Thursday, August 12, 2010

Teacher's strike - professional babysitters

This week saw a one day's strike by government employed teachers. Why? Well, for lots of reasons. I know that many of the public don't really understand the reasons for the strike, and think that we teachers are just being selfish. Of course, I disagree, but let me explain why.

What does a typical work week look like for me? I work, on average, a 40hr week, which includes teaching lessons, cooler lessons (where I get to supervise the kids that get thrown out of class), substitution lessons (where I get to babysit for teachers who are off sick), subject meetings, management meetings and sport extra-murals.

On average, I get a 5 min tea break around 10am, and about 10 mins lunch break around 1pm. I'm supposed to get a 20 min tea break and a 20-25 min lunch break, but I'm often either working or meeting with pupils, so I either don't get to take them, or get a dramatically reduced break. Unlike other occupations, I cannot go and have tea (or take a loo break) whenever I feel the need. The ONLY opportunities I have for these things are the official break times.

Now, notice that nowhere in all of the above is there any time allocated to lesson preparation, marking or attending parent-teacher meetings. Those are IN ADDITION to my 40hr work week. Notice that there is also no time allocated there to the admin tasks that come with my job - like record keeping (code for: catching up on paperwork for naughty kids so that when we have a hearing to have that child expelled there is sufficient evidence of misbehaviour to warrant an expulsion OR sorting out the paperwork associated with being a tutor - attendance records, detention records, etc) or managing my inbox. Neither is there any time allocated to being a mentor (I have 3 kids I don't teach that I mentor). Neither is there any time allocated to setting tests and exams, or printing of worksheets/ notes/ tests or attending ProGro (professional growth) weekends away.

So when does all this extra work take place? At night and over weekends. On average I would say I spend anywhere between a further 2 and 15 hours a week doing all of that stuff.

Some people have commented to say, with a sneer in their voice, that I am obviously trying to be a "good" teacher. What they mean is that they think all the extra time I put in is because I either don't have a social life, or don't want a social life, or because I'm just too committed to my job. When we were discussing this in the staff room today, one of my colleagues commented: so do they want us to be BAD teachers then? Do they want us NOT to prepare lessons or mark the kids work? Do they want us NOT to prepare the youth for the future when they will be leading us, employing us, healing us?

Teachers supposedly get such great holidays. In fact, many people have commented that we've just had a 5 week paid holiday, so why are we up in arms and striking. We've clearly got it so good.

Yes, let's think about those holidays, shall we? We started work this year on 11th January. Our first "holiday" was on 29th March. We got 2 weeks. Although we did go away for 1 week, I spent the other week working:

*I gave a workshop to teachers from under-resourced schools on how to do practicals in Bio without having lots of expensive equipment.
*I set an exam and a test.
*I marked a set of projects and a set of reports from a field trip.
*I put together a financial plan for a revision workshop for the matrics.
*I put together a revision cd-rom for the matrics.

Back at work for the second term, and after several weeks, we were on holiday again on the 11th June. Supposedly for 5 weeks. What did I do?

Well, I had 10 days away on holiday (including weekends) and then was back at work. This time I was:

*preparing two revision modules covering half the matric syllabus
*planning and preparing for the revision workshops (Graeme & I organised the whole thing)
*preparing the school diary for 2011 (I publish a diary that is tailored to the school so has lesson times and all the calendar events already in it, etc, etc)
*running the revision workshops
*delivering two modules at the revision workshop
*preparing and planning various items for the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists
*preparing lessons for the 3rd term
*sourcing material to use in the matric mock exams

So, thus far we're 7 months into the year and I have had 2.5 weeks holiday.

Okay, end of this term (which is still 5 weeks away) we get one week. What will I be doing? I will get 5 days at home as a single parent as Graeme is away on a ProGro, and then I'm taking about 20 kids to a science Expo in Pretoria for 4 days. During the 5 days while I'm at home, I will also have to:

*make final preparations for the 2011 Science Fair, which will actually begin in the first week of the 4th term
*prepare the sets/ classes for Life Sciences for 2011, including sorting out the current Gd 9s who are choosing LS for Gd 10 and putting them into correct sets (balancing sexes, abilities, races, etc, etc, etc)
*prepare final revision lessons for matrics
*prepare lessons for the other grades
*set exams for the start of November

Then we'll be into the 4th term, with all the stress of final exams. Of course, I've applied to be a matric marker, which means that I will finish work at school 3 days early... so all my marking and reports, as well as all my admin as head of subject, have to be finished 3 days early. Then while other teachers may be on holiday, I will still be working and marking - probably until the 16th December. I will then get about 3 weeks' holiday until I have to be back at work for 2011.

S0 - grand total of ACTUAL holiday in a year: 5 weeks.

So I work at least 40hrs a week, often as much as 50hrs in a week. I don't get the sort of tea & lunch breaks that you get in other jobs. I get 5 weeks of actual holiday. And what do I get paid for this? A first year teacher gets less than R10 000 a month. Most teachers earn between R12-R15000 a month.

Do you still think we're unjustified in striking when we're asking for a living wage?

The government has offered us R630 a month for housing, when they're currently paying Eskom workers R1500 a month. Seriously? More importantly though, they've broken their promises to us. 3 years ago they promised that they would sort out the medical aid debacle. Oh? You don't know about that?

It's simple - they will give you an EXTRA R1000 a month if you join the GOVERNMENT medical aid. If you join any other medical aid, you lose R1000 a month. Effectively, they are forcing all their employees to join their scheme - which is completely unethical.

They also promised us the salary progression scales would be 1.5%, but now they're only willing to give us 1%.

They gave Eskom workers and steel workers a cost-of-living increase that was in the 20% bracket, but they won't give us the 8.6% we have asked for. Instead, they've offered us 6.5%. Seriously? 22% or 25%, compared to 6.5%?

They promised to back date our cost of living increase to April. Now they're reneging and saying they will only pay it from July.

Add up all of these, and you're looking at about R20 000 a year - that's about R1500 extra a month. And we're not even demanding that they pay us what they're paying other civil servants or parastatals.

But an extra R1500 a month would mean that I could actually pay back my bond interest PLUS some capital, instead of my repayments bouncing once in every 3 months. Or it would mean that I don't have to get to the end of every month and worry that I don't have enough money to buy enough electricity to last till the end of the month.

So - do you still think that the teacher's strike is unwarranted? Don't you think I'm WORTH an extra R1500 a month? Seriously? When you look at what I do, and how hard I work, and when you consider the fact that I am training the future leaders, engineers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, policemen, judges, lawyers, IT guys, etc, etc of this country - don't you think I deserve to be paid more than a professional babysitter gets?
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