Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A house of straw?

It was my birthday on Sunday, and I went out for breakfast to a large hotel with some of my colleagues.  After breakfast, while I went down to the pool to relax, the other 3 went off to work on reports.  Several hours later, they re-emerged for an hour or so.  I thought about these dedicated colleagues, how they work from 7.40 am to 4 pm every day at school, then spend several hours preparing and marking student work in the evenings, and then at weekends they are still spending hours on work-related tasks.  When I got home I found that someone had shared a LinkedIn article with me entitled A Sustainable Future in Education.  It was written by Lesley Murrihy, a principal at a school in New Zealand, who was basically asking the same questions that I was thinking about that day - she was asking is it sustainable for education continue to rely on the goodwill of teachers?  At what point are teachers going to say "enough" and vote with their feet?

Lesley points out that it's not simply that the amount of "stuff" that teachers do that has increased, it's also that teachers are now called upon to function at higher cognitive levels.  She gives examples of having to spend hours collaborating with colleagues and differentiating the curriculum for students - and of course she agrees that these things are completely necessary because conscientious teachers want to ensure that they are meeting the needs of each and every student.  However she also writes about something that I recognise in myself:  that being so conscientious and sacrificing my personal life, health and wellbeing is in fact contributing to the problem we are now facing - and those entering the profession are simply not prepared to sacrifice in the same way.  They are demanding more of a work-life balance, and if they can't get it in teaching they are choosing other jobs.  Lesley writes:
Our current education system has been built on the goodwill and the sacrifice of educators like me; and what we have created is nothing but the illusion of change because what we have created is not sustainable in the long term.
Like Lesley, I realise that in a few years I will retire, and even though I recently read on the BBC website that there are plans to increase the retirement age to 70 in the UK, I'm thinking that even if I'm forced to work up to that age, I won't be able to do this as a primary school teacher.  Once our "baby boomer" generation of teachers retires, the new generation of teachers appear to be less willing that we were to live lives the way we did.  If we are told that young people today could have as many as 20 jobs before the age of 40 - then clearly they are not going to be sticking around very long in a profession that doesn't give them the opportunity for work-life balance.  Lesley writes:
We have built a house of straw that will fall down when it is no longer propped up by the goodwill and sacrifice of the workers .... teachers should be able to work a 45-hour week, and not feel duty-bound to work all the hours under the sun.
The last time I taught 12th Graders was in 2009 - those students are now all aged 26 which means many of them have been working for 4-5 years.  Interestingly many of these young people , who are still at the start of their careers, are earning as much as teachers get at the top of the pay scale.  And these Millennials are working 5-6 hours a day, often with large bonuses and other benefits.  One of my son's friends who left university with him and trained as a teacher, taught for 2 years and has already left the profession.  It doesn't meet his criteria for a "good job".  Lesley writes that education must reinvent itself as a "sustainable undertaking".  She asks, what are we going to do to keep Millennials in teaching?

Does this article resonate with you in the same way it does with me?  Drop me a comment and let me know your thoughts.

Photo Credit: Infomastern Flickr via Compfight cc

1 comment:

  1. Excellent read Maggie! This is an area of concern for leaders and teachers alike.