Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rant about teacher strike

There are times when I’m grateful that Baby attends private school, even if the fees are sometimes a killer. Today is one of those days.

As you know, teachers have gone on strike indefinitely, until government commits to giving them a salary increase they are demanding. I am angry on behalf of young South Africans, especially those who are in matric and need to be getting ready to prepare for the final exams. The exams are stressful enough on their own, without their having the additional burden of not feeling prepared.

Yes, I know it’s the teachers’ constitutional right to go on strike if their employer is not willing to pay them a fair wage. But my sympathy ends when people who have consciously made adecision to make a career out of caring for and educating our children do things that they know are not in the best interests of these children, just so they can win an argument with their employer.

They may be right; government may be acting like Scrooge. But that’s beside the point in my view, because the people who pay the highest price in this argument are the kids, who are counting on getting a scholarship and need to get high marks to meet the requirements, but may not be able to do so because they did not get the full benefit of the academic year. Or maybe they will miss getting an exemption by just a few percentage points that they might have gotten, had they actually been granted the full academic year. Which means that they will never be admitted to a university, which limits their career options, earning potential and the future of the next generation.

Or , maybe I’m just jealous, because throughout my career, I’ve worked in environments where, if you didn’t like the conditions, you were free to leave. Don’t think you're paid what you're worth, or the bills are starting to exceed your earnings? Work hard to get a promotion, or if that doesn’t work, go find another position at another company. Your career doesn’t pay enough? Never fear. You’re free to change careers, get a second, part-time job selling Tupperware or doing multi-level marketing or whatever else you can do to make more money.

You can even launch a blog, start telling us all about your lousy job, build a big readership and earn loads of mooola through advertising revenue. (OK, the last part is mostly urban legend, though there are enough people pulling it off to motivate everyone else to keep trying.)

And once again, I’m not saying the teachers are not entitled to a fair salary increase. But if government says it can’t afford to offer as much as they want, from a personal level, I’d say it’s time for these individuals to create new opportunities for themselves.

I suppose another thing that irritates me is that we're talking about educated people here. Teachers. Role models who are supposed to show our children that the world is full opportunities and all they have to do is get the skills, work hard and be persistent. And all they can do for themselves is whine? Where's that creativity in thought that they're supposed to be teaching our children?

P.S. For the teacher who supports the strike and wandered to my site ( by accident???), my mother is a retired school principal. And for as long as I can remember, she sold atchaar, vegetables, tupperware and everything else she could get her hands on to supplement her income.

And from the time I was in high school, I volunteered as a literacy tutor and later, volunteered at the Saturday school for the Programme for Technological Careers (PROTEC), a national NGO that offered science and maths high school students additional tutoring so they can pass matric and get into good university programmes. So yes, I do understand the teacher's lot. I also understand how much many of the kids from villages and townships needed extra tuition just to get by, and their being short-changed on the basic teaching they should get is just not right.

BTW, I'm currently reading a brochure which explains what child sexual abuse is, giving definitions and a glossary of terms. It's giving me the willies. But if you're interested, get it here.


po said...

This is a difficult topic for me. My parents are both teachers. The teachers had at school never wnet on strike even though they were supposed to back when I was at school. They were more concerned about our education.

My dad never went on strike. But his pay was so bad. He was trying to support a family of sometimes 6 on a teacher's salary and it wasn't working. Maybe he should have gone on strike. My mom couldn't even get back to teaching when she had kids. She did try to get other jobs as you say, selling tupperware and trying to be an estate agent but she didn't make a cent. They had to leave SA and come to the UK where teachers get paid a decent salary, because they weren't surviving.

I know there are other people out there who are proactive and would have handled the situation so that they had more money, but I think South Affirca HAS to give the teachers a better deal or there is no hope for a decent education. Teaching is a really hard, thankless stressful job sometimes and they need to be supported.

Which is why I am so reluctant to become one!

damaria senne said...

@po- I also thought about becoming a teacher. I did Education to third year level in addition to my Bsc majors. My mother was all for it, because in those days, being a teacher meant job security. By her reckoning, I may never be richm but I was never going to be unemployed either. We all know what happened with that concept when government started retrenching teachers.
And you're right. Teaching is a hard and thankless job and they need to be supported.I guess I don't think declaring an indefinite strike is the answer, because it hurts an innocent party who we're all trying to care for.

po said...

Wow Damaria, I never realised you did a BSc too, that's so cool, what were your majors? Weird that you ended up a freelance writer. I hope the teachers can sort things out. Another problem is that working conditions are much worse in poorer areas, and when workers are unhappy it is difficult for them to put their work above their unhappiness. So even though my teachers never striked, they had it easy compared to people out where good teachers are needed most.

Put it this way, I often wish I could do something to pass on my excellent education, that I am so grateful for, and I think teaching is the best way to do it, but I am not selfless enough. I am too scared of being crushed by the profession. So can I really expect others to do so? Only with good pay.

I feel sorry for the students though of course, because there really is nothing they can do in this bunfight.

Damaria Senne said...

I majored in Chemistry and Biology, with minors in Maths and Physics.

I was actually quite good at them. But they were not my dream; that was just doing something that my brain seemed wired to do, but which didn't fulfull me at all.

You can imagine how my family responded when I told them that I wasn't going to be a good little scientist, and instead I was going to take my chances with writing.

It was hard, and there have been times when I have wondered if I didn't choose a too hard road, but overall, i don't have regrets. I

Damaria Senne said...

As to the teaching profession, I think it is a very difficult profession. Thankless.
The thing is, in my village, teachers were considered to be better off. I guess because everyone else was so much poorer.
As for sharing your education, you can always choose to do later it life. After you've made your money. Or you could teach at Saturday school like I did with PROTEC.It was absolutely worth it. It realy registered when this young, well-dressed business executives chase me down a corridor at a Sandton hotel,greeted me like I was God and thanked me for changing his life in high school. He was one of my students when I volunteered at PROTEC.So working having most my Saturday mornings committed for a couple of years was absolutely worth it.

tiah said...

I can't make up on my mind about the whole thing. I think the "guilt" that government gives certain jobs, esp ones from traditional female dominated rolls (nurses, teaching) that their "love" should get them through the shitty pay - is just a shit argument.

I know money is tight. But maybe people would have an easier time accepting that their needs can't be met if other people were walking the talk. And I don't see enough ANC peeps doing that. My mama taught me that just because you can (and legal) doesn't mean you should. When ministers go out and buy a car...that should be kept in mind.

On the flip side, the timing of the strikes is pretty heartless. A whole year of students lives are being put at jeopardy. And, the students who can afford it least are the ones being hurt. My kid doesn't go to private school - but it doesn't matter. There is a reason for that.

I am also annoyed at the teachers who continued to not work after the strike was over the other week. That. Is. Awful.

But now we are here, the teachers are fed up (with good reason) the government doesn't have the money (probably true) and yet...I'd like to see the government do something. A real gesture. As in: we understand things are tight, so we'll cut our pay, maybe take a few less of those allowances, that maybe we CAN take, but won't, because while we're asking you to sacrifice, we'll do a bit of it too.

Then come up with some creative ideas on how to start fixing the issue, even if it can't be fixed today. Quit blaming - think! And perhaps, perhaps drop that Olympic BS, and keep the money for some real needs: eduation, health - oh, and the people who are draining money for their own self interest - kick them to the curb.

If teachers and the rest saw that the government was actually TRYING, then maybe they'd be less angry, more sympathetic, and willing to work for a bit longer on crap pay.

Maybe the government would be willing to hold themselves accountable? Let people vote for their ministers directly, so if the people feel a minister is not representing the people, they can be kicked to the curb. Maybe such an offer would appease people while they wait for pay?

In the meantime, the poor kids. They always get shafted in these messes.

Tamara said...

Great post, Damaria. You said all the things I've been thinking.

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