I’m struggling to find a point of view on the Union-led strikes this Thursday over the massive cuts/changes to public sector pension schemes. I don’t have a public pension — when I started teaching at 23 I opted out of the pension scheme because it took a fair chunk out of my wages and I already needed to pay back an extensive student debt. I was, however, fully aware of the fact that I’d have to work past 60 for it to be worthwhile.
The thing is, as I’ve gotten older, my outlook on the world and how the general public view teachers has changed considerably. There seems to be a great deal that people don’t know about what teachers do, what they go through, what they have to put up with: all they see is the school holidays and think how much better our lives must be because we get “so much” paid time off work.
When I was teaching full time, my average work day was from 8am-10pm, Monday to Friday. I’d be at school until after 5:30pm most nights, so the argument that we finish the same time as students can be scratched right off, and most teachers I’ve known take home piles of paperwork/marking to finish at home with a relaxing glass of wine or with their TV/music on in the background. As an English teacher, I was forever marking exercise books until late in the night, and often I’d have two or three hours to do on Saturday and Sunday too.
I’m sure it doesn’t take everyone that long, but I’ve always been pretty diligent and, hopefully, constructive with my marking, so each book could take a while. Even when I was teaching full time I remember reading stories in the press about how teachers weren’t doing their jobs right, and I was always determined to not be one of “those” teachers.
The question that this raises in my mind, however, is how many teachers would be able to keep up the pace until they’re 68, or whatever the age they want to raise retirement to? Teaching is a hard enough job when you’re young, let alone as you get older. Moreover, you begin to lose that connection to the age groups you teach. Students are generally surprised that I’m as in touch with current trends as I am, but that’s more because I spend too much time on the internet than anything else. Full time teachers don’t have the “luxury” of my hours/flexibility.
I read a post just this evening about how the pension cuts and raising of retirement age will affect other public sector professions. Do we really want to see 68 year old doctors and nurses in our hospitals and surgeries? While it is certainly true that we as a species are living longer thanks to better medicines and healthcare, it is still a truism that past 60 the faculties begin to deteriorate, however slowly. In teachers, the burnout and chances of breakdown are even greater. What happens to the teacher who has an emotional breakdown at 50? They still have to serve 18 more years in order to collect their pension? Maybe it just stems from my complete lack of understanding of how pension schemes actually work, but the thought of having to take a lessened pension simply because the profession had got to me and I was forced to quit doesn’t sit well with me. Of course, this is the same with any profession, I imagine.
I suppose my biggest worry is that when teachers have finally had enough of the profession they might have to try and find some other work or live off a greatly reduced pension. What other jobs does teaching actually prepare you for? Not much, really. It is one of the reasons I’m back doing supply teaching, because after eight years in the profession it’s really all I know. Sure I have my writing and my art, and I hope some day within the next year or two to begin making money from the former, but most career teachers don’t have the time or energy to pursue such a mentally-demanding path. (Or maybe ’tis just me that finds it so mentally demanding xD)
So anyways, I’ve not really gotten to or made any kind of point, I don’t think. Do I recognise the need to reduce the country’s national deficit, yes. But I’m not sure taking such a huge slice out of the public sector like this is the way forwards. These are people who often don’t earn all that much in the first place, in vocations that require a high amount of skill, dedication, and pure time. Doctors, nurses, teachers, emergency service: all get an atrocious rap in the Press; and yet I firmly believe that we rank and file are all incredible value for money — especially when overshadowed by the banks and their managers who got us into this mess in the first place.
Reduce the debts, sure — but concentrate on the people who can afford to help, first.