Thursday, April 24, 2008

No sympathy for striking

Any sympathy I had for teachers has waned rapidly this week.

I am not a teacher but I come from a family of teachers. My Grandfather taught at a private school and my Grandmother at a prep school. Their son is an English teacher at a state secondary and their daughter at a Montessori school. Her husband was a teacher at a state secondary and is now a driving instructor. My mother didn't go into to teaching. My three closest female friends from university are now teachers; one at a state school in London, one at a private school in Suffolk and the third at a state primary in Cambridge. Other friends from school are teaching in a variety of state primary and secondary schools around the country. Not one has left because they don't get paid enough.

Of all these people, the only one whose salary I know is my friend who teaches in London. She earns £8,000 more than me a year despite us both having degrees from the same university and holding post graduate qualifications in our chosen fields. The others all must earn more than me by at least £3,000 as the starting salary for teachers is £20,133.

My friend who is a London teacher works hard. She is in school by 7.45 every morning and she leaves between 3 and 5pm depending on activities. She does marking and planning at the evenings and some weekends although she manages an active social life as well. She benefits from 2 weeks off at Christmas, 2 at Easter, 3 for half-terms and 6 weeks in the summer. She is using some of her summer holiday to take some children abroad to work on a community project but in return she does not have to pay for her trip. She works during the holidays but she is able to take marking down to Cornwall or away to her parents. She can work outside in the sunshine or can stay up all night working in her pajamas if she chooses. She also benefits from a pension and she had a grant to pay for her postgraduate certificate. I believe she receives some kind of financial payout after she has been working for a few years. Her job is stressful and she must deal with teenagers and their problems each day she is in school. I have no doubt that she works hard.

In comparison I earn the minimum salary for a trainee solicitor in London. I am expected to be in my office 5 days a week and I am frequently still at my desk until 8pm. It is unusual for me to leave before 7pm. I do not think my hours are excessive as I know other trainees who work longer hours still (I quote from someone on their time at Linklaters: "The hours were, frankly, quite ridiculous. I’d be in the office after midnight — often much later — at least two days a week. Even on a quiet day I wouldn’t finish before eight. Having a life became virtually impossible. There was a kind of implied understanding that you’d drop everything if something came up at work. And things were constantly coming up. One of my colleagues actually had to cancel her 30th birthday party a few hours before it was scheduled to start after being drafted onto a deal.") At present I am not required to work weekends although once I change work loads I could well expect to. I know people who work all weekend, including my boss. I have 20 days holiday a year plus bank holidays. I had to open my own pension scheme and pay my own way through my post graduate certificate. The repayments of that loan alone come to almost £500 a month from my salary.

My point is thus: teachers work hard but so does everyone else. I do not believe a teacher's job to be more stressful than any other professional job. Everyone is facing the same financial impact of rising prices, rising taxes and falling houseprices. Teachers are well remunerated for their work and they receive benefits in addition which includes holidays and pensions. They claim that there is unnecessary paper work and regulations in teaching but that is not limited to their profession. In my work complying with money laundering regulations for example take up a disproportionate time allocation. I therefore have no sympathy with their so-called plight and I fundamentally disagree that selfish striking which inconveniences other people, not least letting down the children in their charge, should have any kind of effect. I see striking in line with bullying and I do not think that it is an appropriate message to be sending to children. They are effectively saying that if someone does not agree with you it is reasonable to refuse to participate in the discussion in order to make them listen to your point of view. It is childish.

12 comments:

Sara, London (trainee solicitor) said...

to be fair though the majority of trainee solicitors in london earn a lot more than the minimum. and i am not sure that any trainee teachers do.

look a few years down the line at the average earnings of a london solicitor (at associate level) compared to the average earnings of a teacher and my point becomes even clearer.

i dont mean to be rude but i think your friends' salaries are representative of teachers' salaries whilst yours are at the very lower (indeed minimum) end of the scale of trainee solicitors' salaries, so i am just not sure using you and your friends is a fair comparison.

Look at the average salaries, it's much more accurate than dealing with these questions on personal or anecdotal evidence.

Rachel said...

I take your point Sara.

I know trainees who earn far more than me. But their hours reflect that as they work 14/16 hour days and most weekends and have barely any holiday. That is far more hours than a teacher, who has to work long hours for 6-8 weeks with a week or so off to work how they please followed by extended holiday periods.

I merely think that most professional jobs have pay which reflects the hours.

Rachel said...

Also, my real point (which may or may not have come across in my initial post) is that regardless of whether their argument is valid or reasonable (which is another debate) I do not think that striking is a fair or effective way of making it.

Also, trainee solicitors minimum wage only went up by 2.9% last year which is clearly not in line with inflation either.

sara said...

There's only one thing for it then - you'll have to go on strike!

I'm firmly against strike as well, but I do think that teachers are underappreciated and underpaid, like many workers in the public sector. teachers, doctors, nurses and many others all face abuse and even violence on a daily basis. teachers have the tremendous responsibility of shaping the future generations of this (currently rather troubled) country, and I think if the salaries were higher then not only would the current teachers be more motivated to work hard, but the profession would attract a higher calibre of applicant. One of the reasons that private schools produce better results is that they employ some of the best teachers.

I do acknowledge that teachers work fewer hours than most lawyers do though.

Rachel said...

Perhaps one reason why so many graduate teachers leave within 5 years is that it is easy to go into teaching from university (fees paid, good initial salary and so on) but once teaching they become disillusioned by spending all their time on behavioural management and jumping through target related hoops.

Perhaps a solution might be to reduce impossible targets and allow teachers more autonomy as to what they teach (within parameters, obviously).

I think private schools achieve better results because they can (a) pick their students (b) teachers are free to actually teach because behavioural issues are fewer, pastoral issues are narrower and perhaps therefore they meet their targets more easily and (c) there are better benefits to teaching at a private school (longer holidays, better facilities and so on).

Anonymous said...

I'm ambivalent about the strike, but I strongly believe everyone has the right to strike. After all, Hitler put trade unionists in concentration camps ...

johnnyvoid said...

"regardless of whether their argument is valid or reasonable (which is another debate) I do not think that striking is a fair or effective way of making it."

so how exactly would you suggest they make it

negotiations havent achieved anything

thats why people strike

Hendo said...

Why is the use of everyone's right to withdraw their labour a 'bad message to send to children'?

Rachel said...

"regardless of whether their argument is valid or reasonable (which is another debate) I do not think that striking is a fair or effective way of making it."

so how exactly would you suggest they make it

negotiations havent achieved anything

thats why people strike"

Negotiations only achieve things if people are prepared to compromise. Also, striking is only effective if they withdraw services which actually affect their employer. In the case of the NUT strike, the government is the employer but the government is not directly affected by the withdrawal of teaching services - it is the children and by implication the parents (who have nothing to do with how much or little teachers' salaries increase by).

Rachel said...

"Why is the use of everyone's right to withdraw their labour a 'bad message to send to children'?"

I think that striking sends a message to children that if you do not immediately get what you want, that instead of compromising, finding alternative solutions or entering into meaningful discussions, it is acceptable to refuse to do anything and effectively bully the other person into accepting your proposal.

Echo said...

Now Rach, as you know, I'm employed by my school and so have nothing to do with the strike. I am however, a member of the NUT and fully understand and support the state employed teachers' strike action.

I really don't think you can compare your job with a teacher's. They're just entirely different. I have to say that I know four lawyers and none of them work anywhere near the hours I do. They work incredibly hard, but it seems to be in bursts. Admittedly these are mostly barristers, but I know that they get paid at least 10k more than I do. MY point is, no one can really appreciate what other people's jobs entail and what pressures they present. I don't think we can judge whether or not people are entitled to more pay unless we understand the situation fully.

You have to bear in mind that you are a trainee. I earn more than you at the moment, but give it 5 years and you will be earning vastly more than I will be if I stay in teaching. I am not complaining about that - I couldn't do your job - I'd be bored to tears. No offence intended, but I need the excitement of the classroom, the interaction with the kids and the academic stimulation that my job provides me with. I therefore chose my career and the pay that goes with it.

The strike is not about how many hours teachers work. It is not about how demanding the job is. It is about the fact that the government are not prepared to increase pay in line with inflation, putting teachers at a disadvantage, when they are important members of society.

I don't think it is a negative message to children. I think it displays admirable dedication to a cause and makes children consider carefully human rights issues, as they are being directly affected by them.

Rachel said...

Thanks for your point of view Suzi, really good to hear your thoughts.

First of all, my real point was that I don't think striking is an effective way to make a point, not least as the people that suffer are not those whose opinion one is trying to change. Secondly, I used my job as an example of one where there are long hours and academic qualifications required. Interesting, as I said above, minimum trainee salary is set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority/Law Society and goes up by 2.9% which is also under the rate of inflation. Once qualification occurs there is no minimum salary.

Anyway, in answer to your points:


"I have to say that I know four lawyers and none of them work anywhere near the hours I do. They work incredibly hard, but it seems to be in bursts. Admittedly these are mostly barristers, but I know that they get paid at least 10k more than I do."

I agree, I don't think you can compare a teacher to a barrister. Barristers are self-employed and work does come in fits and starts until you are several years qualified. There is no job security.

I was comparing a teacher to a solicitor - same length qualifications, same academic requirements. Heavy, relentless work load (although in some areas such as corporate it is 16/18 hour days and weekends for a few weeks and then a comparatively easy few weeks before another deal).


"MY point is, no one can really appreciate what other people's jobs entail and what pressures they present. I don't think we can judge whether or not people are entitled to more pay unless we understand the situation fully."

I don't think I have ever said that teachers are not entitled to more pay. It is just I think that they are fairly reasonably paid for what they do. Also, taking your statement to its logical conclusion, you are saying that the only people who can determine what teachers get paid are teachers, as they are the only ones that do that job. Clearly that is illogical, as everyone's pay is dictated by what people are prepared to pay for the service that you provide.

"You have to bear in mind that you are a trainee. I earn more than you at the moment, but give it 5 years and you will be earning vastly more than I will be if I stay in teaching. "

Perhaps. We will see. I am not in a massive firm or corporate role. In 5 years time you could be a head of house with staff accommodation.

"I am not complaining about that - I couldn't do your job - I'd be bored to tears. No offence intended, but I need the excitement of the classroom, the interaction with the kids and the academic stimulation that my job provides me with. I therefore chose my career and the pay that goes with it."

No offence taken but I think you underestimate my job. There is plenty of client interaction, excitement in winning or finding the right solution for your client, and as for academic stimulation - there is academic stimulation every day in abundance. I spend many hours a week in the library researching and writing. Clients can be difficult, demanding, tedious. Some of them have a very poor grasp of the English language. Their needs have to be balanced against the law and the requirements of a court timetable. The job is paper heavy and the law is constantly changing; there is a lot of work and a lot of law to be constantly on top of. But yes, I am not restricted to breaktime for a cup of tea or for the loo. Unless I am in a meeting, conference or am in court.

"The strike is not about how many hours teachers work. It is not about how demanding the job is. It is about the fact that the government are not prepared to increase pay in line with inflation, putting teachers at a disadvantage, when they are important members of society."

I agree with you. There is also a recession in play. Teachers have massive job security which other people are not benefiting from. A lot of people are not receiving pay rises at all. Many are being made redundant. Many of these are also important members of society.

I also think that many people who have targets also have their progress monitored to the extent that if they don't meet them, they can be sacked.

"I don't think it is a negative message to children. I think it displays admirable dedication to a cause and makes children consider carefully human rights issues, as they are being directly affected by them."

Well, as you know, I disagree. I don't think one day of striking sends any useful message at all. It is just not long enough to make a meaningful point.

I do concede though that it might teach them something about human rights.