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We owe teachers more than just a salary

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Michael Apichella
Michael Apichella

Now that summer’s a dim and distant memory, and school’s back in session, I’d like to spare a kind thought for the folks who teach our kids. According to a spate of articles in the dailies, hundreds of talented teachers leave the classroom annually.

Exactly why is hard to tell. Some say money’s the problem. Certainly a person seeking material wealth should never become a teacher for there are no pay incentives for even the best in the field.

Even if we were to increase teachers’ salaries by 50 per cent, it still wouldn’t pay them what they deserve for educating the next generation of Britain’s doctors, lawyers, clergy and CEOs. Teaching’s the prime profession. Educators teach all the other professions. Without them, civilization would wither on the stem like a November rose.

Incredibly, we gladly pay strapping men in outsized undergarments millions for kicking a ball through a goal. Manchester United’s Paul Pogba’s £290,000-a-week wages made him the highest-paid player in the Premier League last year ahead of Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Compare these earnings to that of teachers which in 2016 averaged £24,000 per year according to reliable sources. Sure, footballers give audiences pleasure, but who contributes more to the welfare of society, athletes or teachers?

Of course, anyone who’s studied in the UK will know not all teachers are brilliant. Schools are rife with apathetic, clock-watching lounge lizards (as many students call their lazy teachers). We’ve all had some like this. They have little empathy for their students. They’re capricious, uninspiring, and rarely do more than a perfunctory job in the classroom. That 50 per cent pay rise? Clearly it’d be a waste of taxpayers’ hard-earned money to reward teachers who don’t live up to their high calling.

Although the comparatively low salary is a possible reason why many capable teachers opt for new careers, it’s hardly the sole reason. Many teachers simply long for some respect. Older folks recall a time when teachers were honoured members of the community, distinguished by their commitment to improving the minds of young men and women. In those days, a teacher might not have been liked, but she or he was always respected. These days, it seems to be just the opposite. Many teachers are liked, but few are respected, if not by their students, then certainly by our culture. An experience I had many years ago as a novice teacher bears out this last point.

A very bright sixth-former named Drew once said to me in class: “Mr. A., you strike me as an intelligent guy.”

“Why thank you, Drew,” I allowed, wondering what he was about to say.

“So if you’re so smart, why are you wasting your time teaching when you could be earning big bucks doing something else?”

His question felt like a grimy finger in my eye. All faces turned to me waiting for my reply. The answer I gave is the same I believe our wonderful teachers here in Bury St Edmunds would give.

“Well, Drew, to tell you the truth, I believe nothing done for the benefit of a young person is ever wasted.”

Meantime, according to the Independent newspaper, Government recruitment targets are routinely missed in the majority of subjects, particularly the hard sciences.

With another new school year just starting out, I want you to ponder Drew’s words. Turn them over like spare change in your pocket. Ask how many teachers nationwide will abscond from the classroom in 2018, leaving tomorrow’s citizens in the care of a shrinking cadre of demoralized professionals who feel progressively undervalued with each passing year.