I should be very clear about this. Nobody enters teaching because the salary is great. Though why this is so sometimes baffles me. Governments (including those in waiting) often talk about wanting a ‘world class education system’ yet somehow fail to realise that this costs money. The old adage remains unlearned – “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”…that applies to both personnel and resources. The fact that, for example, 80% of the Irish education budget is spent on salaries, doesn’t necessarily say anything about SO much being spent on pay. It can say as much about how little is spent on resourcing schools. Yes, if less was spent on pay, there would be more money to spend on resources. But see the adage above.
I should also be clear about how much Irish teachers are paid. Irish salaries are above OECD average. But as any economist worth their salt will tell you, it makes no sense to talk about pay without talking about prices. And as we know in Ireland, prices are still very high by EU and US standards. So the pay thing is relative. And pay and conditions are worse for younger teachers than for older ones because of changes in tenureship, salary scales and pensions.
There are many reason why people enter teaching; but it isn’t always for the teaching either.
I think I know why I entered teaching. It wasn’t to change the world or to make a difference. I may have been idealistic once but I was never that stupid. It has more to do with that which was expected of me at the age of 4 when my new-born baby sister came home from the hospital. And one event in school at the age of 7 when I was asked by a boy if I would tie his shoe lace – I said I would show him how to tie his lace instead! I tried to escape this destiny/fate/God’s plan/psychological programming but to no avail. It may be I am here for a reason, but it is equally likely that I am just here.
I haven’t grown to love teaching – I have always loved it, as much then as now. It would take more than a few wild horses to drag from away from the ‘chalkboard’. Teaching is exhilarating (except when Jonny’s dog has spilt coffee on his homework that his little sister tore up and left on the kitchen table!). It’s six hours on stage every day, five days a week. Ask an actor what that is like. There is nothing quite like the pleasure of seeing a child light up with the enjoyment of an ‘aha!’ moment – even if that child is 18! I think is a ‘job’ I would literally give up my life to do – and given the mortality rates of teachers post-retirement, I very may well be doing that.
Done right, it’s incredibly demanding – physically and mentally. ‘Switching off’ isn’t something that can always be done once the bell rings at 4pm. It takes a while to wind down and even then, one can still end up thinking how to handle an incident, or a particular students’ progress or even relations with a colleague. Ask a counsellor what that is like. Anyway, all of this means that little things can make all the difference. Today someone handed me a little difference.
I have a boy in one class (let me call him ‘Jim’ because that is not his name Scotty!) who is most likely in the top 5%. I say ‘most likely’ because he hasn’t been tested. And he doesn’t need to be either. He has no learning issues that need a diagnosis to enable planning. But he is very very capable. ‘Nuf said.
I haven’t ‘resolved‘ as a teacher to push him or enrich his learning. It is something I do ‘naturally’. Not that individual ‘enrichment’ is part of my job description. There isn’t really a ‘job description’ as such for Irish teachers. But it was important for me for him to have his ability regarded. So sometime ago I rearranged my seating and did one or two other things to extend regard for the abilities he has. He is always engaged in class – either paying careful attention to my pronoucements, instructions or the general buzz of class and so a full blown-extra toppings differentiation hasn’t yet been something I feel imperative just now. Sometimes I guess, gifted kids enjoy the ‘whole-class’ activities even if it is below their ability. Still, it seems to have lit a spark (or fanned a little one that was there).
I had a parent/teacher meeting and Jim’s parents were on my list (parents can choose which teachers they would like to see). His parents said ‘thank you’. However, there was something different about this ‘thank you’. It wasn’t the polite ‘thank you’ one would ordinarily expect from, say, a run-of-the-mill social occasion. These are ten-a-penny. Nice of course, but casual. I have had ‘thank you, she says you are inspiring’ type ‘thank yous’ and ‘he talks about geography all the time’ ‘thank yous’ (parents are rarely negative directly to teachers but then they are so rarely negative at all). These ‘thanks yous’ are much nicer. But this ‘thank you’ today was different. This ‘thank you’ came with ‘we really appreciate what you have done. It has shown in his other subjects.’ They said one or two other things and then said ‘we’ll leave you to your break’. Of course, I wasn’t having a break – parents arrive every five minutes in a speed-dating type way, still they didn’t stay for their full allotted 5 minutes. It seemed they came simply to say ‘thank you’ as if content to leave their son’s progress in my hands. This has happened before, but not as deliberately.
I could say that I was moved by their level of trust. But this is SO basic I wouldn’t allow myself this interpretation – a parent must be able to absolutely trust that their child will be cared for and given as good an education as possible by their teachers within the confines of the system. The child may not be ‘precious’ in the eyes of the teachers. Parents should keep this in their awareness. But a child is precious in their parents eyes. Teachers should keep this in their awareness.
So maybe it meant nothing more than the recognition that I am doing my job and doing it well in their eyes. Well enough to motivate their child and for them to notice.
For a child who is precious to their parents, for whom they would go to the ends of the earth and bear any burden, it is impossible to say what a teacher should be paid. One would think that this would be enough to at least ensure teachers had no unreasonable money worries to distract them from their job. It is crazy to expect high levels of service from teachers who are then forced by economic necessity to do two jobs, as they do in some countries. What ever the figure is, some pay levels would still not be enough for some teachers. But as far as this one is concerned, a ‘thank you’, sincerely and deliberately expressed, and the recognition by a parent that they are content their child is in good hands, is worth so much more – it’s priceless.