Tuesday, December 28, 2004

We don’t need no ejakashun

Apathy Jack writes:

Alright, to put it bluntly, I don’t think teachers should be paid very much.

Fortunately, the government seems to agree with me, so that’s that problem solved.

Of course I suppose I should clarify:

Teachers at the top of the scale are not paid enough. They deserve more. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, they deserve a lot more.

Someone who has been teaching for twenty years doesn’t earn the salary of a third year lawyer, which, y’know, kind of blows. I still remember chatting to a computer monkey friend of mine, and discovering that he had paid more in tax that year than I had earned. It was a shade demoralising...

So I believe that teachers should be paid a lot more than they currently are. I wouldn’t feel guilty getting at least half again as much as I currently am.

However, that shouldn’t kick in until, say, year five or so.

Bear with me while I explain.

The thing is, being a teacher is seen as the soft option.

Don’t believe me? Well here’s a little test I’d like to you to do. Think of your job title. Got it in your head? Right. Now think back. How many people have said to you “You know, I’ve always thought about becoming a [insert your job title here].”

How many people have said that to you? I can count how many people have said it to me over the years: Approximately all of them.

Over ninety percent of my friends, and every single person I have ever met at a party, in the queue at the supermarket, or passed on the street, has uttered the immortal line “You know, I’ve always thought about becoming a teacher.”

Worst are the ones who come to me specifically to discuss the issue. Let’s look at how the conversation doesn’t go:

“Hey, I’ve just gotten a massive raise, the dress code has been relaxed again, and I still do nothing all day except check my email and update my blog. But you know, I’ve always thought about becoming a teacher.”

Sadly, it usually sounds more like this:

“I’m unemployed again, my last job paid me so little that I have no savings to speak of, and WINZ are making it difficult to get the dole straight off. Hey, it’s one of those ads where they offer people scholarships to do a teaching course. You know, I’ve always thought about becoming a teacher.”

More than a few of my friends and acquaintances have come to me to ask about teaching (or, more properly, to tell me about teaching, because, you know, they had teachers when they were in high school, so they’re experts in the field), to confide in me that it’s been their lifelong dream, and tell me that they’re serious about helping and becoming an inspiration to young people.

And they’re either unemployed, about to become unemployed, or deeply unhappy with conditions at their work.

The moment they get another job, or a raise, or sort their life out in general, they never speak of teaching again, not even in the abstract.

Teaching is seen as the easy option by people who don’t know what else to do. This is fact. Out of the thirty English trainees in my course, I was the only one who had gone to university with the express goal of becoming an English teacher – the rest had done English degrees because, well, high school was over, they didn’t know what they wanted to do with their lives, and they were good at English. Reaching the end of their degrees still without goals, they had opted for the only career an English degree actually qualifies you for.

I had three trainees in my class this year. One of them was worth even half a damn as a teacher, and we gave her a job – she teaches in the room next to me and is an asset to the school. The other two were less than useless. Oh, certainly, they knew a lot about Shakespeare, and they remembered the names of all of the pedagogues and sociologists I’ve forgotten about since I stopped training, but they were irredeemable arse when it came to actually teaching kids, for the simple reason that they didn’t really want to be there. They woke up unhappy at the idea of spending another day in front of a pack of kids trying to teach them things.

The kids aren’t stupid (well, mine aren’t, anyway, I punish them for stupidity) – if you don’t like them and don’t want to be there, they pick that up pretty quickly. And if you don’t want to be planning a lesson, it’s hard to put in the time and effort required to make a good one.

Should we reward these people? People who only became teachers because they couldn’t think of anything else to do? University isn’t cheap any more, so they had to leave as a simple matter of financial expediency, and we’re letting these infections start on forty grand a year?


They want it; they can earn it.

The tourists won’t last five years (in fact I have a dead pool with another teacher at my school as to whether one trainee we shared will last five months at her new job – I’m betting on her; I say almost a full year before she runs screaming back to full time academia...). We can reward the real teachers.

I do sincerely believe that teachers deserve more. I don’t like talking about it too much because, you know, it’s not like I’m looking at it objectively or anything, but it’s true. The job I do is more important than your average lawyer or your average computer monkey, and yet they earn sometimes twice what I do or more.

It makes me angry when I see letters in the papers claiming teachers should just stop whining and do their jobs. Sure, such letters have happened in the wake of all of the strikes from a few years ago, and I didn’t necessarily agree with how those strikes were done, but here’s the thing; until those strikes happened, the rate that teachers’ salaries was increasing hadn’t matched inflation in ten years.

This is it: People see teaching as the soft option because they think they could do it. They had teachers, and it didn’t look that hard. And I’m not saying they necessarily couldn’t, but of the hundred people in my course less than a quarter are still teaching five years out of the gate. The proles remember the teachers that told them to turn to page fifteen and not make so much noise, but they don’t remember the teachers who worked hard to help them understand a concept, who stayed back after school and gave up weekends. They saw the few periods in front of the class, not the hours of marking and lesson prep that goes into making sure those periods ran smoothly. So of course the assumption is that we shouldn’t be getting paid as much as people in the “expert” fields.

Sitting on the shelf next to my computer are a bunch of Christmas cards from staff and students. One was given to me by an ex-student. Although she has been in tertiary education for a year now, she came back to give me a card because, she tells me, she still thinks fondly of me and credits my advice with changing her life for the better.

What I’m saying here is that I don’t do this for the money.

But it still does chaff a little when the public does its little outcry that I don’t deserve to have salary increases commensurate with inflation, and when the Minister of Education makes it clear that the job I do is not seen as even remotely valuable, let alone of any actual importance.

Sure, I’m not going to claim the moral high ground – I’d like more money because it would mean I could buy more CDs and eat at the flash pizza joints; Capitalism pure and simple. But also, I would like teachers to be paid more because that would be recognition that what we do is actually important. That not everyone who has thought “You know, I’ve always thought about becoming a teacher” is capable of doing so at the snap of their fingers, just like not everyone can become a lawyer or a doctor or an artist.

But still, I have to balance this with the fact that too many people are snapping their fingers and expecting to leave training to arrive on the set of Dead Poets Society, where, you’ll notice, Robin Williams spent the square root of bugger all time writing reports and filling in evaluation forms and taking a sports team on his weekends because it’s part of the contract now...

Hell, at the very least, they could train them up to be expecting The Principal (Jim Belushi as a Principal with a baseball bat) or The Substitute (Treat Williams as a mercenary cum vengeance-bent substitute teacher) or Class of Nuke ‘Em High III: The Good, The Bad and The Subhumanoid (well, you get the idea), or any of those other real-life-teacher documentaries.

And then, after they’ve given them that grounding, throw them into boarder line poverty for five years. Just to separate out the tourists. That’s all I ask.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah, I had this conversation with my Dean before I left School:

Dean: So have you thought about what career path you'd like to follow?
Me: Ah, no. I'm not really sure.
Dean: I think you'd make a good teacher...
Me: ....Or?

I wouldn't have the time, the patience, or the fortitude to do what you do. That and I'd probably get locked in a cupboard on day one.

PS. Hurrah for useless degrees!