Keeping it in the family: the Ryans
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 125 No 1, 21 February 2020, page no. 24
Time to meet another family who are Union through and through – this time, the Ryans.
Steve and Pam Ryan are familiar faces to many Queensland state school teachers. QTU members from their earliest days in teaching, they both went on to play important roles in the Union (Steve was QTU President between 2007 and 2012) and were honoured with Life Membership on their retirement.
Passionate educators and Union to their boots, they have passed their enthusiasm to their daughters Margot and Katherine, both of whom have followed their parents into the profession.
Growing up in a teaching household, both Margot and Katherine had no illusions about the pros and cons of the job.
Margot explains: “While we did hear many horror stories over the years, I think that both Katherine and I came into the profession knowing how hard, yet rewarding, teaching was. Although it would have been nice to get away with more in high school. It was hard to muck up when your father shared the staffroom with your teachers!”
The pair also inherited their parents’ enthusiastic unionism and are both now Workplace Reps. Pam recalls: “We have seen first-hand the advances that the Union has made for teachers over the past 46 years. Our war stories have been heard by our daughters, many times, so they are well aware that Union gains are fought for, not given.”
Katherine agrees: “Being part of a teaching family with active unionists has allowed me to see how the Union supports the profession, through both improving working conditions and with the challenges that teachers face every day. It has encouraged me to take an active role in my workplace and has given me the confidence to question matters related to professional issues.”
But where does this passion come from? Pam, who became involved with the Union in her first year of teaching, recalls: “My first school experience was under a very dictatorial and controlling principal who treated the female teachers with barely concealed contempt. Getting yelled at in staff meetings that went on till 6pm, being berated in the office in front of teaching partners over the most minor details in planning, all helped to push me towards the Union.”
Steve joined the QTU as soon as he was appointed as a teacher in 1972, after being inspired by the battle for equal pay for male and female teachers, which was at its height just before he became a trainee teacher.
He remembers: “It struck me as odd that (a) it could actually occur and (b) that it had taken so long to address, given that, regardless of gender, all teachers were doing the same job. While it was a just outcome, it wasn’t lost on me that to achieve it teachers had to take a position of solidarity and effective industrial action.
“It was taken for granted then (in fact it was compulsory) that teachers would be a member of their Union and their activism in Union activities was obviously starting to change conditions for the better, for example, non-contact time for secondary teachers also came in about the same time as a result of a very strong campaign by QTU members. The notion of solidarity quickly became entrenched in my mind as a must.
“I learned about the value and power of unionism basically through participation in many different campaigns, but I’m sure our two daughters knew the value of the union activism side of things in a totally different light well before they joined the profession, as they would have heard our positive views about union activism long and loud in our household.
"It has been rewarding to see them both become actively involved in the QTU, without any prompting from us.”