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  • Writer's pictureolivershearman

Underpaid, Underappreciated and Undone - The modern teachers reality

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Jokes about teachers and their daily struggles are not uncommon. Some prime examples are shown below to make my point.

For some time I have debated writing this post and sharing my thoughts on this topic. The risk is that it may be mis-interpretated or taken in the wrong way and I truly hope that this will not be the case. I am not aiming to diminish the career of teaching, but highlight some of its key struggles.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get down to business, the headline of this blog post tells most of my tale for the modern teacher in most countries. Broadly speaking teachers are currently undervalued in many countries. Proof of this can be found in comparing their wages with those of minimum wage for different countries, while some have a healthy gap between minimum wage and starting teacher salaries, some such as Poland are almost the same value with only 10% higher salary for a teacher compared to minimum wage. (Link for source material).

An increasing number of unfilled permanent teaching positions across many countries indicates that existing teachers and those choosing teaching are realizing that it is not a valued position in many countries. This is a global phenomenon and while some specific countries are omitted from this trend, the average teacher in a typical country does not necessarily last long in the profession, often they move to ed-tech, industry or an alternative career choice.

In the UK for example, the rate of teachers leaving seems to be higher in recent years than it has been in a decade. More of those who are leaving are not retiring, but instead are younger than before or newly qualified teachers (link here).

Students themselves can recognize that their teachers are undervalued from easy to spot social queues, teachers come to school in simple clothing, their cars, bikes and possessions are simple reliable brands rather than more luxury items. Teachers may hesitate to spend their money on gifts for others, resources or themselves and students will know of this in their actions and teachers’ stories. Students can see and recognize the lack of societal value that the teachers receive in the broader community.

An average teacher’s car is basic, functional and gets the job done. It is what they can afford on their salary but is in no way lavish. An example of what you might picture is shown below.

Societal lack of appreciation can also be seen through parents' respect for teachers or lack thereof, where the students' word is given more weight than that of their teacher. It can be seen in the lack of pay and the lack of will to increase teacher wages in any significant form. Even, the phrase ‘just a teacher’ which is commonly passed around as common wisdom along with a host of funny teacher movies which make light of the profession in recent years such as Bad teacher, Teacher of the year and Fist fight as a few examples.

A comedy show that I have been watching recently is Abbot elementary which highlights the struggle of primary school teachers in the USA. While it is indeed entertaining and funny to watch the cast pretend to struggle with students' needs, lack of funding and coherent leadership. It really resonates, because while too wacky and funny, the reality isn’t far from this shows message. A sad state of affairs indeed to see and reflect on.

Coming around to the final point in the title. Undone. I would suggest that - in general - teachers are being unraveled, left to waste away without enough support, wages or time to do their jobs. Being left to cope with pressure to perform, reach impossible targets with students who don’t want to cooperate and some who couldn’t get there even if they wanted to. Students are asked to make more than a year's progress in a year to ‘catch-up’ and we have to support and lead them there. Putting even more pressure on us, not just to teach a class, but to support singular pupils, differentiate, grade and treat students as individuals while we ourselves are treated like teaching cattle. No wonder many of us have the word which shall not be named - burnout - because the pressure of being all things to all people (students, parents, leadership and administration) is all too much.

While it is not all doom and gloom and there are principals, schools, regions and even countries doing positive actions, they should be the shining examples of how others could enhance the profile of a teacher career. We need more support, understanding and appreciation for our work to bring new vigour into the educational profession.

So what can be done? And what should be done? The first clear step for institutions, governments and those high in the educational food-chain would be to raise both profile and salary for teachers. Teachers need to be recognized and how can that be done in a clear way that supports them? More money is always appreciated. Teachers provide a vital service educating young people, teaching them soft skills, emotional connections, empathy, taking them while parents are working and all they ask is a decent salary in return. While more support, reduced workload, lesser hours and less difficult oversight and paperwork could all support teachers. Until they are appreciated and valued in society, none of these measures alone or even together may be enough for those in a profession that does not feel seen or appreciated in modern society.

I hope that this situation can and should be improved in the future for not only the teachers, but for the students and society at large. It is urgent that we don’t vilify such a critical job that is necessary for the future.

Cheers and thanks for reading - Oliver - The Teaching Astrophysicist

(Note: This blog post was NOT generated by AI and is conceived, typed and uploaded by a real person.)

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