Readers of the October 2022 edition of the SEJ will remember that, with the support of my employer, I have undertaken the task to gain GTCS registration in an additional sector. I am happy to welcome you along again, on my continued journey in the move from primary school teacher to retraining as a secondary school teacher of English.

I survived the whirlwind that was the first term of this new experience and quietly congratulated myself on meeting a challenge that I felt perhaps not everyone would want to face. I am really enjoying working in my new sector and can see that each action-packed day brings me ever closer to my goal.

The new term began with another frenzy of activity which reminded me of how much more I still have to learn from this experience. Staff are almost overwhelmingly busy and energy levels are clearly threatened but colleagues march selflessly on to meet the dizzying demands placed upon them.

I am especially grateful that as part of my retraining I recently had the privilege of observing colleagues across my department and school. The purpose of my classroom observations was to assimilate and reflect on excellence in teaching practice and then to apply this knowledge in my own teaching within the secondary sector.

As a result, I continue each day to be both thankful to, and in awe of, my secondary colleagues who demonstrate their commitment and dedication to ‘the promotion of sound learning’ and who generously offer advice, support and resources to each other, and in particular to newer colleagues such as myself. Despite the hectic demands on teacher time and energy I witnessed the truly nurturing and compassionate attitude shown to all pupils, and particularly to those who may have additional needs in all their myriad forms.

Spartacus Marlow is a GTCS-registered primary teacher with 18 years’ teaching experience and a degree-level qualification in their chosen subject, who is being supported by their Local Authority to gain registration in an additional sector.

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“There is some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for.”

J R R Tolkien
The Two Towers (1954)

I used to feel that this last point was perhaps sometimes overlooked in secondary or viewed as a “primary teacher” attribute by some in the profession. Certainly, I feel it only fair to admit that this was perhaps a prejudice of my own that I held previously, until able to experience first-hand the hard work and effort my secondary colleagues employ to meet the needs of every pupil.

Reader, you may think that meeting the needs of all pupils is nothing out of the ordinary. Indeed, is it not part and parcel of a teacher’s daily role? Of course, you are correct. However, I am fully aware that in the secondary sector this occurs against a tumult of activities that go on relentlessly, week after week, for different year groups: tracking and reporting deadlines; written reports; parents’ night consultations; assessments; timed assessments which will potentially form evidence for SQA appeals; folio work; and of course preparing pupils for their upcoming prelims. Stress on teachers builds exponentially as the term progresses and that is extremely concerning for teachers’ mental and physical health.

Primary colleagues need not fear that I have forgotten the frantic backdrop of activities that they also operate within throughout each term, all the while planning, preparing and delivering quality lessons which aim to engage, motivate and bring out the best in each and every one of their pupils. I remember it all too well and take my hat off to colleagues in the primary sector too. Why then does this matter? Reader, this matters because the teaching profession in Scotland – and the teachers within it – are stretched to breaking point

I believe it is about time we stopped being so “well-behaved”

Workload as we all know, and as every survey tells us, is out of control and no remedy appears forthcoming. Teachers in Scotland work on average 11 hours beyond their contracted hours every week, and this soared even further during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Class sizes, long ago promised by politicians and the Scottish Government to be reduced, continue to remain close to or at their maxima in all but the most rural and isolated of schools.

The reduction in teaching/contact time (from 22.5 hours to 21 hours per week) which formed part of the SNP’s May 2021 manifesto appears to have fallen off the Scottish Government’s radar. I can assure them it has not been forgotten by Scotland’s teachers who are all too aware of, for example, 2019 OECD statistics which indicate that Scottish teachers spend on average 63% of their time teaching, leaving less time for planning and preparation, compared to an average of 43% in 24 other OECD countries. Indeed, in some OECD countries teaching time is 35% or less. Teacher burnout – and the lasting impact that has on mental and physical health – is the consequence of these workload issues going unaddressed.

The effect of all of these many pressures is to make the teaching profession unattractive to many people. We are now in the situation where it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit into the profession and more and more difficult to retain teachers in the profession; many colleagues find other careers or find that they have a better quality of life and work-life balance working as teachers abroad.

For me, someone who has dedicated almost twenty years to teaching and who has at least another twenty more to go, it is heart-breaking to see the profession so diminished and to see the strain that colleagues are under, as they continue to do all they can to meet the high levels of excellence and professionalism we set ourselves, and which pupils and parents rightly expect.

“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure (1604)

That is why the recent EIS pay campaign – Pay Attention – is more important than ever, and why I choose to support industrial action, up to and including strike action. A 10% pay rise will help recruit graduates and others into the teaching profession and hopefully ensure they stay within Scotland’s schools.

It will also go some way to redressing the gender pay gap, which the Scottish Government pledged in 2019 to reduce. Reader, you will no doubt be aware that the Scottish Government’s 2018 annual teacher census indicates that 90% of all primary teachers and 65% of all secondary teachers are female. In this majority-female profession why are we so often told that we are valued, that we are essential or key workers, that we are, in fact, critical to the infrastructure of the economy, but not remunerated accordingly? Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in her 1976 article of the same name put it succinctly when she stated that, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” In this majority-female profession I believe it is about time we stopped being so “well-behaved” – surely a phrase which is merely code for compliant and subservient? – and start making some noise about our pensions, pay, and conditions of service which are constantly being eroded, all while we are simultaneously told we are not doing enough and are not worth more. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, it is time teachers ‘disturbed the teaching universe’ by demanding better treatment!

The obvious lack of gender parity in recruitment to both sectors also needs to be addressed.

The recent EIS statutory ballot for industrial action annihilated the Tory thresholds set in 2016. 70.7% of EIS members participated in the ballot and 95.8% voted for industrial action for a better pay rise. As COVID-19 proved, teachers have the power to bring the economy to a standstill if strikes go ahead. We all know that striking is a last resort but – in lieu of a palatable revised offer – it is a weapon in our arsenal. If I were COSLA or the Scottish Government, I would conclude that it is indeed time now to sit up and pay attention. Teachers are about to harness their collective power. Or as Mary Shelley put it, “Beware; for [we are] fearless, and therefore powerful.” – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)