How low can we go?

16th February 2007 at 00:00
Let's face it. Teachers are not highly thought of. Despite the burning jealousy they regularly excrete about our holidays, our "massive" 23 per cent pay increase and our "gold-plated pensions", few of our critics seek to join us in our pedagogic paradise.

The profession has sunk: sunk from the core of the community once occupied by the dominie; sunk from a post-war high when it was broadly comparable with law and medicine in public esteem; sunk to the level of talismanic scapegoat and panacea for most of society's ills.

Various theories have been advanced to explain this sorry phenomenon. The expansion of the education system might well have generated the contempt bred from familiarity, the decline of salaries relative to other traditional professions, even post McCrone (general practitioners, for example), and the rise of well-paid new professions in this Mammon-worshipping age have all contributed to the process of erosion.

And let us not forget the hostility with which a large and expanding group of our fellow citizens view education and the educated. All of these factors are important to some degree, but they are all outwith our control.

Within our control, however, has been the main reason for our historic slump in esteem - that is, the profession's own manifest contempt for teaching.

By arguing for, and securing, during the 1970s and 1980s, an organisational structure in schools that elevated management and pastoral care above teaching, teachers were openly denigrating the essence of their professionalism. For example, guidance principal teachers could be relieved of class teaching for half of their timetables, or more, to concentrate on their other work.

No one is arguing that this work is not important. But the fact that teachers were relieved of teaching duties, given enhanced status and a salary bolstered by the shockingly entitled "responsibility" payments sent out a message first to teachers and then to the world at large: if you want to get ahead in teaching, get as far away from teaching as possible. If you made it to senior management, you could avoid classes for most of the week, and if you became a headteacher, you need never teach again.

Can you imagine a parallel situation in, for example, medicine, with those who would have been top consultants enjoying life as hospital administrators while medicine was practised by the "junior" staff who just didn't have what it takes to "progress"?

The teachers' agreement recognised this glaring anomaly and made a modest proposal towards eliminating it by creating the chartered teacher post. By rewarding teachers with advanced qualifications and higher salaries for actually teaching pupils, this was a conceptual commitment to the re-professionalisation of our work. It comes at a time when enhanced professionalism will be required.

The chartered teacher is a model for the Teacher For Excellence, without whom there will be no successful implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence. The present review of chartered teachers ordered by Hugh Henry, the Education Minister, must recognise this and resist any pressure to absorb the post into another layer of management or, in other words, to destroy the post and, with it, the concept of recreating teaching as a profession.

The course for chartered teachers must be made more accessible. We have sunk low enough.

Jack Ferguson is on the chartered teacher course and works at Greenfaulds High, Cumbernauld

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