Industrial action does teachers no favours
So teachers intend to strike later this term. Except that it won’t be a strike as such. They are just planning to refuse to attend meetings, fill in forms, invigilate, cover for absent colleagues or lead extra-curricular activity because, they say, they don’t want to disrupt children’s education – which is, of course a contradiction in terms. All the activities which the teachers mean to boycott affect children’s education and learning. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be part of the job in the first place.
The industrial (in)action, which is due to start on 26 September in selected schools nationwide on a rota, is backed by the teachers’ two biggest unions, the NUT and the NASUWT. Between them they claim to represent 90% of teachers. Teachers who go for an all-out strike lose money – as they did twice last year. The action which is now planned will not affect pay cheques which could perhaps, have been a factor in deciding to do it this way.
So what are they arguing about? Like the rest of the public sector, teachers are facing changes in pension arrangements because the country is near-bust and people are living longer. It simply isn’t sustainable to pay pensions to people for 30 and 40 years. That means we all have to work and pay more to get less. But teachers, as ever, think they’re a special case. “Teachers’ morale is dangerously low. Over-the-top accountability measures are exhausting teachers and the idea that they can work to 68 is absurd” Christine Blower, NUT general secretary told the BBC.
Excuse me? I taught for over 30 years and only left, with a certain reluctance, because I gradually, serendipitously found my way into another profession (journalism and writing). I was pretty successful, got hundreds of pupils through public exams and held several senior posts. So I think I’m allowed to challenge the entrenched hard-done-by squeals which we get so often from the teaching profession.
First, why on earth shouldn’t teachers be accountable? Everyone else is. There has to be a mechanism for ensuring that kids in classrooms get what they’re entitled to. And inspection is pointless unless it comes without warning. I’d like to see the end of league tables because they encourage anti-educational teaching to the test but accountability is vital and it should be rigorous.
Second, I can’t see why teachers can’t work to 68. I’ve worked in a number of schools in which older colleagues have returned after ‘retirement’ to teach part-time and done an extremely good job. Teachers are no more ‘exhausted’ than anyone else. In fact they have a longer holiday entitlement, and meetings and so on notwithstanding, generally work shorter hours than many other professions. Yes, it’s an intensive job. But so is being an accountant, supermarket manager, banker or (I can assure you) professional writer.
Schemes which send teachers into other workplaces on exchange usually end up with the teachers’ astonishment that other people work so hard. Perhaps teachers really do need to get out more.
At the heart of this dispute is institutional loathing of Education Secretary Michael Gove. Teachers say – in a union statement – he is not listening to their complaints and that they object to the ‘denigration’ of their profession.
Have they no idea of the terrible example they set to pupils or how they come across to the public? Their comments sound miserably like the sort of aggrieved, attention-seeking “you’re picking on me” whinge which they’d object to coming from a child in one of their own classrooms.
A very wise head I worked for once told me that just as dog owners come to resemble their dogs, so teachers get like the students they teach in behaviour and attitude. In other words there’s a lot of immaturity in the profession perhaps because they’ve never left school. And that’s not just idle speculation on my part. I saw/heard it all the time in staff rooms when I was a teacher and I still encounter it when I visit schools as a journalist.
I don’t think the forthcoming boycotts in schools will have the slightest effect on Michael Gove’s policies but they will upset children and parents. Counter-productively, they will also cost teachers even more the respect they claim to crave. The public is in no mood to cope with self-interested whingers.Tagged in: industrial action, michael gove, NASUWT, NUT, strike, teachers, teaching
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