Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why I'm Striking

I'm a mainstream maths teacher, and I'm off work today, taking part in the public sector strike on pay and conditions, specifically centred on pensions cuts. I feel that simply taking the day off and staying silent isn't doing my bit, so here is my main reason for taking part:

Teaching, as a job, a career, is a demanding one, if you're going to do it right. Schools need the best candidates with the best backgrounds and the best experience if they're going to get the best out of the students under their care. In this at least, the current government seems to agree with us, even if I don't entirely agree that the 'best' candidates for a teaching role are necessarily the ones with the highest degree classification (as seems to be the feeling from those on high).

Mathematics and science as subjects are currently under-subscribed in terms of teaching staff. This is great news for maths and science teachers as it means that they essentially have their pick of the jobs as many schools are struggling to fill vacancies in these areas. This means, however, that it is even more important that decent candidates with specialisms in these disciplines are attracted into the career. This, too, seems to be agreed by our representatives in government, with many of the initiatives in the link above directed specifically at graduates in the sciences.

Where agreement falls down, however, seems to be in the pay, working conditions and pensions department. Cutting pay*, reducing pension entitlements and increasing workload sends out entirely the wrong message. The message that is being sent out is one that teachers are little more than a drain on society, that we are relatively unimportant, and that the work we do doesn't require half the skills and experience that are suggested by the measures supposedly being introduced to lure top graduates into the profession in the first place.

While there are a number of factors behind my decision to join in with strike action, this is easily the peak of the pile: schools need the best quality candidates to ensure that our society's children get the best from their education, yet society itself is doing its level best on a daily basis to degrade teaching from a legitimate career option to a last-chance desperate grab at a career when all else fails.

Every time you complain about teachers; their massive holidays, their ludicrously high pay, their ridiculously short working hours, you are pandering to this frankly idiotic misunderstanding of what the career of teaching actually involves. If you are strong in your anti-teacher beliefs, please consider where you have acquired them: if they have come from anywhere other than your own, personal, adult experience, then I would encourage you to get in touch with a mainstream school local to you and try volunteering to teach for just one day. If it really is that easy, and you'd be happy to do the work for the money and benefits that are being offered, then apply for a training course, especially if you have a background in maths or science.

With society's continual and unfounded teacher-bashing, governments find it much easier to take liberties with our pay and conditions, and the whole shebang becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: you tell us we're rubbish and reduce pay and pensions and increase workload accordingly, so the best current teachers leave and the best new candidates take their skills elsewhere, so the standard drops, so you tell us we're even worse, and the government panders to that, dropping pay, reducing pensions and increasing workload, so more people leave (or never sign up in the first place) and the standard continues to fall.

So yes, that's largely why I'm striking. Apologies for any ranty bits. As always, I'm happy to discuss any sensible comments anybody makes, but I'm likely to either ignore or respond witheringly to any unfounded hyperbole (it's unfortunate that it's so common as to be worth mentioning when entering into a discussion about teaching...) so please, please make sure your comments are appropriate.

P.S: If you're a teacher, please fill in this poll about whether or not you're striking! Your reasons and thoughts either way would be much appreciated, too.

* We've had a pay freeze for the last two years. With inflation still positive, this means that although our pay essentially stays the same (numerically), the value of that number decreases year on year.