Is It Irresponsible for Teachers to Strike?

I love my job. When I’m in a classroom and in full geeky computer science swing, I am in pure heaven. Even the planning has it’s silver lining (organisation of stuff gives me a bit of a zen glow), and despite the UN between teenagers and lip that is given, and the weekends spent ploughing through marking, I teach because it’s in my bones.

Of course, Mr Gove happily piles in on a regular basis and shakes things up, but each time he has so far, we’ve rolled with the punches. Unfortunately, as with many abusive relationships, he’s no longer happy with the occasional slap, Mr Gove now wants to see teachers suffer, and he’s involving the children. It’s the point at which the kids are affected that can be the catalyst for the abused partner to stand up and say enough, and that appears to be what the unions are trying to do. And in a similar manner to the abuser, the government are making loud noises to anyone who will listen that the teachers are mad and making it all up.

There is a planned strike with NUT members shortly which has been a subject of much thought for me. There are huge pros and cons, and the public discussion about the issues has been so brief, it’s unlikely anyone outside of the profession will really understand it. So here, laid bare is my own inner monologue used to make my own decision:

Plans which are disputed – changes to pensions / changes to pay.

Changes to pensions.

This one is easy. I have facts and figures!

Government standpoint: Teachers are getting a good deal. Why should they be any different from the private sector?

My thoughts: I totally agree with the second point. My husband and I both pay into a pension at a rate of 7.5% of gross income. He is expected to retire at 60 with a current estimate of 120% of his current annual wage (as his plan takes inflation into account). I am expected to retire at 68 with a current estimate of 70% of my current annual wage. I don’t need a further maths qualification to explain who gets a better deal.

Changes to Pay

Ok, this one is a bit more complex and was actually the one that caused me to smell a Gove shaped rat.

Government standpoint: Introduce Performance related Pay to weed out ineffective teachers and reward the best performers.

My thoughts:
Performance related pay works in certain environments. Especially in places where targets are clear and there is little room for grey areas. I have my kids on PrP of a kind – they receive a base weekly pocket money and their upper level is set based upon the number and quality of the household chores they undertake. It’s a mercenary business, but they learn responsibility and I get the Sunday dinner vegetables peeled for a combined total of 50p (bargain). Targets are clear and they have a financial goal to be working towards (I’m sure a pair of Heelys is well worth 20 minutes a week of peeling veg!). But if they opt not to take on a task, or only opt for the higher paid rewards, no one is deeply affected. Individuals won’t suffer.

If on the other hand, you make teacher salaries linked directly to the results that their students achieve, a fundamental change happens in the profession of education. It’s no longer about encouraging every child to do their best, even if that best might be a D. It’s now about getting everyone through that exam factory and meeting the targets. And how do you best do that? Well, you cream the top performers and leave the ones who really need the education system to work with them to someone else. It’s a scenario played out across the country in many independent schools who’s results are directly linked to their future intake and as such their financial stability. If your child is likely to affect the stats, ‘the suitability conversation’ isn’t far behind.

This worries me on several levels.

Firstly, industry leaders and higher education institutions are looking to stop this exam factory scenario and teach more of the ‘soft skills’ that Gove wants to ditch. The more academic and cerebral he insists the qualifications become, the less employable these kids become. Academia post school is a wonderful place for some, but it is not suited for everyone and teaching kids to be self sufficient learners with good self esteem is not a waste of time as Gove suggested in one particular speech.

Secondly, what happens to the kids who are difficult to teach? What happens to the kids who struggle academically? What happens to those who aren’t emotionally equipped to develop mature study skills? I didn’t become a teacher to only help the bright kids who automatically engage (although I thank a variety of deities for their existence some days!), seeing a child who is fighting tooth and nail to disengage have a sudden lightbulb moment and smile is worth a thousand easy lessons. But, imagine the pressure on the teacher internally if they know that helping that child could take time away from their preparation and marking which could impact on their ability to keep their own family financially stable. I know few teachers who feel easy with this idea.

Finally, as. Parent, this concerns me at a much deeper level. Whilst I know that I couldn’t morally walk away from a class just because they were difficult, I have the safety net of LSH who works in the private sector and allows me to work in a job which ultimately pays a lot less than I could get if I took off and worked as a developer again. He’s happy to sacrifice some of the luxuries for me to love my job. He is a good man. Not every teacher has that backing. I don’t want my daughter to be the one who gets ignored or moved because she causes a fuss and asks awkward questions, or has high spirits. I don’t want their teachers to have to make personal decisions about if teaching them will affect them financially. I want them to be taught by people who feel valued and respected for the knowledge and talents that they have.

So when I am asked why I am or I am not striking this month, I will refer people to the impact it will likely have on the many thousands of children in state education. Am I prepared for this relationship to affect my children? Or is it time we moved out of reach of Michael Gove’s wild punches?

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5 thoughts on “Is It Irresponsible for Teachers to Strike?

  1. Pingback: And now for something completely different | The Hippy Geek

  2. Pingback: Will you still need me? Will you still feed me (apple cake)? When I’m 68? | Confessions of a Try-hard

  3. Sorry, your hubby is double-plus-lucky to be on a final salary scheme. The vast, vast majority of private sector workers are on money-purchase schemes, that don’t pay out nearly as much. 7.5% of salary would probably get you 20% of your current salary. If you’re lucky. If nobody screws up.
    The thing you must recognise about final salary schemes is that they are UNFUNDED. The amount you get out is not directly connected to the amount you pay in. While the one helps pay for the other, ultimately, you are guaranteed your 70%, whatever the financial environment. That means that somebody else is paying the difference. Those somebodies – “taxpayers” they are called – are also paying for their own pension. That’s why you will get lukewarm support from the rest of us. Sorry.

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