During the past few weeks we have witnessed a totally unusual situation, namely a strike of teachers, which my humble self had a chance to take an active part in. I’m a teacher with 5 years of work experience in state schools and it never occurred to me to think of such a moment, in which people would be really so much hard-pressed to decide to leave their working site for almost 3 weeks, knowing that expressing their protest would cost them not only losing their salaries, but also being blamed by an uninformed society, which totally – without a second thought – believes in everything presented on TV and other media spreading endless propaganda.
I’m not sure, at which point people’s minds have been filled with stereotypes not having much to do with reality. These false believes totally undermine the teaching profession, while in fact everyone has to deal with teachers for several long years in a lifetime. I know that I won’t probably manage to convince everyone to my point of view, but frankly speaking I don’t really care about that at the moment. Why? This strike gave me more than losing my salary, it made me believe in myself and it made me resistant to people, who have quite huge problems with an objective look at the issues concerning education and the person of a teacher – a captive of a faulty system created by the state. At this point I’d like to express immense thanks to parents, students and everyone who supported our strike, despite all the inconveniences they had to go through. I can’t also forget about my wonderful colleagues who took part in the strike with me – they turned out to be incredible companions in misery, they also proved to have an exceptional quality. These people know the true meaning of solidarity, honor and strength of spirit.
I decided to debunk a few myths which are willingly presented by media to the society, which have not much to do with the reality. P.S. There are loads of such false believes, which literally pop up like mushrooms. However, because of the fact that I work in education, I’ll try to focus only on the most important ones.
1.18-hour working week – it’s very naive to think that teachers are paid solely and exclusively for several hours long work in the classroom. We are obliged to follow a 40-hour working week. What’s more, there are months in which working hours are longer and our salaries don’t go up as expected. All the parent-teacher meetings, conferences, trainings take place in the afternoons and quite frequently last for long hours. Besides this, preparing lessons, checking students’ works and tests also belong to time-consuming activities. At the time of exams we are sent to different schools not only during our work time, not to mention excursions during which we are responsible for students outside school. It’s worth remembering that there are teachers who work more than 18 hours per week in the classroom, which restricts the time they can devote to extra activities during a 40-hour working week.
2.3-months long holidays during a year – to the casual observer it may look like a land flowing with milk and honey, and in reality there’s nothing more deceptive than this belief. In recent times, Christmas and Easter breaks have been taken away from us, which means that despite the fact that students have days off and are not present at school, teachers need to come to work even though they have managed to complete all their duties before the earlier mentioned breaks. When it comes to summer holidays they’re not always fully free, as to the teacher’s duties also belong recruitment, vocational and make-up examinations, conferences, creating lesson plans for the following school year and other responsibilities which can be assigned by the principal. Besides this, we have no possibility to choose the time of our holidays, so we have to make use of the offers in high season, which are much more expensive than the ones out of season. If we need a few days off during the school year, we need to take unpaid leave, which doesn’t really have to be given to us.
3.Education should be free of charge – in Poland it’s truly difficult, as when students and their parents don’t buy coursebooks or don’t pay for photocopies necessary to carry out a given lesson – all the expenses are on the side of a teacher and the money is never given back. Besides this, classroom decorations, contest prizes, stationery and other educational aids are often financed by us, as the school needs are sometimes bigger than the resources allocated to this purpose. Unfortunately, no one ever asks a question where the money came from for my photocopies if I didn’t pay for them?
4.Teachers are hopeless, that’s why kids need to attend private lessons – even though I like and respect teenagers as such, at this point my opinion is slightly different. One could partly blame the education system, which is not efficient enough. Besides this, being a foreign language teacher I can say that classes or groups are often too numerous to allow teachers to work with students more individually. Sometimes the main problem occurs to be student’s attitude towards a given subject. It has happened that I encountered difficulties because teenagers are very often not fully able to estimate which skills will be essential for them on the labor market. It is widely known that the knowledge of foreign languages is quite important, but unfortunately the student’s attitude tends to be focused only on the here and now. While trying to carry out conversations with teenagers, who have been learning English for many years, it happens that I ask questions and I answer them on my own. A common argument presented by students is being discouraged by previous failures or teachers, despite the fact that all the teenagers attending my lessons know that the atmosphere during them is positive and conversations are never assessed negatively. If a student, during the whole high school education, is resistant to being convinced to take an active part in the classroom conversations, then before matura exam he or she needs to resort to private lessons, which otherwise could be totally unnecessary.
5.Teachers’ salaries are high – this kind of propaganda has been recently spread by the government presenting salaries which most of us have never had an opportunity to receive even in the dirtiest and wildest dreams. What’s more, being a teacher with 5 years of work experience I don’t have credit rating, and being a single at the same time makes it very difficult for me to buy my own flat … every year, I sign a new contract, so theoretically I never know what’s waiting for me in September.
The teachers’ strike in Poland has been suspended, despite the fact that lots of us are still determined to continue our fight. It’s also true that not only teachers should get a pay raise, however while working in education, I refrain from judging different professions since I don’t really know much about them. I’d also like other people, who find it very easy to criticize teachers and education workers, to present the same attitude as mine. My dear hater, you were taught by someone how to read and write, someone prepared you for your profession … you weren’t born alpha and omega, that’s why do not forget about the importance of education in the human life. What’s more, the strike has bared disrespectful attitude of the state towards the profession of a teacher. Moreover, the government trying to pull the wool over teachers’ eyes by apparent increasing the salaries, which after a careful calculation turned out to be a reduction … Attention, you can’t play tricks on us! It’s plausible that many teachers won’t decide to go on strike in September again after seeing the effects of dialog with the government or their lack. It can also happen that a great number of amazing pedagogues will leave their professions not seeing future financial prospects, as well as education improvement possibilities. I also assume that workplace reality after the strike may be even harder than before. There’s nothing worse than people deprived of their dignity, expectations and dreams, who are still willing to teach future generations well. Working at school is probably a kind of a mission, but we also want to get a proper payment for the actions we take. It’s widely known that happy employees are also good employees. How about you? Do you support Polish teachers?
See you around!