Hey people, leave those teachers alone

The UK Government announcement that a range of public service workers would be receiving a pay rise was inevitably received with mixed emotions: it didn’t include nurses or care workers, the timing considered poor given challenges in the private sector, and WORST OF ALL…it included teachers. Ok maybe not worst of all, but I had to insert some drama to the blog post.   Immediate (Twitter) Response You get a sense of some of the attitudes that people have towards teachers if you read the response to the Prime Minister’s tweet about the announcement:
  • TEACHERS? They’ve been on paid strike for five months!
  • As a member of the armed forces who has been working his ass off since coronavirus started, been deployed pillar to post, confined to camp away from my family, to find out today that the teachers at around for 6 months get 50% more pay rise than we do is an absolute joke.
  • WTF?! Public sector teachers have had an extended holiday this year, while checkout staff, bin men and Amazon delivery drivers have soldiered on.
  • A teachers pay rise should have come with some conditions, at least, ie. ‘do as they are told’, like-not go on strike and keep their OWN politics out of the classroom !
And so on. My two biggest issues are the perception of what teachers have been doing during lockdown and the overall public perception. All of us teachers know how hard these last few months have been.  
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Lockdown Teaching Over the course of a weekend (with a little bit of build up), offline teaching was transformed online. For all teachers, this meant a rethinking of the curriculum: what should we teach now that we’re not in front of our pupils? I was so impressed with the collegiate approach taken to this to ensure each year group had quality provisions in place. It was phenomenal actually: moving online and rethinking the curriculum so suddenly, and to do so with great effect, was nothing short of remarkable. The intensity of teaching is plenty enough during term time, but this took it to the next level. That intensity rarely dropped: teachers across the country were doing live lessons, pre-recorded lessons, contacting home, visiting homes. All while managing the uncertainties and challenges of a developing pandemic, and in many cases also while supporting their own children at home. I take my hats off to every one of you. I’m genuinely in awe. Lockdown teaching has been harder than in-person teaching, and has required many of us to work more hours. I’m not convinced by the public arguments that we were on strike, on holiday or not working hard enough as a profession.   Attitudes to Teachers is Pretty Good There’s a brief analysis by Schools Week on public perception of teachers, using data from the Department for Education’s public attitudes survey from 2018 (published Feb 2020). In that analysis they highlighted that 47% of the public thought that teachers worked too hard, 43% ‘about the right amount’ and 7% not hard enough. The survey also showed that 44% of the public thought teachers were paid enough and 42% felt teachers are not paid enough. Only 4% thought teachers were paid too much. That’s not the weighting I would have anticipated given the Twitter and (some elements of the) media response. Is it just that the 7%/4% are particularly vocal and enjoying the relative anonymity of responding to tweets? Is it that people are temporarily more frustrated by this because of the current situation? It’s certainly not easy to see a teacher pay rise in isolation with all that’s going on around. The DfE survey also notes significant variation in response by demographic; those who are older tended to side against teachers, and inevitably those with teachers in their family sided strongly with teachers. The Varkey Foundation produce a report every five years, firstly in 2013 and latterly in 2018. It shows, based on teacher self-assessment, that we are working more hours than anywhere in the world (out of the 35 countries involved) aside from New Zealand, Singapore and Chile. The public largely agree in their perceptions of the hours we work. The report also gives our ‘Teacher Status Index’ as the second highest in Europe at 13th out of 35. On average, respondents thought the starting salary for a secondary school teacher should be £31,500, but the UK starting salary is the lowest compared to all other major EU economies. UK came 9th out of 35 when asked to rank headteacher amongst other professions by order of respect. The UK is one of only 13 countries where teachers see their own status lower than how the general public view them. A lot of data there, but without more to back it up from other sources, and data from across the years, there is not a great deal to go on. It could possibly suggest that teachers are actually pretty well-respected by the public, underpaid, and a little self-deprecating. But there’s not enough data, so it could be that further surveys show the opposite!   Time for a Rest The recent frustrations that I have seen voiced on Twitter about how we’re represented by some sections of the media and the public are natural responses to being denigrated despite working so hard. However, we have to hold onto the fact that it is a very small collection of people who think badly of teachers. We have all worked incredibly hard, we all deserve plenty of respect for that, and most of all at the moment we all need a very well-earned break.

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