After 30 years, I'm closing my classroom door and opening a new one at the EIS

24th February 2012 at 00:00
Making a transition from teacher to trade union official feels strange, but in a good way

I've got a new job. Starting in April I'll be working full-time for the EIS (which probably means that this will be my last regular column for TESS). As part of the pre-appointment protocols I had to attend an occupational health check. Arriving at the surgery I was required to fill in a questionnaire; when it came to occupation I automatically began to fill in "teacher" until I realised the check was required for the post I was taking up - so I quickly utilised the "t" I had written to complete the title "trade union official". It felt strange.

Before applying for the post I had given considerable thought to the fact that I would be giving up a career I have enjoyed for over 30 years. It was a difficult decision. Teaching brings many rewards, not least being in constant interaction with the inquisitive minds of our young people.

It also has its fair share of stresses and strains, but much of this often stems from factors external to the classroom. For many teachers, certainly for me, that classroom space is a sanctum from bureaucracy and distraction, a place where you are able to focus on the key aspect of teaching and learning - the real day job.

I will certainly miss the pupils. Some of them may even miss me: "Who's going to call us numpties now?" wailed one of my first-years, on hearing the news that I would be leaving (context is everything).

On the plus side, I am looking forward to the "challenges" of my new post: the pensions dispute is on-going; LNCT negotiations continue around McCormac's recommendations; the problem of supply teachers needs to be re- visited and resolved; it's make or break time for Curriculum for Excellence in the secondary sector; teachers are burdened with workload overload while suffering a continued pay freeze; FE is facing radical restructuring; we have local government elections on the horizon which may precipitate changes to the nature of council structures; and there's an economic crisis festering away in the background. Even an electronic in- tray may be near to capacity with that lot.

If progress is to be made on any of these matters, however, it is essential that dialogue is maintained and that decision makers and politicians, national and local, actually listen to the voice of teachers, as expressed through their representative organisations, primarily the teacher trade unions.

Teaching in Scotland remains a highly unionised occupation. Few teachers are not members of one of the several professional associations. The need for so many bodies is an area for debate itself, but it's clear that teachers are not content to be passive recipients of wisdom from on high - as the practitioners charged with delivering our education service, no one is better placed than they are to understand the key priorities and issues.

I look forward to representing that constituency over the next few years.

Larry Flanagan, General secretary designate of the EIS takes up his new post in April.

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