Teachers' strike: Why I walked out

The popular myth is that teachers start at 9:00 and finish at 3:30. In reality, I work between 50 and 60 hours a week

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The Independent Online

Taking the decision to go on strike when you are in a caring profession such as teaching is always a difficult one to make. You are effectively halting something, albeit for one day, that you passionately care about; children learning and achieving their full potential. So did many teachers, including myself, decide to go on strike and disrupt thousands of schools across the country?

The NUT gave the following three reasons: the impossibly large workload placed on teachers; the introduction of performance related pay; and the changes being made to pensions and the retirement age. All three would be difficult for anyone not in teaching to engage with. Though I initially found it difficult to see these as reasons to strike, what convinced me to do so is the real impact that these issues have on our young people.

Working ridiculous hours to complete tasks that will not have any actual impact on children’s learning means that time spent in the classroom suffers. Teachers are famous for moaning about their jobs, but there is little real recognition of what they do because it is a very complicated business. The popular myth is that teachers start at 9:00 and finish at 3:30. In reality, I work between 50 and 60 hours a week doing such a multitude of tasks outside of teaching hours.

The workload is so huge that a choice must often be made between completing your tasks and living your life. In my first months of teaching I chose the former and realised with horror that even then I was still somehow behind with what I had to do. This has a real impact on children. Being in the classroom is the best part of my job and I love it. However, I admit that if I have worked 50 hours by the time I get to Thursday afternoon, my presence in the classroom is not what it was on Monday morning.

So how does teachers' pay affect children? Performance related pay means, to use government language, that good teachers are rewarded by school leaders for their good work, whilst bad teachers pull themselves up by the bootstraps and raise standards. Anyone with knowledge of how pay increases work in the private sector will know this is naïve nonsense. In reality, pay increases will become political in many schools, with management able to reward those they favour and punish those who step out of line. It is also interesting to note the criteria. It will not be along the lines of: are children happy in themselves and as a result ready to learn? It will be based on statistics as always, which are open to manipulation and interpretation.

Finally, raising the retirement age to 68 and asking teachers to receive less and give more is a clear signal that the Government does not understand what they are asking teachers to do. Considering the amount of evidence that Michael Gove either ignores or rubbishes, this ignorance is starting to look wilful. Many will say that a retirement age of 68 is not uncommon elsewhere, and that the pensions deal is better than most. This is the case, but it really shouldn’t be. We should have higher standards of work everywhere, for a start eliminating zero-hour contracts and raising the minimum wage immediately to come in-line with the cost of living. We need a race to the top, not to the bottom. The method for achieving this is simple: get in a union and go on strike.