Teachers unhappy with final outcome of strike

Some educators are proud of the efforts but many fear that the return to routine will harm their struggle.

Teachers rally 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Teachers rally 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
As the secondary school teachers returned to their classrooms this week for the first time in months, there was a general feeling of disappointment. While some felt that the strike had achieved several non-mercenary goals, others felt that the unsuccessful conclusion to the strike had plunged them and their colleagues into crisis. The teachers who spoke to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday were all displeased with the deal reached on their behalf by the Secondary School Teachers Organization (SSTO). As one teacher put it, "Even with this new deal, I'm not sure it is enough to entice people to become new teachers." Jack Pillemer, head of the English department at the Boyar school in Jerusalem, told the Post that he had not been disappointed at first, but now he was worried that the return to routine would drain the teachers' will to continue the struggle. "I hope there are those who will carry on with the same sense of mission," he said. Initially, after hearing the agreement, Pillemer was disappointed but understanding. "I saw it as one step in a larger process, and you can't change a country's priorities in one stage," he said. However, as he returned to the hectic routine of teaching this week, he began to become concerned that reality would sap the momentum. "The day-to-day reality might push aside the issues," he worried. Despite the lack of success in the negotiations, Pillemer said that he and several other teachers he had talked to felt that the strike had improved their self-images. "We feel strengthened by it [the strike]. We discovered a sense of self-worth and a sense of camaraderie with our colleagues," he said. Dalit Sasson, who teaches history and civics to 11th- and 12th-graders at the Gilo Comprehensive High School in Jerusalem, also spoke of the social achievements of the strike. "I felt like we were part of an elite. I was never prouder of the teachers who spoke up, and who demonstrated," she told the Post. She was also proud, she said, that the teachers never broke the law or caused public disturbances. The greatest achievement of the strike, according to Sasson, was raising the public's awareness. For the first time, students and the public know what it's like to be a teacher, she said. "Now they know that all those extra hours [we put in] come out of our own free time," she said with satisfaction. A young civics teacher who wished to remain anonymous concurred. "The biggest outcome and effect is not the agreement. The change in public opinion and the national agenda is the most important achievement," he said. "In the next elections, education will be a major issue, not on the level of slogans and sound bytes, but the educator's reality." He added that "there was without doubt a strengthening of the teachers because they took the struggle into their own hands. Teachers as a group emerged from the strike totally different than they went in. Rather than dealing with their troubles on their own, they banded together. They realized that there were system-wide problems. Forty kids in a class is not a personal problem, but a system-wide one." Sasson warned, however, that if a real reform were not worked out in the negotiations over the next several months, it would all be for naught. "If we don't fight for the reform, we will lose everything," she said. Shoshi Ayosh, another teacher at the Gilo Comprehensive school, painted a much bleaker picture. She said something had broken in the teachers. "They [the teachers] come to do the job and nothing more. The break is very deep. They are treating school as just a workplace for the first time. Teaching is not a job, it's a calling. But for the first time, teachers only put in what they are required to and nothing more," the veteran Bible and literature teacher described. The only way to heal the crisis was to restore faith, and the only way to do that was to "have a real reform that responds to the teachers' demands," she said. All of the teachers interviewed said the students were for the most part sympathetic to their reasons for striking. Pillemer said that he had sat in on a discussion among the students this week about the strike, where they had even opined that the teachers could have gotten more if they had held out for longer. The teachers were divided as to whether the SSTO had managed the strike well. Ayosh had no complaints as to how the leadership had handled it. "We would have gotten nothing at all from this government if we had been nice," she said. However, the civics teacher disagreed. "We discovered through this strike that the SSTO was very problematic. No one remembers ever voting for the leadership. There are no organized elections," and they don't really represent us, he said. Although the strike is over, it seems the problems that prompted it remain as critical and as volatile as ever.