Backbenchers, Blackhawks, and battling teachers

One of the problems for teachers is increasing conflict with different parents’ ideas of “the best” education for their children.  And I do mean that ambiguously.  At the same time, the teachers are feeling less valued by society – and with reason.  This devaluation does, I believe, result in the teacher having less social standing, and thus less interpersonal influence when there is a difference of opinion with a parent.

Parental actions
Compared with the 1970s, there is now less acceptance of difference of opinion between parent and teacher, or between parents of different families, and less willingness to wait so that others’ needs can be met  I think this is related to this being a time of one or two child families, and with parents also raised in small families:  firstly, there is less experience of inescapable tests of patience and deferral of desires in the toddler years;  secondly, there is less of a relaxed, experienced parent willingness to allow experimentation (you can catch up later, really); thirdly, although it is risky to admit it, in a larger family there is the sense of “hey, we have a spare …

So, when a clique of Blackhawk parents (not mere caring helicopter parents – these are the ones which attack with metaphoric heavy weapons in military-style strikes) do the ring-around and demand that the principal intervene, without having spoken to the class teacher –  remember, they really want the best for their children.  One can only hope  the principal can support the teacher – at least by suggesting that the parents  see the teacher to start with.  When two such groups start a brush-war over control of the teaching of the class, with irreconcilable differences in opinion on what “real” schoolwork is, it is easier for the teacher at first – but the inter-group tension can sour the whole class!

It takes a lot of energy to combine opinion-change and classroom teaching and administration liaison. It takes a lot of time to talk with everyone who wants to be heard.  It also takes formally collected data and references to show that the teaching style is best-practice. At the same time, the teacher still has to do the usual programming, but with the unnerving sensation that it may all be changed from force of parents rather than the usual change from force of events  or Government policy.  Also, at the same time, they have to come to terms with the new National Curriculum and cope with  mainstreamed special needs students.  No wonder teachers are finding their workmore stressful now.

Salary
In Western AUstralia, a backbencher MP from August 2010 gets $134,526 p.a. before allowances (1) ; a federal member gets $136,640 effective from 1 August 2010 (2);  a new teacher gets $56,112  rising to a maximum of $84,863 (3).

In 1975 the federal MP’s base annual rate was $14 500  (4);  a new WA teacher in 1975 was paid 176.8 per cent of Australian average ordinary time earnings, AWE (5) .  At $157.70 per week (6) that is roughly $14 600.  (The same multiple applied to November 2010 AWE gives an annual rate now of $224 978.)

The change is from roughly equal salaries to the new backbencher getting 2.4 times more than the new teacher.  Since 1975, has the politician’s workload really got that much greater than the teacher’s has?  New teachers used to be able to buy a home and have a stay-at-home spouse to nurture them; now they need both partners working to pay the rent, let alone buy, and their partner is tired, with less energy to share their troubles.  In effect, regardless of the above pressures their paid work has become harder because they now have to do more about the house and have less emotional support at home.

Economic and Social History: why the change?

It is unusually simple:  teachers have, like others who work in human-contact (productivity inherently fixed) work, in Australia suffered a decline in relative income resulting from the 1980s national decision to abandon Cost of Living – linked pay increases.   As long as increases in pay are productivity linked, the problem will continue.  Police, nurses, taxi drivers, social workers and orderlies are some of the others  similarly affected – you may have noticed them complaining, too.

Conclusion:

As Leigh and Ryan note (on a statistical basis:  (7)), as the salary drops relative to other careers those with stronger talents see that higher cash rewards are available in other careers and many follow the money.  Add the resulting change in average ability to the inevitable nouveau-riche tendency to value a person solely by their income, and the result is inevitable.

It takes a special person to be very bright, creative, and choose to teach in the current environment.  These are the teachers who can reach the disaffected, alienated geniuses in the class – the ones who can become brilliant leaders, researchers, drifters, druggies, or  very well organised criminals.  If you get one of those teachers, protect them from the Blackhawks – the whole world may owe you one day.

Let’s start a campaign: return to 1975 relativities.  While we are at it, adjust the taxation thresholds, deductions, and child/carer allowances  to 1975 times CPI increases – now, that is interesting maths!  (Is there a volunteer to calculate the new figures?)

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1. http://www.sat.wa.gov.au/MembersOfParliament/2010August/Pages/Default.aspx)

2. http://www.remtribunal.gov.au/federalParliamentarians/default.asp?menu=Sec5&switch=on

3.  http://www.det.wa.edu.au/teachingwa/detcms/navigation/working-in-a-public-school/salaries-and-teaching-levels/?page=1&tab=Main#toc1 ).

4.  http://www.sat.wa.gov.au/MembersOfParliament/Pages/1999December.aspx

5.    Chris Curtis on http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/maralynparker/index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/greedy_nsw_government_takes_money_from_public_primary_school_students/6.  ttp://www.ausstats.abs.gov.au/ausstats/free.nsf/0/5BACEEAF1C7DF296CA25750C00194241/$File/63020_SEP1975.pdf

7.  http://people.anu.edu.au/andrew.leigh/pdf/TrendsTeacherQuality.pdf)

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One Response to “Backbenchers, Blackhawks, and battling teachers”

  1. Teachers aren’t in it for the money : doing the maths « Erasmid Says:

    […] I noted previously, Australian teachers’ pay relative to Average Weekly Earnings (and relative to […]

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