What keeps me awake at night - We've fallen into the Government's trap

16th December 2011 at 00:00

I experienced a familiar sinking feeling as I left my union meeting last month. The purpose of the meeting - to announce that our members had voted overwhelmingly to strike on 30 November - was as expected as it was inevitable but, all the same, I felt physically ill.

It's not that I didn't agree with the action - I voted reluctantly in favour - or that, as an employee in one of the growing number of "anti-union" schools and academies, I was slightly apprehensive about the prospect of repercussions. It was more the dawning fear that we, as a profession, were about to be drawn into an elaborate, painstakingly prepared trap.

There had been plenty of predictable tub-thumping at the meeting; our rep, an unreconstructed, unashamed 1980s unionista, barely drew breath as she complained of the unfairness of the situation and how the Government was in for an almighty shock come 30 November.

I agreed with much of what she said: the Government's calculated assault on the teaching profession is neither just, fair nor necessary. The problem is that Joe Public doesn't care about what's fair at a time when the average working man is seeing his own standard of living downgraded dramatically. In fact, judging by the red tops and the social networking sites, a big proportion of the public is finding the notion of us "greedy, work-shy, incompetent" teachers being shorn of our cushy, "gold-plated" pensions pretty damn cathartic.

If only our unions had chosen to highlight the fact that these changes will be seriously detrimental to childrens' education (has anyone really pressed home the question of whose interests are served by having tired 68-year-olds shuffling around our nation's classrooms?) rather than focusing on the "fairness" angle, perhaps we'd have more of a chance of winning a few hearts and minds.

What is more, the notion that the Government was in for a shock when we downed board pens is just plain ludicrous; they've spent the best part of two years setting us up as near-hate figures in the media (we even copped the blame for the summer riots in some quarters!) and now we're going to prove to the baying mob that we are indeed the feckless, treacherous part-timers that they've been encouraged to round upon.

If it wasn't so depressing, it'd be laughable.

The worst of it is, contrary to popular opinion, I didn't want to miss a day's work. And I certainly didn't want to cause disruption to my school or the community I serve. I love my job and I have a sense of obligation to the young people I work with but, like many of my colleagues, I felt we had been backed into a corner.

Our union rep was right about a couple of things: changes to teachers' pensions aren't right, fair or necessary; and, sadly, inaction wasn't an option. So, although I didn't sleep well on 29 November, I supported the industrial action. I didn't feel I had any choice.

The writer is a secondary teacher in the North West. To tell us what keeps you awake at night email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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