Archive for May, 2011

Don’t Treat Me Like a Mushroom!

Posted on May 30, 2011. Filed under: rickywoods, teaching | Tags: , , , |

If you always feed me garbage and keep me in the dark, I begin to feel like a mushroom.

Welcome to the world of being an employee of the state.  I am a well-qualified, professional person who, in the corporate world would be accorded the respect (and the salary) I deserve. I have a number of post-graduate qualifications and more than 25 years’ experience in my field. I also run the largest department at my place of employment, with acknowledged success, I might add.

Why is it then that the people who hold the purse strings never manage to get things right? I would like to cite some examples by way of explanation:

  • Three years ago I was officially promoted into a post I had filled (unofficially) for the previous two years. This meant a nominal increase, for which I was most grateful. Six months later all educators (oh, I forgot to tell you that I am a teacher) were awarded something called an Occupation Specific Dispensation increase  –  related specifically to being educators. Things were looking up!
  • Three months later I was informed that as I had only been in that promotion post for six months, I did not qualify for the increase, so they were going to be deducting the amount that I had been given, in monthly increments over the next two years.
  • Then in September last year educators all over South Africa went out on strike for better wages, housing and medical benefits. The union to which I belong called for a show of solidarity, so I struck (if that is the right word) for one day, knowing that I would not be paid.
  • In February this year we were told that, owing to an administrative issue they were not able to distinguish between those who had struck for one day, or those who had downed tools ( or is that chalk?) for longer. Thus, they would deduct four days’ pay from us all and at some stage ( not specified) in the future they would refund us what was owed.
  • Add to this the fact that any salary advice reconciliation is only ever received three or four months after the relevant pay date and you have a recipe for disaster.
  • Where in the corporate world does it happen that someone is given something and then has it taken away?  Who would tolerate not knowing from month to month what they will earn – or having any way to find out?

I love my job. I love being in the classroom with teenagers who are alive and fresh and new every day. I love the fact that they teach me – often far more than I will ever teach them.  I love the fact that relating to them on a daily basis keeps my mind open to the changes that are inevitable in life.

But who ever said that in order to be a teacher, you have to be treated like a mushroom?

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Teaching: my love-hate relationship

Posted on May 25, 2011. Filed under: rickywoods | Tags: , , |

When I think of the many frustrations of my job, I wonder why it is that I am still here more than 25 years later.

We are not valued in our profession. Not in the terms that matter out there.  When I look around at my colleagues, there is not one person who does not have at least a four-year degree. Many have added to their initial qualifications; there are two or three with PhD’s and a string of them have M-degrees either completed or in the process.

As the years pass, the focus has become more and more child-centered. I am all in favour of this: one only has to think back on the Dickensian days of vicious beatings by the beadle to know that it was wrong. Many of our fathers and brothers can relate horror stories of boarding school days and prefects who thought they were gods, meting out an unfair system of fagging and caning. Yet, when they found themselves in  senior positions they perpetuated the violence, never thinking to put an end to it.

But what is left ? Teachers find themselves in classrooms overfilled.  In an attempt to address the horrors of past regimes, those in power refuse or are powerless to assist teachers when it comes to issues of discipline.

Young teachers, straight out of the halls of academe and full of idealistic notions, are unable to cope with the increasing bureaucratic demands. And so, sooner rather than later, they are lost to teaching as they are won over by the lure of easy money which the four holidays a year in education cannot beat.

I know I have painted a bleak picture. So, why am I still here? Why is it that 25 years later, I still get up with a spring in my step each morning?

It’s because every day I am faced with the opportunity to make a difference. A young man, always in trouble with authority, has begun to pay attention in my class. Why? In his words: “Because you treat me like a human being”

No amount of money can give me the thrill that I get from seeing the light go on in  the eyes of a teenager when they finally get it.

It’s still the only place I can see myself ten, even fifteen years from now.

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