Why don’t we value teachers enough?
Teachers are among the most misunderstood professionals in the UK. Many members of the public are unaware of the current school funding and teacher retention crises respectively and many more have little to no clue what the job entails.
A typical conversation about the profession with members of the public usually follows a certain trajectory and misconceptions about the profession are regularly unearthed.
Here are my top 4:
1. “Teachers get paid well”
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) recently stated that teachers in the UK get paid 15% less than they did in 2010 in real terms, whereas in Scotland, the Educational Institute (EIS) calculated a real terms loss since 2009 of 24% for their teachers.
I’m not going to pretend teachers are poor, but internationally, UK teachers’ wages have not been competitive for a long time. However, England and Scotland are falling behind their international competitors, mainly due to the austerity measures imposed since 2010, but partly down to poor pay deals for teachers spanning back decades.
In England and Wales in 2018, a new teacher starts on £22,917. An internationally comparable country, Ireland, pays its new teachers £32,035 (€36,318). A class teacher in England and Wales earns a maximum of £38,633 yet in Ireland a class teacher earns a maximum of £60,169 (€68,213).
2. “Teachers are just glorified babysitters”
The idea that a primary school teacher is just someone who has to play with the children and keep them entertained from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon has never been less true. Teachers have to turn the National Curriculum from a string of boring sentences into genuine learning experiences for their children.
This may mean planning up to five lessons per day consisting of multiple activities, which can take hours. After planning, the teacher will deliver the lessons, provide feedback in the form of marking or a conversation and record progress. Remember, this is not just for one child – this is for up to 33 children.
On top of this, there is plenty more. What about the training days, parents nights, end of year report writing and termly pupil progress meetings?
3. “A teacher’s job is easy”
We have up to 33 children with up to 33 different levels of understanding. There is a very high likelihood of at least one of the children having additional needs. Oh yes, and there probably won’t be another member of staff in the classroom and we’ve got cutbacks to thank for that. This is a typical set up for a teacher in 2018.
Imagine being responsible for every child’s learning every day for around thirty-eight weeks in a year. This is not just difficult, it is exhausting both physically and mentally as there is so much pressure on a teacher to be there for their kids.
Not least, behaviour in schools is deteriorating and so is the teacher’s ability to deal with it, as there are fewer adults to each child in school in order to facilitate interventions. Teachers are also often the first people to see the effects of austerity and often the first to dip into their own pay packets to mitigate it. We often hear of teachers buying cereal for hungry children and even washing their clothes.
If teaching was genuinely an easy job, would there be record numbers of people leaving the profession? Would there be a teaching shortage?
4. “You get good holidays though.”
This is the single most infuriating thing anyone can say to a teacher. Yes, we get lots of holidays, but our pay is calculated over term time. We are not paid for our holidays, whereas most people are.
Where teaching differs from other professions is that we give everything we’ve got during term time. By the time the holidays come, teachers are dead on their feet. The long hours, coupled with the intense pressure of responsibility for thirty children wears teachers out. We earn, and deserve, our holidays.
The Bottom Line
Teachers in the UK are undervalued by the public. Teachers are also undervalued by the government, as wages have fallen over the last ten years in real terms. More importantly, though, I think teachers undervalue themselves. There is only so far a teacher’s salary will stretch.
In no other profession will people do sixty hours a week and only be paid for forty. In no other profession will staff use their own salary to enable them to do their job. Staff are paid for overtime in other public sector jobs. Teachers don’t get paid for doing more and we have no choice but just to get on with it.
Why Should We Value Teachers?
If you’re a teacher or parent reading this, remember one important fact: valued, well paid, motivated teachers have the ability to:
- lessen the strain on the NHS by educating young people about hygiene, mental and physical health risks and nutrition
- reduce the strain on welfare and police by giving every child a purpose and a fighting chance to succeed in their lives
- provide a well-rounded, intelligent, diverse and capable workforce to take our economy forward and keep British industries on the map.
Take teachers for granted at your peril.