Friday, 17 June 2011

Why teachers darn well need to retire

It's a bit of a moot point, since I never intend to return to teaching while Gove is alive (evil cackle, strokes cat, plans, plans), but if I were, I would now be expected to work until I were 68 to claim my now reduced pension. Leaving aside the argument that we're all younger now, we all live longer now, people want to work, etc etc, here is one simple fact. If teachers work till they are 68, then the youth of today will soon be getting re-aquainted with the traditions of laying out corpses, and CPR will creep onto the curriculum, as a blind necessity. "Sir! Sir! Ms. Kirby has collapsed! Kyle is giving her CPR by the whiteboard, but we think she's weed herself and Skler is vidding her on her iphone! Come quick!". Oh yes, it will happen. Because if ever there was a job, (although firemen also fits, really) that is manifestly not suited to past 60, it is teaching. Here's a few reasons why.

You know how annoying it is to listen to your own kids whine? Times that, by 35 + per class (Gove has just removed the maximum class size agreement, lovely man, and so now we will all be teaching to even more kids in even more out of date classrooms), by 6 per day, 5 days per week, less holidays, for 40 plus years. Expect to see some major Falling Down moments.

Memory: you need to recall a LOT as a teacher. Aside from having to know pretty much all of human history from 1066-1978 in my subject, I also had to learn the kids. Sure, I attempted to learn every kids name and remember their own traits, strengths and weaknesses. But it was HARD. Here come parents evening, and I have the name Keisha in front of me as next up. Thinks, thinks,  "Keisha: big hair, too much make-up, smokes at lunchtime, poor spelling, talks too much, sits by the door, never does homework, confuses Right Wing with Left Wing and whilst strongly supportive of Martin Luther King in Year 8, has since let slip that Hitler was "Right about the Jews". Note to self: avoid talking about this with parents, as they seem rather odd and are large. Handed in a nice coursework piece directly downloaded from the internet, 48% in mock, possible grade C if she pulls her finger out and stops reapplying lipstick and listens" All this in 30 seconds. I could do that then because I was still under 35 and hadn't yet had the lack of sleep known as kids. I would struggle now. I would definately struggle at past 60. At past 60, I probably would't even be able to pronounce the names on my register. I sometimes struggled at 30. Yes, I mean you Ozibamwamwye.

Classroom presence. At 30, you are OLD. At 68, you'll be DEAD. 13 year olds in my class were amazed, as, as a precursor to explaining hyperinflation in Weimar Germany, I regaled them with tales of what things cost when I was their age. They flatly refused to believe that a packet of crisps EVER cost 5p until I told them that this was 34 years ago. Then they were, like, "oh, yeah, that's like, so long ago. Did you have the decimals then?"  Imagine their respect for you when you are as aged as the dinosaurs. And imagine how madly removed they would seem from you, as the teacher. They'd be like little aliens. Christ, I had to ask them what "bare good" meant, and was it BEAR or BARE, and they actually looked as if they pitied me. It might not seem important, but it is, because a crucial part of teaching well is about making connections that can bring a subject alive. Hence, when discussing the use Elizabeth I made of portraiture, we also looked at media images of modern rulers and celebrities.I knew who the celebrities were.  The age gap at 68 is too big. The points of reference are too disparate. X Factor and Preparation H.

It's fucking knackering. The job starts at 7.30 in most secondary schools, ends at teaching last lesson, in theory, by 4, prepping and out the door, excluding meetings, by 5, followed by a few hours marking and prepping at home, probably a day every weekend, holidays during coursework and exam season, meeting with parents, year meetings, subject meetings, coursework moderation, mocks, parents evenings. Standing on your feet pretty much all day (you can't teach sitting down now. It's not like my school days, teachers cannot sit at a desk and set exercises while nipping out for a fag now. It's all leaping around to interactive whiteboards and walking between desks). Not to mention the intellectual tiredness engendered by teaching 6 lessons a day and having to remember it all. I am tired just thinking about it.

Sodding have some respect. Teaching is not a job for the faint hearted or less than committed. It's a rare teacher that teaches for 40 years, and they bloody deserve to retire when they want to, on a decent sodding pension. It's a low paid job compared to other equivalently qualified positions, it demands vocation and care. They are not just teaching, although that's hard enough, they are cheering your kid on on Sports day, running after school clubs, being kept up all night on school trips, picking up naughty kids from the corner shop for shoplifting, mopping up blood, listening to stories, helping, drying tears, stopping fights, building confidence, doing the same assembly EVERY YEAR, saying the play was brilliant when it wasn't, watching out for bruises, buying shirts for the kid that comes in grubby, and telling jokes to make the form group smile. Many teachers work themselves into the ground and thank the lord for their pension, which is now being reduced for them. This particularly affects women, who have taken career breaks to raise children, and will now have to have an average pension, instead of final salary. For many women teachers, this has halved their pension. Teachers now face working longer, for less. You may say, fair enough, I have to. But this is mean  spirited. These people teach your children because they want to. How will teaching attract graduates now? 4 years of study and debt, no teacher training funding, for what? A low salary, a reduced pension, and working till 68. What graduate with a decent degree will choose to go into teaching now? If I were in the same posistion again, I would not.

And the argument against final salary pensions for teachers is disingenous. The government pretends that they are bankrupting us, but in fact the latest ONS stats show that the pension bill from public sector pensions is falling. The majority of public sector pensions are small, because the majority of public sector employees are women, and low paid. The average public sector pension is less than 4K pa. The average public sector wage is less than 16Kpa. The average teaching wage, after 5 years is 29K. The average teaching pension is 10K. Compare this with the bank bonuses meted out this April, of 75K plus. Or the tax breaks given to large companies by Osbourne.

Now go up to your childs' teacher and say you support their strike.


motherventing said...

You talk sense. I am knackered so cannot expand, but will be tweeting this to all my teachery friends. Yes yes and yes.

Fenland Textile Studio said...

I totally agree with everything you said! I just couldn't teach full time and have DS2 with his extreme needs. I remember the endless stress. In the four years since I left my full time job I have never needed antibiotics nor steriods for my asthma. I was getting a chest infection every month, had pnemonia and was hospitalised twice in my last year. Supply teaching now getting less so I may end up having to work elsewhere but I am HEALTHY :-)!

Lis said...

OMG reading your post put me back in the classroom (I have been retired on health grounds, that should be ill health grounds, since 1999)and having palpitations. It used to be a fantastic job, still would be if it wasn't for all the rubbish. Certainly not a job for the old, well said.

debra hall said...

Right On Sister! All workers within the public sector need to know they have support. They've taken a real hammering for years, and never more so than of late, enough is enough.