More to the job than a pension

28th April 2006 at 01:00
It is a terrible thing to admit but whenever I see Wendy coming, I hide.

She is a long-serving teacher of geography. Talking to her fills me with depression. She has only one topic of conversation.

"Is there a pension deal?"

She asks this same question with grim regularity. Her life has become a quest for this elusive Holy Grail.

She feels sorry for herself, no question. Other people in the past have had legendary retirement packages. Now that her time is approaching, such benefits are not available. How can life have dealt her such a cruel trick of fate?

If there were net curtains in her classroom they would be forever twitching. Constantly watching others, convinced that they have a better deal, a better timetable, more money, better furniture.

Her quest consumes her with unexpected passion. She is scared that others have had something that she will not get. But will it make her happy? Of course not. It is not about material wealth or a comfortable and fulfilled old age. It is about desperately seeking status. Being valued. Once she has left school, what will there be to value her? Very little, I suspect.

Her length of service in the school should apparently give her privileges.

But this length of service is all she can offer. And it is no substitute for a continuing belief in self-improvement. As the old adage would have it, what has Wendy done? Thirty-five years in the school? Or one year in school 35 times?

Even if we stay in our school for a long time, our professionalism must remain undimmed.

Ambition is not necessarily a good thing. And to stay in one school for all your career shows remarkable devotion and loyalty - as long as there has been evolution and development. We all need new challenges. But no one is rewarded merely for long service that takes no account of the students.

That is the deal we signed up to.

I understand that Wendy needs the most favourable pension to embrace a happy old age. I understand that it can become a pretty pressing issue for many of us. But commitment to the pupils and their progress cannot take second place to such endless self interest. Our work has to be the priority.

We must all be united by our responsibility to our schools. We are paid to be there. If we do not like it, we should go off and find something else to do. For if our job does not touch lives in a positive way, it is not worth doing.

Ian Roe is a teacher in north Wales.

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