Yesterday, as the U.S. Government shut down, so did many schools in the middle of England; two very different worlds with one commonality: one group isn't getting what they want.
I participated in a teacher strike here in Sheffield. Forty-six schools in the city were shut down, and over 1500 teachers showed up for the event, maybe more. There were many more area schools represented than I could count or even remember. You can read a BBC article here.
I went just hoping to see the event and maybe talk to a teacher or two, and I went with three questions in mind: why are you here?, If you knew Michael Gove would listen to you, what is the one thing you would change instantly? And how do the parents of your students feel about what is happening to teachers, or about you being here?
As soon as I arrived I was greeted by union representatives and teachers placing stickers on people and handing out flags. The buzz was loud and energetic. I ran first into a group of secondary history and math teachers from Nottingham, young teachers, all within their first five years. The teacher pension age has moved up to age 68, and what is the first thing on my mind, was actually the last thing on these young teachers minds. First on their list was to reverse the decision to pay teachers based on their student performances, and this concept was on everyone's mind. "If all the money comes from the same place, and no money has been allocated to pay these so-called great teachers, then who decides and how do they decide who gets the pay cut?" Unfortunately, we have this same debate happening in America right now.
I didn't have any problem getting anyone to talk to me. Most teachers were happy to visit about their dislikes about the new policies, and especially their dislike of their secretary of education, which you can see through various signs and posters in my pictures. I am not really sure why I asked the parent question. Now in retrospect, I think it must be because in America we are faced with this question all the time. As a teacher, I was unconsciously trained to fear parents and their reactions to me, my classroom, and the assessment of the work their child has or has not done in my classroom. I have even been told that parents control what I do.
As I have matured in teaching, I realize that talking with parents has become one of my great tools, and they are a great ally to have in my corner, but still, sometimes school-wide decisions are made based on what we think parents want (citing "taxpayer money",) and administrators often speak of how they have "protected" teachers from irate parents. The teachers I spoke with were confused, and even perplexed by the question, most stating that it did not matter how parents felt about them being away from their jobs. Their suspicions were that their parents would not care about their abscence, and would support them, knowing that what is happening to teachers right now could happen to them in their jobs as well.
It's an exciting time to be in England, and because of my public school background in America, I am sympathetic toward the teachers moreso than the government. I, too, believe that anyone who hasn't, doesn't, or gave up doing the classroom teaching job I do should have little influence on creating policy that affects my workload, my pay, and my retirement.