Strike! Strike!

Apparently the teaching unions have announced strike action again.

The article states that this is being proposed due to:

  • salary freezes
  • increased pension contributions
  • rising workload
  • performance related pay

These are all things that worry teachers today. They’d worry anyone who was working, in whatever field you can think of.

But teaching is different, for so many reasons. We all know about the excessive workloads that junior doctors endure, we know that bankers and hedge-fund managers work long hours, we know that vets, paramedics, the police and the fire services can all be on call at antisocial hours. We know that many people in those professions face hard work, long hours and hostility from sectors of the community simply because of the job they choose to do.

But teachers? Nah, they’ve got it easy, innit?

They only work from 9:00 until 3:00, they’ve got at least an hour off for lunch and they get 13 weeks holiday a year. Plus they’ve got a gold-plated pension and a lump-sum at the end of a short career. They all retire at 60, don’t they? Unless they’ve retired early, that is…..

I’ve heard it all so many times. I’ve heard it from friends, family, sometimes even complete strangers. But I’ve only ever heard it from people who don’t teach. I wonder why that is?

I think anyone experiencing management problems in their workplace has the right to strike. I support striking where there is a genuine imbalance of power, leading to a deterioration in working conditions. I support this whether the strikes personally inconvenience me or not.

Most people seem to understand that striking can sometimes be necessary, unless, of course, it is the teaching profession that is threatening to strike. For some reason, we’re ‘not allowed’ to do that, because it is ‘unprofessional’.

Why is there this imbalance in public perception?

I suspect this is due entirely to the publicly perceived face of teaching today. We are seen as shirkers who couldn’t cut it ‘in the real world’. Those who can – do. Those who can’t – teach. The notion is deep-seated in our national conscious, which is odd, given how many people also maintain that they have admiration for teachers, stating that it is a job they couldn’t do.

So what can we, as teachers, expect if this strike goes ahead?

There are some things we know will happen for definite – bad press reports, biased accounts of the strike, complaints from parents because they will have to look after their own children, and a Government who will ignore it all and press ahead with their ‘reforms’.

But there’s something else, something that many people don’t realise. Something that is encountered by any teacher who chooses to strike, and that is emotional blackmail. In many ways it’s more damaging than simple out-and-out blackmail, because it makes one feel like a bad person for not giving in to it.

And who is it that indulges in this emotional blackmail?

Usually it is the headteacher.

That’s right, the person who is supposed to lead and support the staff, uses emotional blackmail as a management tool.

“I know you won’t strike, you wouldn’t want to damage the children’s education”

It’s low, it’s bullying, it’s illegal, and it’s happening in too many schools in the country.

In staffrooms across the land, teachers nod their heads, too scared to speak out and stand up for their rights. Those who are most vocal in their support of this attitude are usually the ones who make it to SMT, so the message goes out – you will only succeed if you follow the head’s lead, no matter how poisonous it may be.

I’ve seen teachers, good teachers, put through hell following their decision to strike. They’ve had to endure meetings with the head the following day in order to explain why they felt it necessary to inconvenience the school; they’ve been publicly scolded in the staffroom; and it has been implied, quite clearly, that such a course of action is not what is expected of the staff, that everyone is part of a ‘team’ and must act in accordance with the team’s best interest.

Later on, there have been references to this ‘lack of professionalism’ and mutterings of the word ‘competency’…..

The message is clear – Don’t strike or you’re out.

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