As I look through my ‘Online Contacts’ list on Facebook at 1am on a weeknight and find the entire staffroom of my school online – planning , designing displays and resources, writing risk assessments, studying, marking books, putting together ideas for school events and responding to work emails – it becomes very obvious why teachers need to take a stand this Thursday.
We care a lot. We care about the children we teach. We care about our capacity and development as educators. We care about our colleagues. We care about our children’s learning and their assessment results.
It is great to work in a profession that has the potential to restore faith in humanity through small everyday actions, to shape young minds, to help kids make sense of the world and to build lasting meaningful relationships with adults and kids all united in their shared aim of learning. The problem is that the whole culture of teaching is blanketed in a dependency on our goodwill – to be a good teacher, as anybody living with one will know, requires levels of sacrifice which affect you and those around you.
Because we take pride in the work we do, we have a real sense of devotion. It makes us arrive at school before our pupils wake up, and for some of us, we are still working when our charges are put to bed, and we do it because their successes and hopes become our motivations. This devotion, however, makes us pliable to those who want to reap the labour out of us, pushing us to complete two, three, four, five occupations where one would fit comfortably.
I can’t speak for all teachers, but I think we are different to other unions. Our working lives are not necessary shaped by collaboration and constant teamwork, like factory-workers, and as a result we lack that immediate strength in numbers, because there isn't a clear 'Them and Us'. No group can shake off the upset of being misrepresented and stigmatised in the public conscience, but at least the miners (for example) had that sense of camaraderie which breeds solidarity.
Teachers in today’s schools don’t have that, really. When, after a 12 hour day in school which followed four hours sleep, you pick up an Evening Standard to see some new slur against you, which questions your professionalism, ethic and morals, it rankles and it hurts. It makes you question why you spend hundreds of pounds of your own money making your classroom somewhere the children want to be. It make you question why every weekend and holiday sees you catching up on an ever-growing work backlog.
But it does not and will not make us question our care for our children and for the importance of their education. If we lost sight of that, we wouldn’t be worth defending.
We are striking this week because we want to be able to teach to the best of our ability. We are striking because we think the work of teachers should be valued by government like we value it. We are striking because we don’t want a performance-related pay structure which will ultimately encourage the destructive attitude that ‘being a good teacher’ means ‘never saying no to management’.
I will personally benefit from performance –related-pay; I would still rather it didn’t exist. I would rather have a solid salary structure which pays me less if it means I won’t work in a socially divisive institution in which the most pliable staff who are willing to sacrifice their time will be promoted ahead of teachers who take a stand in order to create work-life balance, which leads them to have their ‘dedication’ questioned. It's not about the money.
We're the people who help your children towards the academic achievements that make you feel proud of them. We, like you, spend a lot of time anxiously worrying about your children.