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Changing the narrative

by Huw Lloyd

When I saw the news that teachers along with other public sector workers were going to be receiving a 3.1% pay increase I was happy for colleagues who are in line for this increase. In a profession and sector that has seen a pay freeze for many years, it is welcome and deserved.

However, as I perused my social media last night it was clear not everyone shared my pleasure at this announcement. While social media is not always an accurate barometer of public feeling, we generally connect with people who share our own beliefs and values and can create a bit of an echo chamber, but last night I was disappointed to see a lot of ill feeling towards teachers being awarded this pay increase.

Even if it isn’t really a pay increase as school’s may not be able to afford to put it in place from their budgets which have received no extra funding.

The reaction did get me thinking, why is it that teachers are not held in the same regard as nurses, doctors and care workers, why despite people in my experience saying “Oh I wouldn’t do your job” are teachers not considered worthy of a pay increase.

Granted we do not save lives, we do not nurse people back to health and I have not heard of a teacher who has sadly lost their life due to Covid-19 caught during performing our jobs. Doctors, nurses, health professionals, care workers all do and have performed or tragically succumbed to these things.

It starts at school

However, we do shape young lives and minds. We do help to create the nurses, doctors and health workers of the future. We, by educating children at least between the hours of 8.30am and 3.30pm and longer if there is before and after school club, allow people to go to work and perform the jobs which appear to deserve more respect than ours.

I need to be clear, I hold the NHS and social care professions in equally high esteem. I could not, nor want to, do their job and I respect them as much as education professionals. I believe everyone deserves to be paid well, just not at the denigration or slight of others.

So what reasons are there for the lower levels of respect for our profession from certain areas of the public?

During the pandemic the profession has been portrayed as childcare, giving a public message that the children in school would not be expected to work too much and that schools were going to open to ensure that key worker children could be cared for.

The message was not schools will be open to educate key worker children, the message was to allow key workers to go to work.

Mixed messages

This is only a subtle change in language, but one which places the importance of what we do below that of other professions.

The changing of guidance on plans to reintegrate children back into school has also not helped, leaving parents with mixed messages about what has been asked of schools and what they can expect.

In a world where mistrust, misinformation and fake news is spreading, it is hard to know what to believe and sadly some people will believe Facebook, more than a newsletter from school.

The media has a role to play too. It is easy to find positive stories to print and promote about professions that save lives, it sells papers and generates webpage clicks. It is more difficult to fill column inches with stories about teachers doing their normal jobs, or finding ways to educate children while at home.

Joe Wicks, quite rightly, has received massive praise for his PE with Joe work outs, however how many teachers are teaching lessons via video conferencing and providing work that goes unnoticed because it isn’t newsworthy?

However it is easy to find articles saying “schools reluctant to take pupils back.” Which automatically generates ill feeling towards the profession, again a simple change in wording of an article like that to “School’s unable to open to more pupils due to physical distancing guidance.” While more accurate, does not generate column inches, discussion and website clicks, but does portray the profession in a negative light.

Promote the profession

We also have to look at ourselves, how much as a profession do we do to positively promote what we do to a wider audience? How many times do we open our doors to parents and the community to see what we do, how many times do we do the same with the media? Let’s not just phone them when we have exam results, or have been on a fantastic extra curricular trip somewhere, let’s show the world the fantastic work as a profession we do.

Now more than ever is the time to develop a relational approach within our schools, let’s build bridges with parents, especially those hard to reach parents who maybe had a bad experience at school themselves.

Let’s make sure when children come back through our doors in September they feel welcomed, loved, cared for and educated. They will be feeling a huge amount of anxiety about returning, some after six months of home education of varying degrees.

Let’s take this opportunity to paint ourselves in the best possible light, let’s build relationships and trust back into the profession, let’s speak to parents, let’s thank them for educating our children while schools have been partially closed, not keep talking about what they have missed out on.

Let’s celebrate our profession and how we can work with parents, pupils and the community so the next time a pay rise for teachers is announced, people flood to social media to agree and question why it isn’t more.

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