Longing to relax in an office job

Michael De Laine

DENMARK. Sunday is World Teachers' Day, but the event is one of protest rather than celebration. The TES reports from around the globe on staff depressed by the decline in their status and pay.

After his first year as a teacher, Ulf Wolff-Jacobsen was so exhausted by 10-hour days in a system short of cash that he wanted an office job where he could go home and relax at 4pm.

Teaching at a secondary school in Copenhagen where demanding 16 and 17-year-olds "eat you alive", Ulf feels that society regards teachers as lepers. "My pupils, colleagues and school value me as a teacher. But the public and the system do not."

Newspapers and politicians say teachers do not work hard enough; and they want to cut costs further. Teachers' salaries, which account for 70 per cent of the school budget, are about equal to nurses' salaries but below police officers'.

Ulf teaches a curriculum that is determined by what the pupils (who are taking a voluntary extra year) are to be examined in. He says: "I'm responsible for the methods used but decisions and plans are made jointly with the pupils. "

There has been talk of using half the time teachers spend preparing lessons on active teaching. "Preparation time is extremely important," says Ulf, aged 30, who has four years of training and two years' experience as a multi-subject class teacher. "Obviously, a new teacher must use a lot of time getting things ready - more experienced teachers are better at structuring their work and can do more."

Ulf was involved with many extra-curricular activities last year, ranging from preparing school outings to writing aptitude declarations. "Because this work is invisible, it's lumped together with timetabled work," he says.

Only about 1.6 per cent of the teachers' union's 53,355 members are out of work, and many schools in thinly-populated areas are taking on untrained teachers.

"Schools were closed in the 1970s and 1980s as the birth-rate fell; now the birth-rate is rising quickly, but there isn't a brass farthing for new schools, repairs or books," Ulf says. "We rank very low. Many schools in Copenhagen have books from the 1960s and 1970s."

Ulf believes that education minister Ole Vig Jensen's recent visions about a national competence system are "just right".

"We must increase quality in schools. We've had plans like this before, but every time there's been less money for schools," he says. "If we're to have a better school system in Denmark, we must value teachers more and stop the cost-cutting."

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