The Teacher Crisis as it is.
Recently there has been a lot in the media about teachers pay, and current issues in education. This was somewhat heightened by the August strike – the first primary teachers have been on since 1994.
But why? What’s it all about?
It boils down to one issue.
You see; many think (and has been reported on) that it is about pay. To some degree, it has to be about pay. It’s illegal to strike otherwise. But the underlying issue comes down to other factors.
I wouldn’t hesitate to say that there isn’t a single teacher in the country who is in the job for the money. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, the job as it currently stands is tough, stressful and does not match the pay. Secondly, most of us have tertiary level and post-grad qualifications and would waltz into other jobs, be it within education, or further afield.
No. We do it for love. We do it because it’s what we love. It might be what we’re good at. It might even be what you’d say a calling.
But it’s not the pay.
But here’s the kicker. The current work conditions are untenable. There are rising needs across the country, lower ability students, learning difficulties, additional needs, more behavioural issues than ever before. An epidemic if you will.
Add to this, there are teachers leaving in droves, and class sizes are going up. This brings more workload, less teaching time, more administration time, more reports, more parents to meet, and more stress.
Classes are being split across the country as relievers become harder and harder to come by. Sick teachers feel they have to come into school to teach.
Add to this current problems in larger city centres where schools can’t get enough teachers for their classes due to travel or property costs.
So, how do we fix this?
Well; what has to happen just to keep the current workforce, is to make it a manageable job and career. Classes of over 30 aren’t going to help this, and so classes need to be no more than 25; preferably closer to 20 than anything else. This will make the job more manageable in terms of time; time with students, time to teach, time to test, and time on admin (reports, meetings and the like). Students will finally get the time and attention they need rather than being lost in the crowd of 30+ others, of which the only way to get attention sometimes is by being the loudest, or by creating trouble and being “out of line”. Students with additional needs often require more support than just what the teachers can currently give them. It was pleasing to see the announcement from Tracy Martin this week some suggested changes to this, including specialist SENCO teachers in each school and screening for learning difficulties such as dyslexia (which has been a long time coming!) Both of these initiatives will assist teachers with dealing with the multitudes of additional needs in their classes, and alleviate some but not all of the workload.
The only way to decrease class sizes is by increasing the number of teachers in each school. Suddenly we not only have to try and retain the current workforce, but we have to recruit or entice ex-teachers back to the job. While some are called to the profession, there is one obvious way to bring more people into this career path.
Show publicly that the profession is valued.
How you do that is up to others in power, but it has been suggested that a salary increase might be one way in which to do this.
And so, in a very round about way we can see that the strike wasn’t just about pay, but also very much more about workload and working conditions in schools that current teachers are facing, and what needs to happen to not only to maintain the numbers in their ranks, but also to be an viable and more importantly, an attractive option and career path for the future.