Family & Education

Teachers deserve our thanks

It is entirely misplaced to think of teaching as a 'cushy number', writes the head of Partnerships for Jewish Schools


BRISTOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 01: Teachers and supporters strike outside Bristol Cathedral Choir School on February 1, 2023 in Bristol, United Kingdom. Public sector union members in education, the civil service and the Railways are taking part in strike action across the UK today. Teachers are walking out for the first time over pay and conditions joining 100,000 civil servants who are also seeking a pay rise. ASLEF and RMT train drivers are continuing a long-running strike and will also walk out on Friday. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

There are few words that seem to cause more annoyance than “teacher strikes”.  The disruption can be considerable, not only to the children who are losing out on their learning, but to parents who are often unable to go to work if a school closes.

For school leaders this is also a difficult time.  As always, the priority must be to ensure a safe environment for their students and if there are insufficient teachers, then a school would be forced to close. Some schools will try to arrange a distanced learning provision, but as we all know too well, this is far from ideal.

Strikes are intended to be disruptive and the impact on children’s learning cannot be understated. As a parent of an A level student in the final term before her exams, I am sure the last thing she needs is six days of disrupted learning. Interestingly, this concern is reflected in Jewish law, with many rabbis questioning whether it is acceptable for a teacher to strike.   

This places many teachers in a difficult position. They have dedicated their lives to education and now find themselves taking action that interrupts their students’ learning. Yet if they don’t strike, it sends a message that they are not sympathetic to the concerns being raised, which is simply untrue.

Too often there is a perception that teaching is a bit of a cushy number — short days, long holidays and a good salary.  The reality is very different.  Teachers are expected to engage their students with dynamic and interactive lessons that show good classroom control and high levels of learning.  While most of us struggle to do this with our children for one hour, they will be teaching 30 students for 25 hours each week.

However, the time spent in the classroom is only the tip of the iceberg. Teachers are required to prepare lessons, mark students’ work and, let’s not forget, respond to the many emails they will have received from parents and their school. This can take a significant amount of time and a DfE workload survey in 2019 showed that on average teachers work an additional 12.8 hours during weekends, evenings and out-of-hours school. For newly qualified teachers or those teaching extra Jewish studies or after school clubs, this could be significantly more.

Teachers’ pay is also a significant concern and the cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated an already severe issue. For a teacher wanting to buy kosher food, this will create an even greater financial burden and then factoring in the cost of festivals, living in a Jewish neighbourhood and the reality is that it can be almost impossible to make ends meet.

Invariably, this results in the need to teach private lessons with the net result that many teachers are working six days a week from early morning till late at night and having little or no time for their family or friends.  While other industries are increasingly focusing on a work-life balance and often offering opportunities for working from home, a teacher’s life is becoming increasingly unbalanced and rarely being at home.

It is little wonder that there is a recruitment crisis and while strikes are terribly inconvenient, we need to appreciate that they are reflecting a legitimate concern which, unless addressed, may precipitate an even greater crisis.

However, there are many aspects to job satisfaction and perhaps it is time we start appreciating our teachers more and valuing their dedication.  NHS workers may not want our claps but I suspect many of our teachers do.  So, to any teacher reading this article — thank you!

Rabbi Meyer is chief executive of PaJeS

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