The issues of teachers today are far greater, far more important than a simple ‘lets muddle through’ attitude can respond to. Current teachers pay, the pupil-teacher ratio, CPD, new teacher salaries, reductions in capitation grants and cuts to small rural schools are not just teachers issues though, they’re not just education issues, these are issues that affect society as a whole. The issues of teachers are the issues of education and education goes beyond individuals.
When ‘austerity’ (that awful word which means puritanical hardship) arrived in 2008, the issue for education was fairness in the cutbacks, and though the point was well put, through demonstrations, delegations, interviews and even a strike day, the debate (such as it was) was lost. Now the issue is no longer just cuts but the long term damage being done to education.
So far the austeratchiks have won, if we lie down in front of their bulldozers, we will be crushed. So we need to resist it whatever way we can. So many of us accept the pain and move on, we muddle through. But we need to restore education and teaching to where they belong: at the centre of a functioning society.
We need to stand up.
The stories of young underpaid teachers, of teachers who double job, of teachers unable to get a full week’s regular work, the myths of a permanent job for life, all these will have to be told. The stories of schools fitting kids into bigger and bigger classes, of subjects disappearing, of support for the most in need being cut, of extra-curricular activities being squeezed, all of these and more will have to reach the public consciousness. The experiences of teachers, parents, students who only want the best and can only offer their best, will have to be heard. No amount of massaging of stats or misrepresenting analysis will conceal the commitment daily made to make education work and provide a channel for betterment for thousands of young people.
Education now is paralysed by fear, it has been for four years, fear of where the next cut will come from. Of all public places schools should be secure and immune from that fear created by those same austeratchiks that threaten the security of every family home and every job. In place of that fear we need the peace that comes from feeling a sense of belonging, nobody feels a sense of belonging now. Who would claim to have ownership of this debacle? Everyone wants to escape from the crumbling wreck, the bankruptcy of nation and government. Shouldn’t we be allowed to protect ourselves, our wages, our work, our children, our society from this speculative and unsafe bargain we have been sold?
We have to stand up.
For the last four years we have been crippled by governments who don’t listen, who can’t see and who abrogate responsibility for their actions to outside forces. When we need to be led we are led astray. We had ten years at the trough of plenty and now we are asked to pay the price of the mistakes of banks on top of our own zeal? The mirage of plenty has disappeared to reveal an education system that was never treasured, never rewarded with investment, never given credit.
And yet to listen to the public commentary it appears powerful voices want to sacrifice public services in order to maintain a system that was indifferent to those public services in the first place. These voices, this mob, regard us as an obstacle to their agenda and they will burn the worker before they burn any bondholder. This is their opportunity. Never have they had an opportunity like this to lend legitimacy to the Thatcherite propaganda which lauds the disappearing state and their hatred of those who work for the benefit of society. To paraphrase FDR we welcome their hatred. Because they are the very ones who set worker against worker in the bear pit of tv debate, their agenda is as transparent as the Emperor’s New Clothes. They are the ones who exploited the state for their own largess in the salad days and now tell us we can’t continue to live beyond our means.
Why shouldn’t we want to improve the conditions of teachers, aren’t the conditions of a teacher a boon for her students? Why should we be embarrassed to demand better wages for the heirs to our jobs, isn’t a well rewarded worker a more motivated worker? Why shouldn’t we want to protect our comrades from unemployment, our retired friends from need, our young teachers from unscrupulous managers? We should cling to the idea that without the work teachers do, everyone would be less well off, how many economists can say that? This isn’t blind faith of hyperbole, and I’m sure those who speak ill have stopped reading by now, but appreciating education is central to any recovery of a nation’s self-respect.
We need to stand together though, we need to show everyone we are all on the same side.
So, if you have no chance of promotion because of the Public Service moratorium stand up;
if you’re a Guidance Counsellor stand up;
if you are a non-permanent teacher stand up;
if your school has cut a subject or a programme because of cutbacks stand up;
if you teach classes with 30 students in the room stand up;
if you deliver Croke Park hours on top of extracurricular work stand up;
if cuts to teacher allocations are putting your job at risk stand up;
if you teach in a DEIS school stand up;
if you pay a levy on your pension stand up;
if you’re a pensioner get someone to help you to stand up!
We are all in this together.
Send out that message: we will stand up for each other, because if they divide us, we will fail.
Stand up for teachers, stand up for education, stand for a better society.