This is no time to be monkeying around with teacher pay
Teachers have been busting a gut to keep schools running throughout the recent chaos – and their commitment shouldn’t be taken for granted, says Ann Mroz
There’s a wonderful Polish saying: “Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy” – “Not my circus, not my monkeys”. And a circus aptly describes the education sector – if not the entire country – at the moment. It all feels like we’re living in a surreal, chaotic big top where all the monkeys have hijacked the clown cars and are driving around wildly.
The phrase roughly means, “This isn’t my crazy problem, I don’t want to get involved in it – it’s none of my business”.
Unfortunately, those working in schools and colleges don’t have a choice but to try to make sense of the madness. Amid disruption and suffocating pressure, they have had to bend over backwards to do everything that has been asked of them, all while being sniped at from several directions.
Close but stay open for children of key workers? Tick. Teach remotely? Tick. Open up more widely? Tick. Put in place new systems, new protocols, new ways of working? Tick. Respond swiftly to constantly changing updates and guidance? Tick. Come to work when most of the civil servants telling them what to do stay safely at home? Tick.
While the world around them seems to have lost its collective mind, teachers have stayed calm, doing what they always do, providing normality in the most abnormal of times and giving children the sanctuary they need in a storm of uncertainty and anxiety.
They do it because they really do care, even when events conspire to make it hard to do so. They want to educate children, they want to see them grow, to thrive, to achieve.
Even when they have the golden opportunity never to work again, some still can’t bring themselves to do so immediately and let their pupils down, as we saw last week with the history teacher who won £1 million on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Donald Fear will teach until the end of term – because if he went before that, “how unfair to my A-level students that would be?”
But we cannot leave this commitment unacknowledged or take it for granted. We are now entering an unpredictable time. Headteachers are dealing with cases of Covid-19 in their schools and are taking great care to prevent their spread, with all the operational nightmare involved. There could very well be a second wave of the virus this autumn/winter, but the government will be doing everything it can to keep schools open.
For, if they close down, so does much of the country. That’s not to relegate teachers to babysitter status; it’s just a fact of life. If children can’t go to school, their parents can’t work and the economy grinds to a halt. And if schools close in the winter months, the consequences for cooped-up children could be even worse than over the summer.
Never have teachers been more vital than now. So if anyone deserves a damn good pay rise at this time, it’s teachers (and obviously NHS workers).
It is particularly disheartening, then, to see the government being cynically divisive by proposing to give most teachers and leaders only 2.75 per cent, while raising starting salaries by 5.5 per cent.
Of course, we need to tempt more people to enter the profession but we really, really need to make sure we hold on to the ones that we’ve got. We cannot afford to lose them. If anyone deserves a salary increase, it’s those who have been coming to work day in, day out, and doing the job under the most difficult and stressful circumstances.
We need to reward school leaders and teachers who have been busting a gut to open schools and to keep them running in the midst of this three-ring circus. The government isn’t renowned for doing the right thing, but I’ll be happy to be a monkey’s uncle if it does.
This article originally appeared in the 18 September 2020 issue