with theft).