I am re-posting two pieces I wrote in June this year, because they are relevant to the strikes we have seen today over Public Sector workers' pensions. My husband has recently left teaching to run his own business - a move from the public to the private sector. He is happier being his own boss, but our income is lower and there is no pension assurance. He is not alone in leaving the teaching profession. I recently heard that the average length of a teaching career is now just 5 years. Can we really imagine 67 year old teachers in some of the difficult classroom situations which exist in our country today? What about the rising number of people who find themselves unemployed - especially the young? What do they think of people in good, reasonably well-paid jobs - with what will still be a 'good' pension scheme (relatively) - striking today? With everybody feeling the pinch, and the current state of the economy, is it really the time for strikes? I think our whole mindset about work needs to shift, as these posts show ....
"Worth Striking For" (June 2011):
There are a number of issues in education I believe it would be worth teachers striking over:
1) The unquestioned authority of Ofsted which stops headteachers and teachers, through fear, doing what they truly feel would be best for the pupils in their care.
2) The SATs tests and the resultant 'teaching to pass tests' by which schools can prove they are 'successful'.
3) The autonomy teachers should have as professionals to make their own assessments and to make the right decisions for the pupils in their care without distant Government interference.
4) The teaching responsibility given to Cover Supervisors and Teaching Assistants which undermines teachers' professionalism, and exploits support staff.
5) The Health and Safety restrictions which mean teachers are too afraid to take risks, restricting educational opportunity and the broad and balanced curriculum.
6) The obsession with CRB checks, which do little to protect children, but put walls around schools and prevent good people in the community from being more involved with childrens' education.
7) Poor behaviour in classrooms and the lack of authority given to teachers and schools to be able to deal with this effectively, to the detriment of many pupils' education.
8) The disproportionate investment in 'average' pupils, to push their grades high enough to make their school appear more successful, without similar investment in very able or failing pupils.
Union representatives are talking on television this week about how their actions are for the sake of the children and their education. Why do the issues listed above not push teachers to the picket lines? It is not the teachers' pay scale or a handsome pension scheme which will attract good teachers, rather good teachers will leave the profession because of their frustrations with the list above. Or, they will keep teaching because they love it, because they truly enjoy being with children, because they believe they can make a difference, because they have found their vocation.
Teachers are striking this week in their own self-interest. I think they've picked the wrong issue.
"Working in the Public Sector" (June 2011):
Our school system should be good at producing public sector workers. Successful pupils can become successful graduates, and work in the public sector could provide a comfortable next step into another institution. Institutions do not like innovators, free thinkers ... not really. They like you to toe the party line.
It could be easy to slip into, it's 'something to do' ... but if work in the public sector is viewed as a sentence one must suffer until rewarded with a nice pension in one's later years, then haven't we rather lost the plot? Public sector workers are known for their griping and moaning (ask anyone married to a teacher!) but, actually, they have a pretty good deal, or they have had up to now. We have to face the fact that the days of 'jobs for life' are gone. Gone too are the days when we knew we could retire at 60 or 65, gone is the assurance of a good pension. Are these really the things in which our security lies?
Do you work in a job you hate day after day holding out for that great pension you've been promised one day? Do you dream of a comfortable retirement? What would you do with that retirement anyway? You'd probably soon get bored of doing nothing!!
I think we need to completely change this way of thinking. Teach because you love it. Nurse because you love it! Be a policeman or a fireman because that is what you most want to be! Perhaps do it for a few years, then do something else. See yourself as a verb not as a noun, able to change with the circumstances, move with the times. Why not work til you're 68, or 75, as long as you're doing something you're able to, something you enjoy. Be a portfolio worker - a bit of this, a bit of that. Make your own work. Use your gifts, skills, initiative, wheel and deal a little. Don't be stuck in a rut, doing something which makes you miserable, especially not for the promise of retirement at 65 and a fat pension. What then when the promises evaporate? Where does your security lie?