By Adeola Aderounmu
You must feel sorry for teachers. Or should I say I feel sorry for myself.
No matter what alarms have been rang that the world will be a worse place without teachers, the world has managed to move on with relative progress. Still teachers have not been excluded from that motion, it is just that where it mattered most they have been neglected and treated like fools. If you read between the lines maybe you will make a meaning from my last but one sentence.
When I worked as a teacher in Nigeria I was never qualified for the job but my students and their parents praised my efforts. At one school my salary was a huge joke. I worked in several places at the same time and managed to run my own after-school lessons.
In the end I was quite comfortable because I taught children of rich parents and got paid for my quality services, all still been tagged “not qualified” and paid peanuts at the government school where I continue to work part time.
I lectured briefly at the College of Medicine of the University of Lagos before I settled abroad, in a way abandoning a system that I couldn’t change. I tried not to look back to what could have been. I look forward to what has been a continuation of what I did best, and still doing-teaching young people how to become responsible and how to acquire academic excellence. These challenges are what young people need to open the windows of opportunities ahead of them.
When I had my windows opened, I took the path I’d always love. I left medical research and settled for the classroom. Then I went further and took a Masters degree in Education. What do they say about following your dreams?
But I have come to realize (not that I didn’t before) that teachers are maltreated in almost every society and country of the world. Some places are worse than others.
In Nigeria for example, public education is almost dead. The scope of that discussion is beyond the reasons for this essay. To be educated today as a Nigerian, you’ll pay through your nose or your parents will send you to Ghana or England to get quality education. The teachers in Nigeria can tell the rest about how their jobs have become the ultimate nightmare in the country on free fall since 1960.
In Sweden where you’d expect that the more responsible government will take good and drastic measures to arrest the failing standards and the poor salaries of the teachers the story is gradually becoming a daily embarrassment.
Technology is supposed to be taught in Swedish high school but apparently there are no interested candidates in that field. The number of people training to become technology teachers in Swedish high school is to say the least, a disaster. So over the years teachers of science-who are rapidly becoming short in supply as well- have been teaching technology. The implication is that the quality has been taken away for a long time. The efforts of the science teachers who combine 4-5 subjects has never been rewarded or acknowledged.
But Sweden has managed to remain on top in terms of technological advancement. It is not clear how the current shortages and acute problems in the secondary schools will affect the country in the future.
What has happened in Sweden is that the teaching profession has suffered a serious humiliation.
People are almost sympathizing with you if you tell them you are a teacher! What they are saying is in their minds is “how do you cope with the stress and demands of being a teacher in Sweden and still remain happy to be surviving on such a ridiculous salary”?
A few years ago in Sweden-as I read-teachers probably earn the same salaries as politicians but while the salaries of politicians have skyrocketed, that of teachers remained at sea-level. Engineers and accountants, lawyers and other professionals earn more money than teachers in Sweden. Did someone say that is a global thing and not localized? And how does globalizing such a misnomer make it justified? Is the world crazy?
The message is thus, young people should aspire to become professionals in the field where they will get lots of money at the end of the month. I doubt if any of these other professions involve more stress than the work of teachers, yet they get more money. Is teaching not a professional job?
Even cashiers and security workers get salaries that are comparable or higher than what many teachers earn.
One of my students told me a few years ago that she felt so sorry for me because when she did an industrial attachment (PRAO) as a 14 or 15 year old, she realized how easy it was to work as a cashier in a supermarket. She asked me, why are you a teacher undergoing so much stress when you can just sit down at a counter and give people receipts?
The other day a student told me “teachers don’t earn more than 15 000 SEK.
When these situations arise/arose I have learnt to keep quiet and not defend the teaching profession. These children, some of them I would say, must have heard their parents or guardians talk badly about the nature of the teaching profession, and why they should never become teachers!
What they have not heard and what the society and a country like Sweden has failed to tell is that when teachers are not working or when teachers fail to deliver, the society may likely collapse and very bad consequences will follow.
This is September 2012; many teachers in Sweden have not been told what their salary increase for 2012 will be. This is an agreement that should have been reached since April 2012. Everyday in the Swedish media there are loads of report about the problems with the schools.
It appears everybody knows the problem with the teaching profession and the schools in general. It is therefore amazing that not many people think that teachers should get the same salary as the politicians or as the medical doctors or as the engineers.
People are not seeing the problems as problems per se. People always have this feeling that no matter how badly paid teachers are, the society will be ok.
No one has actually taught of: what if there are no candidates aspiring to be teachers over the next 5 years? No one is talking of the consequences of turning out 30 technology teachers annually over the next 15 years?
Many teachers remain unqualified (like I was for about 20 years, 1990-2010). I don’t think the situation will change soon because the urge to become a teacher has reached an all-time low. Why do some of us see the profession as a dream or a call?
It is obvious that with the present global statuses of teachers schools will not survive without unqualified teachers. In many Swedish schools, substitute teachers are life savers!!! It was the same when I worked in Nigeria. We were needed to keep the balance because of the permanent shortage of teachers.
Humans don’t learn from history, that is why mistakes are repeated. That is why shortcomings are permanent features of our existence.
A lot of changes need to be made in schools globally, no doubt. The challenges for the future are becoming greater even as the world becomes a smaller global village. I know that Nigeria is like a failed country struggling with the ruins of several infrastructure and institutions including health and education. I know that the challenges for Nigeria are great because of the nature of the corrupt central government and the crazy political system.
I have also come to see that in Sweden the government is having fun spending tax payers’ money on parties, leisure and general enjoyment. Many government officials in Sweden are also corrupt as revealed by recent newspaper reports (DN and Metro for example). I have come to see that somehow, the emphasis on education at the primary and secondary levels is turning out to be a big disappointment.
Some reforms may have worked well while some have been catastrophic. When education at the lower levels rests on local councils the disparity in the quality is definitely going to be striking depending on the funds available at those local councils. That is just one problem that can be solved through re-legislation.
The bigger problem will be to motivate the teachers. Motivating the teachers will probably be the biggest step in the right direction. The working conditions can be reviewed, salaries must definitely go up and the dignity accorded the profession through legitimation should be pursued and sustained across all levels-fritid, forsolelärare, grundskolalärare and so on.
Sweden is postponing or delaying the evil days. Delays are always dangerous. A problem has been identified, the teacher union has made propositions for solutions but the society is quiet. At the last survey 65% of teachers in Sweden are not motivated. You would have expected a public outcry but it passed like a bird cry. I think that if the percentage of unmotivated teachers is as high as 65% then parents and guardians in Sweden have been sending their children to school and expecting miracles.
But let this story ends, uplift the teaching profession, pay the teachers more money. Let teachers get the same money as politicians. That’s where we were before. Why did the salaries for politicians increase astronomically at the same time that the pay for teachers stagnated? That should be a global question I guess. Let us here the first answer from Sweden. Let not the first answer be that I have been fired from my job. After 22 years in front of thousands of students, I can tell that though I am 40 years ago, I do my job professionally. That’s why I can speak for teachers worldwide.
Bring back the dignity of teachers and preserve the dignity in their labours.