We're striking - does anyone care?

A lot more than money is at stake in the current teachers' strike, a high-school teacher explains.

October 15, 2007 21:12
4 minute read.
We're striking - does anyone care?

teachers strike 224 88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

During the days leading up to the start of the current high-school teachers' strike, I found myself paying close attention to what politicians, pundits and the public were saying in order to gauge their attitudes to Israeli teachers. There was, for example, the declaration by the Ministry of Finance that the strike could be broken by bringing in female soldiers doing their army service to replace the striking members of the Secondary School Teachers Organization. This might have been more demagoguery than doable, but it exposed the fact that my chosen profession is seen as one that just about anyone can practice without training or qualification. And then there was the comment - echoing another widely-held opinion - by one of my 11th-graders that teachers don't do very much for their money as we get long holidays. I couldn't let that remark go unanswered and spent nearly half a lesson explaining about the time involved in preparation, marking papers, speaking to parents, consulting with colleagues and the headmaster - just some of the activities that go into being a teacher. But even worse than the badly-thought-out criticisms about the strike and the strikers is what has not been said. THIS STRIKE has come about as a last resort after a year-and-a-half of failed negotiations between my union and the ministries of Education and Finance. We've been asking for decent salaries, smaller classes, the restoration of hours - teachers still have to cobble hours together by rushing from school to school. I still don't understand how we can work "more hours for more pay" if the schools don't have guaranteed funding for the extra hours. We fired warning shots in the form of one-day strikes and work sanctions at the end of the past school year. Our mini-strikes went unheeded, yet the sanctions have been ongoing right into the present academic year. For instance, since last April, members of the Secondary School Teachers Organization have not participated in any after-hours activities, including parent-teacher conferences, end-of-year pedagogic meetings (during which the future of pupils is discussed), or the meetings at the beginning of the school year, in which vital information about pupils is given to teachers. As much as teachers may moan about having to take part in them, we know that these meetings are essential in order to ensure the efficient implementation of our duties. Moreover, end-of-year report cards were affected as union members at junior high and high schools refused to hand in grades. NEVERTHELESS, despite these sanctions, not one word was uttered by officials at the Ministry of Education about the quality of teachers' work being affected by their refusal to participate in meetings in which necessary information is shared. Parents too have remained silent even though their lines of communication with their children's schools have been broken due to the cancellation of parent-teacher conferences and the fact that pupils did not receive report cards at the end of term. Furthermore, on two occasions, the Ministry of Education sought and obtained High Court injunctions against the teachers' strike. The first was at the end of the last school year to prevent our striking in classes that were meant to sit for their bagrut matriculation exams. The second injunction prevented the Secondary School Teachers Organization from beginning the strike on September 1, the start of the school year, and a time when ministers seek photo-opportunities on school visits. However, the ministry seemed strangely acquiescent when my union announced that it would call a strike for after the Succot vacation. As any teacher can attest, this is actually the most critical time of the school calendar as it is a period largely undisrupted by religious festivals, days of commemoration and bagrut exams. For two months, until the Hanukka vacation, we have to ensure that the lion's share of the subject matter is covered. This, in fact, is the time of year when I actually feel that I am doing the job for which I was trained rather than merely babysitting in between vacations, or helping my pupils cram for exams. Knowledge can be imparted and class discussions conducted in a relatively relaxed atmosphere without the pressure of upcoming bagrut exams, which nowadays affects classes from the 10th grade upwards. It is surprising and worrying, therefore, that the ministry seems unaware of this salient piece of information, especially in light of its eagerness to thwart the Secondary School Teachers Organization's plans to strike at the beginning and end of the school year. The collateral damage caused by the teachers striking during the period between October and December is far greater than that caused by strikes at any other time during the academic year. If, as predicted, the strike lasts for two to three months, when teachers and pupils eventually return to their classrooms they will discover that the school year is all but unsalvageable. THE SILENCE of Israeli society to the important aspects of the teachers' strike and the sanctions that preceded it has been deafening. As a teacher, I have been made aware of my true worth in the eyes of the public and the establishment. The real tragedy is that if a satisfactory deal is not reached to bring about a speedy conclusion to the strike, fewer and fewer young, enthusiastic potential teachers will decide to enter what was once an honorable profession. They will see that it's not worth the bother.

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