It's Friday morning, and although usually I teach, today I met a friend at the mall in Kfar Saba. The normal crowds were elbowing each other out of the way to get a closer look at the brightly colored jewelry, purses, wooden games, and the tables laden with everything from empanadas to lemon meringue pies, spices and fresh salad fixings.
I, however, ignored the abundance of items for sale in front of me; instead I was window shoppingâ€¦ more exactly, looking for "help wanted" signs taped to the windows of the shops in the mall. I am not sure that my MA and 31 years of experience as an English teacher are the right credentials, but bussing tables at a coffee shop or working in a video store will, at least, provide me with revenue during the strike.
I have never considered myself a rabble-rouser, and in principle, I really do not believe in striking. But, then again, perhaps I am a naÃ¯ve idealist who thinks that our government and the Israeli population, in general, will ultimately recognize the rights of teachers to earn a salary with which they can support themselves. After all, I work more than a full-time job, I have chosen to become an educator and am proud of the work I do. I studied for years to earn my B.A. and M.A. and have continued my education through workshops and courses. I have dedicated myself to the education of my students, not simply so that they can pass a matriculation exam (which the majority of them do successfully) but to instill in them a thirst for knowledge, to encourage them to do the best they can do, and to ensure that they will become active, thinking citizens and leaders of Israel.
Today, I know that I am too idealistic. When I hear that the Minister of Finance has said that he has no intention of giving raises to teachers, I think to myself that he has placed his children and their education into our hands, and yet doesn't even consider that we have a right to negotiate with the hope of receiving a fair salary. I am tired of hearing personal criticism of [Secondary School Teachers Organization head] Ran Erez, whether he deserves it or not. The issue, for me, is that teachers need to be compensated for the hours they work and for the work they do. As a teacher, I have heard all the comments about the vacations we have and the hours we teach, but I also know that it doesn't matter what we say about the hours we spend preparing, grading, supporting and giving extra help to our students - many people don't believe us anyway.
My students ask me why I teach when I could make more money doing almost anything else. If I ask my students how many of them want to become teachers, they laugh at me. There is so little respect for those of us in the teaching profession that only the love of what I do really keeps me here.
Do you want me to teach from 8-4, five days a week? Do you want me to teach five classes a day with approximately 185-200 students? I'll do it. Actually, it's what I basically do now. It doesn't bother me. But I want to get paid for my work; I want a salary that allows me as a single parent to support my family without needing to work a second job to make ends meet (since I have no partner who is bringing in another salary). I want to be compensated for the two degrees that I have earned from accredited universities in the United States (which, if I understand correctly, will not be recognized under the Histadrut teachers' agreement). I want to be compensated for the extra work I do, whether it is as a homeroom teacher or as a chaperone on class trips, for the extra projects that I take on at school, or for helping and testing students who have special needs.
People in the business world are compensated for overtime. For teachers, there is no such thing as overtime. When we are with our students or preparing for our students, we are working: We are always professional, caring, and educating - whether in the classroom or out.
I believe things need to change. I believe that changes need to be made from the top down, within the Ministry of Education itself as well. Too much money is being spent outsourcing, on redundancy, and on committees. Too little is actually getting to the teachers, students, and schools. Hours have been cut, class size remains too large, and our students' test scores have reached a new low. In return for a decent salary, teachers, too, must be responsible. They need to be prepared to remain in school even longer hours, but must be compensated for it. Those teachers who can't should be encouraged to take early retirement, and those who wish to retire early should be given the opportunity to do so. However, at this moment, I feel trapped in a Catch-22 situation; nothing will change because no one will change. No side is giving an inch, so students, teachers, and the future generations of Israel are the victims.
As much as I hate the idea of a strike, lengthy or otherwise, I am getting prepared for it. It is time to take an honest look at the system, the ministry and the unions themselves and come up with a plan which will support good teachers in the system, encourage university students to become teachers because it is a respected profession with a professional salary, and increase the hours and opportunities for our students to truly get the excellent education they and we as a nation deserve.
In the meantime, can anyone offer me a job?