Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Why there's no alternative to striking

You know that I don't generally talk serious stuff on here. But as I said the other week, the profession I am in at the moment is at crisis point and after some negative comments I've heard since the last strike by the NUT (National Union of Teachers), I thought I would put my view across.

The strike action for teachers that happened the other week didn't actually reach us over here on the Isle of Man. Whilst we are part of the UK, we are free to make our own decisions in terms of education (to some degree). However, had I had the chance to be involved, then I definitely would.

As I mentioned the other week, I am sick of all the negative publicity teachers get at the minute. I know that the latest strikes only fuelled the fire more and gave people an even bigger reason to hate us, but teachers (most of them anyway) don't take strike action mildly or indeed go on strike for no reason. Of course, I do understand, that teachers going on strike inconveniences working parents, or indeed sometimes, even non-working parents. So I do understand their reluctance to support striking teachers. That said, this opinion smacks of those that believe teachers are nothing more than low paid babysitters. As a parent, I would relish an extra day with my little ones, even if that meant not being paid for the day. And I don't say that lightly. We just about manage each month, financially.

I think a lot of the reluctance to support us, comes from actually not understanding the reasoning behind the strikes. I've heard lots of moaning about teachers whinging about pensions, not being paid enough etc etc. Those things do affect us, but parents, indeed everyone involved in educating young people, needs to be aware of Michael Gove's vision for education and his refusal to listen to experience. He has NO experience in a school. He joined the government as a conservative MP in 2005 and became the Secretary of State for Education in 2010, following the general election. If I didn't have a teaching degree in English, I would find it hard to get a teaching job. I wouldn't find it impossible (thanks to Gove), but I would find it more difficult. Why is it that a man, with no other experience than attending a school himself as a child, can be elected into a role such as this? His lack of experience shows in his far out views and outdated teaching ideas.  He will break the education system if we don't step in and show our opposition to his propositions. He is bringing about massive changes without any form of electoral mandate and indeed, no proper discussion or consultation with teachers of any form or variety. In fact, he often brings about changes without any consultation; often to his own detriment and criticism.. Indeed in 2011, his decision to axe the BSF project (Building Schools for the Future), was found to be unlawful and a judge said that: "there was no overriding public interest which precluded consultation or justifies the lack of any consultation." (Wikipedia) 

In terms of the changes he wants, we have to show our objections: I am permanently shattered. More than that; today, on what is the last Monday before the Easter holidays, I feel weary and drained. Drained from catching the seventh cold since September since my body is exhausted and unable to function properly. Drained from the amount of work that has been forced on me and indeed my colleagues this term. Drained from the lack of cooperative behaviour of some of my more volatile students.  I am only just 30, I can't imagine what a colleague in their fifties feels like at the minute. I have less energy than I did seven years ago when I started. I cannot physically, mentally or emotionally work like this until I am 68! With that in mind, do you want a tired, frail and exhausted 68 year old teaching your child?

I am also worse off financially than I was seven years ago and that is only going to get worse. My pension contributions went up without our views even being considered. I know that this isn't solely limited to teachers, but why is the cost of living going up, but our salary and indeed pension contributions not in line with this? Not to mention that the value of the pension has actually decreased! Also, the introduction of performance related pay goes against research that challenged its worth. I found the most excellent point, raised by an NUT member explaining their reasons for joining the strike:

Standards will be compromised by performance related pay. The prime motivation for planning learning activities should be ‘what is the best way to help children learn?’ not ‘what is the best way for teachers to prove they taught it?’ Teachers should share ideas and resources not have to compete.

I am finding more and more that I have to 'prove' things - what I've taught, a student's grade, my reasoning for changing the set a student is placed in and so on and so on in order to meet my performance management targets. And whilst we should all be accountable, performance related pay only bolsters the idea that we have to compete. His plans will make teachers competitive and ruin the idea of a system where we all work together for the benefit of the children in the education system.

Gove says he wants to be able to give parents a choice. However, when challenged by parents, he ignores them. Do you want an unqualified teacher educating your child? Gove believes it's OK to use unqualified teachers to teach our children. I, myself, as a parent, would stand against any unqualified person teaching my own son. I googled 'unqualified teaching jobs' and this advert came up:

We are looking for enthusiastic Unqualified English teachers to maintain a high standard of teaching levels in order to meet the targets required. We have positions such as this coming up every week so please contact us now either with CV via email so that we can discuss this and similar roles that may suit your qualifications and experience. All applicants will undergo thorough background check.

Teachers have to have a GCSE minimum C grade in English, Maths and Science, plus relevant A Levels, a degree in their chosen or similar subject and then a PGCE (Post Grad Certificate of Education) in their chosen subject. And yet, unqualified teachers can get a job teaching with JUST a minimum of 4 GCSE's. Also, I spent a year training to teach. We learnt how to deal with behaviour issues, how to set differentiated levels of work according to the classes individual needs, how to create appropriate assessments etc. Teachers have to act as teachers, intermediaries, counsellors, nurses etc. How can just 'anyone' without ANY relevant experience or training just rock up and teach and expect to do it well? It makes a mockery of teachers quite frankly.

What type of person do you want teaching your child? I have about five friends who have left teaching since I started seven years ago. All left because they were utterly knackered, stressed and fed up with the demands of the job. Yes, we know what we are getting ourselves into when we become teachers, but no one realises the full on demand that is expected of you. 4 in 10 teachers quit in the first five years. That says it all. We need committed teachers, not ones that leave half way through a school year. Parents don't want that for their children. And yet this is what is increasingly happening due to the conditions we have to work under.

So, please, before you criticise us, stop and think about the REAL reasons that teachers are striking: it's not just about pay, it's about working in conditions that give us the chance to teach effectively and successfully and ensure that children learn to the best of their own individual abilities and needs.

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