These days Lesley Francey is national president of her union, but 14 years ago she was a beginning teacher on a casual agreement at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT). She began teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages in night classes for four hours a week. After about six months the polytechnic offered her a daytime position. The first agreement was for a term, until the students moved on. A new class of students brought with it a new fixed-term agreement. Gradually, each term and then semester over a couple of years, her hours increased until she was teaching full time.
After about two years, Lesley got an agreement that rolled over each year rather than each semester. At least it nearly covered the whole year. She recalls how at the end of December she and her colleagues had to sign an exit document and hand in their keys and equipment before they left. Late in January, when classes started again, a new fixed term agreement brought with it the same set of keys.
“It had a nasty feel to it,” notes Lesley ruefully.
In among all those agreements spanning terms and semesters Lesley was building her lecturing into a career.
“I did heaps of professional development in my own time… I went to staff meetings, staff development, all in my own time. I built up my skills and got great student evaluations.”
“My colleagues and I all had a perception that if we kept our noses clean and worked hard for three years we would be made permanent.”
But that was a misapprehension.
After Lesley had spent more than two years as an ESOL lecturer, five permanent teaching positions came up at MIT.
“Five or six of us were coming up to that three-year point. Most of us felt what we went through was a ‘sham’ interview. In the end, most, all but one, of the new permanent appointees had worked for a short period, one or two semesters.
Lesley says she felt the polytechnic did not value her.
At the time, her husband was in a job he hated and she wanted him to look for other work. But while she had no job security, and with three kids to think of, he had to stick with it.
“We didn’t have the flexibility we needed because I didn’t have a secure job.”
However, the bigger impact, says Lesley, was on her professional self-esteem.
“I would happily work unpaid on weekends to prepare stuff for my students, give that bit extra. And my students were giving me great evaluations and feedback.”
“Then somebody comes in with five minutes experience in the school and gets the permanent job.”
Lesley got help from her then union organiser Irena Brorens to put some pressure on the polytechnic.
Not long after the polytechnic assured Lesley that if the student numbers were the same the next year she would become a permanent employee. And soon she was. She was also an increasingly active union delegate.