It’s not often that we at Teacher Plus have the opportunity to respond directly to issues raised by our readers. When letters come in, or when we hear from people at meetings and workshops, we make note of the comments and feedback and apply them when and where possible. The large number of these have to do with having more of one kind of content or another, or addressing the needs of one subgroup of teachers or another. But over the past couple of years, we have been receiving a small but steady stream of queries about workplace rights for teachers. What occupational standards exist? Which authority can teachers appeal to when their rights are infringed – and what are these rights anyway? We hear horror stories about how teachers are forced to contend with repressive school managements, demanding parents, and even violent students. Complaints range from being forced to stand continuously for hours, having to handle duties far beyond the school boundaries, making their own investments in teaching materials, and so on. They have to do with lack of adequate infrastructure and material support as well as lack of proper mentoring and a nurturing environment that enables good performance.
While no formal job description can completely capture the nuances of workplace demands, a teacher’s job seems to particularly defy full description. There is the physical work of preparing and correcting and being in the classroom – that bit is easy to describe and quantify. But there is also the emotional and psychological labour that relates to caring for children beyond the strictly academic. And then there is the managerial and organizational aspect of being part of the school system. Government teachers have a variety of other duties too, often being called upon to contribute to data gathering operations or other governance functions.
Rights and responsibilities are a necessary framework for any workspace. They give us a sense of what we need to do and how much, and also what we can expect in return – in terms of material reward (financial compensation), facilitation (training, support) and protection (benefits, mechanisms to prevent exploitation and other harms). Even if we never need to make use of those mechanisms, it is important for us to know they exist, and what we can do to access them.
The difficulty, though, is that there are few clear guidelines for the profession and its management. Unlike other professionalized occupations, there is no overarching association that can lobby for the rights of teachers who are not in the government systems. Schools are connected academically and through boards, but there are few spaces where teachers can come together as professionals and discuss their concerns. The articles that are part of our cover theme attempt to offer some understanding of rights, and what we can do when those rights are infringed. As always, we look forward to hearing from our readers about their own experiences in this regard!