Action: an antidote for bad government policy

Overloaded with work and experiencing emotional and moral fatigue — the legacy of a government failing to value its teacher workforce — Damoon Mehrpour decided to work with Federation activists across the state to change the fortunes of teachers and their students.

“I could see the effect that the Liberal government’s wages policy was having on my colleagues and the kids,” Damoon said, who was then teaching at Moree Secondary College in the state’s west.

“My colleagues’ morale had slipped; not making wages commensurate with workload, skills and responsibilities will turn people away from becoming or remaining a teacher.”

The statewide teacher shortage was having a significant effect. Across two terms in 2022, nine teachers either transferred away from Moree Secondary College, quit the state or left the profession.

“For close to a month I was the only trained science teacher in the faculty when there’s meant to be six. I expanded my year 10 science class on Microsoft Teams to include students from another class, who had been taught by a rolling group of casuals [with CAPA, English or TAS backgrounds].

“If those students needed assessment help they came to me, including outside of class time. My workload went through the roof. I was emotionally and morally fatigued. As I took on more, I started to feel burnt out. If it wasn’t for the kids, I would have left.

“My colleagues were really, really struggling as they faced last-minute class coverage. It was really, really difficult across the school community. Parents were asking me why there weren’t enough teachers, they were concerned that their children were not receiving a quality education.”

DON’T LEAVE THE FUTURE TO CHANCE

Jonathan Carlin Kingswood High School and Damoon Mehrpour Moree Secondary College at Kingswood South Public School on NSW election day, March 2023.

In the lead-up to the March 2023 state election, Damoon, who had previously participated in More Than Thanks broadcast meetings and industrial action alongside his school colleagues, decided he could not sit idle.

“I felt that the state election result was pivotal to change for my colleagues and my students, so I decided I would jump on a plane and support Federation’s More Than Thanks campaign on election day,” he said. “I looked at [ABC election analyst] Antony Green’s pendulum and identified the Penrith electorate as where I could be most effective and then I signed up on Federation’s website.”

He said he invested in travelling to Sydney for the election because it was important to him to volunteer and get the message out for the sake of the future of the profession.

Damoon got out of bed before 5 am to fly down to Sydney. “I wanted to be at the booth when it opened. I could not afford for anyone to go through the gate without hearing Federation’s message as a lot was at stake for the profession. I was trying to hit every single person; I wasn’t going to leave it to chance. I was very motivated to make sure I could get as many people as possible to hear Federation’s message. If we kept things as they were, public education in NSW would continue to erode.”

He worked at two election booths, handing out leaflets and talking to voters, together with other Federation members.

“I’m not a great public speaker, I get quite nervous when I’m trying to persuade people I don’t know, but I felt the message was so crucial I had to push through beyond that.

“I centred the conversations around the impact the government’s policies were having on the kids, how the wage cap devalued teachers’ work, making it difficult to attract and retain teachers. I explained that the teacher shortage was out of control, leading to collapsed classes and minimal supervisions. It’s a very easy message to sell to parents. What parent wants their kid in a collapsed classroom?”

He enjoyed volunteering beside other teacher unionists. “Spending time with people who are also trying to get the best outcomes creates positive energy and ignites your passion.”

After the polls closed, Damoon joined other More Than Thanks volunteers for a few drinks and a chat while watching the election coverage. He said he felt ‘euphoric’ about the election result. Penrith MP Stuart Ayres and the Perrottet government were defeated. “I cried; I was buzzing. I felt we had finally turned the corner on having teachers valued and putting students’ educational outcomes front and centre.

“When I came back [to Moree], the conversations I had with my colleagues were optimistic, for the first time in a long, long time. It gave me enormous satisfaction.”

BACK FOR MORE
A few months later, inspired by his experience on election day, Damoon was back in Western Sydney, this time handing out leaflets and engaging in conversations in support of the Yes campaign for the Voice to parliament referendum.

“Participating on referendum day meant a lot to me because Moree Secondary College has a high number of Aboriginal students; a positive result would mean a lot for their future.”

AN ENERGISING EXPERIENCE
“Working with likeminded people on Federation campaigns lit a fire in me,” Damoon said. “I drew energy and inspiration from the passion of my colleagues.

“By getting involved, I feel hopeful,” he added.

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE DIFFERENCE YOU CAN MAKE
Damoon says teachers undervalue the impact they can have on changing minds and encourages all members to contribute to Federation campaigns, for the sake of improving working conditions and student outcomes.

“Even if people don’t have a lot of time to commit, the smallest sacrifice goes a long way.”

An online video suggesting that the way to beat a bad idea is with a better idea had a lasting impression on Damoon, and now he encourages members to participate in Federation forums.

“I hear good ideas from my colleagues and I tell them they need to bring them to a teachers’ Association meeting!”

Damoon is now working in the Penrith electorate, at Cambridge Park High School.