What the shit is going on with the lockout?

This is more for me to get my head straight over the ins and outs of the teachers’ working time dispute.

Main Characters:-

  • Antorini (Christine Antorini) Curly haired extra from Borgen. Antorini is the Education Minister of Denmark, also in the Social Democratic party. Teaching experience: none.
  • Bondo (Anders Bondo Christensen): Harry Potter: the elbow patch years. Bondo represents the Danish Teacher’s Union. Teaching experience: lots.
  • Corydon (Bjarne Corydon): A shaven headed extra from Breaking Bad. Corydon is the Finance Minister of Denmark. He is from the Social Democratic party (‘Moderaterne’ on Borgen, ‘Labour’ in the UK). He has a tumblr dedicated to him looking sceptical. Teaching experience: none.
  • Ziegler (Michael Ziegler) Leader of the “Borough Council Union”, a nationwide group representing the interests of the borough councils in Denmark. Teaching experience: none.

Minor Characters

  • Jelved (Marianne Jelved): Member of the Radikale Venstre party. Used to be a teacher. Is married to a teacher. Looks a bit like Sandi Toksvig’s aunt. I have met her. She has observed two of my lessons. She is okay by me. And for a politician she does not say a lot. Teaching experience: lots.
  • Vestager (Margrethe Vestager): Leader of the Radikale Venstre party (think Old Labour/Liberal mashup) and Minister for Economics. Teaching experience: none.

Chorus

  • The children: Attend schools in Denmark
  • The parents: Send their children to schools in Denmark
  • The teachers: Work at schools in Denmark
  • The taxpayers: Live in Denmark and pay for this show

Synopsis

In 2008, the world experienced a financial crisis. By 2013, the left-wing/centrist government of Denmark has woken up to the realisation that not enough tax is coming in to afford the outgoings of the nation.

Denmark has a lot of outgoings due to its large nationalised services. The government got together to devise a way of saving money on education. This deal involves longer school days and asking teachers to work more hours for the same pay.

But! In Denmark! The politicians do not negotiate with the unions. The “employers” negotiate. And the “employers” are the Kommunenenenens Landsforening, a crack team of mayors.

PROLOGUE

Odd little news articles appear in the media about how teachers do not “teach” for very many hours a week. No attempt to disambiguate “teach” from “work”. Talk of “normalising” teachers’ hours pops up as if teachers do not work the normal amount of hours. Comparisons with other countries are made in the press, the number of hours of lessons, PISA results. Though, interestingly, only separately.  A politician misinterprets results from a study that showed that teacher preparation/quality raises achievement and says that it shows greater contact hours raise achievement. China, South Korea and Finland have pretty good results and pretty low contact hours (around 16 hours teaching).

A news story emerges that children in Denmark are getting better at reading. And pop goes the “Children in DK cannot read good” narrative.

A report into how the 2008 working time agreement has improved Danish schools is suppressed by KL.

Because the “negotiations” (and I use the term loosely), have not taken place yet, politicians get stuck in. Antorini says that teachers are only going to be teaching a little bit more and besides they are just going to re-prioritise their tasks a bit, not work any more than before, just differently. Corydon, though, Corydon is like a whirlwind going on about stuff. His department puts it about that teachers are totally lazy. The teachers really do not like him.

ACT ONE

KL and the teaching unions meet. The KL suggest some things that they would like to change about the working time agreements for teachers. The teachers’ unions have some questions about the new plans.

KL flip over all the tables and say “WELL THEN YOU DICKS, if you don’t agree right now, we’re going to lock you out of your schools and not pay you. See how you like that, you twats.”

INTERMISSION

Politicians who are NOT SUPPOSED TO get involved, get right the fuck involved. Vestager says that teachers are making up stuff about how the new plans will affect children/teachers. Jelved says “I hope Bondo wins, everyone’s against him” and then later “IT WAS JUST A JOKE!”

When interested parties point out that politicians should stay out of it, they all slap their foreheads and go “oh yeah, I forgot. It’s the ‘negotiation’ phase, right? Thought it was the propaganda phase still.”

ACT TWO

FLASHBACK!

The KL and some politicians met in secret (which is totally not cool), and work out the new teacher workload agreements. From which they must not budge when it is time to “negotiate” with the teaching unions.

The Unions beg to be allowed to attend and then beg to be allowed to know what happened. The process of being ignored is described as “kafkaesque”.

The politicians work out that once the “negotiations” are finished, the projected savings through increasing working hours will pay for a bunch of improvements. They write up these plans as if the working time agreements have already been rubber stamped.

PRESENT TIME

The negotiations continue and more and more threats about lockouts are made by the KL. Parents, teachers and children get more and more anxious. The KL say that the current agreements are like something out of the last century. To which the teachers reply “You green-lighted them THREE YEARS ago! And besides what’s more last century than clocking in at 8 and clocking out at 4?”

Who knows what will happen in the next act!

What pisses me off is not so much that my working time agreements might fundamentally change next year. I am used to that. What pisses me off is how much strong arming has gone on.

The teaching unions have suggested running studies, suspending the current arrangements and trialling the new suggestions. You know, to see if teaching and learning improves. This has been dismissed out of hand.

There are studies of other successful countries. Their successes could be replicated and start-up issues avoided. No one is even bothering to find out about them.

The KL had no intention of working with the teaching unions, the strategy has been to turn the public against teachers for being lazy and then making demands and a threat to withdraw the opportunity to work.

The teaching unions have been caught on the hop, I do not think they expected so much foul play would be going on. So many dirty tricks.

This was an opportunity. There are so many ways that Danish schools can improve. I could probably write a book about what works and what could be better and everything. This is not about improvements. This is not about changing Danish schools for the new challenges ahead or increasing quality or anything like that. It is about saving money on wages.

And the unions will fail. The lock-outs will “work”, taking away education from children for weeks at a time is THE WORST THING YOU CAN DO, and the mood will turn against the teachers.

Teachers will have to accept these proposals, even though they do not take into account how teachers actually work and certainly have no link to best practice studies from abroad. This will lead to a massive deterioration of quality. Add to that the vote of no confidence the politicians are cooking up, I do not see how Danish schools are going anywhere other than the toilet from here on out. And all for a bit of money.

Message for the Hard of Thinking

Teachers do more than teach! Jay-sus. We can say it over and over, we can make parody videos, we can make instructional videos, we can teach your children, we can speak to you at parties.

But what it keeps coming down to is:- “I think teachers are lazy because the government has done a divide and conquer maneuver and I am not going to bother my arse to think critically about it.”

“Teachers only teach 20 hours a week” is interpreted as “Teachers work half the hours of a full time job”.

Don’t look at 20 hour teaching a week and think “Maybe teachers have other responsibilities on top.”

Don’t look at that and think “WHY exactly is the government releasing this information, they must have agreed to these conditions in the past, how were they justified at that time?”

Don’t look at that and think “Teaching must be quite a difficult job, what with you trying to get lots of new information and skills over to groups of individuals with poor impulse control who are going through momentous changes and exhausting growth spurts”

Don’t do it. That would require empathy and understanding, why bother? Just be what the government wants you to be. Be suspicious. Be mean spirited.

Think “Teachers! The ONLY thing they do is teach! How hard can that be?”

When I was a teen, the government of the UK was pulling the “teachers are lazy jerks who are wasting all this tax on being useless layabouts,” trick. This was so they could push through money-saving wheezes. The result now is that teachers are working beyond capacity, are disrespected by both students and parents and most new teachers do not make it past five years.

If it were such an easy job, surely people would be queuing up around the block and staying in the job for decades.

The result of making the population turn on teachers for being lazy is not, and I know this will come as a surprise, improved lesson quality. Denmark is embarking on a long donkey ride to hell right now.

In the UK (and indeed in Denmark), teachers are expected to know:-

  • who has learning difficulties
  • who is in care
  • who is a refugee
  • who has parents who abuse drugs or alcohol
  • who speaks English as a second language
  • who is being abused
  • who is underachieving
  • who has no friends
  • who is a bully
  • who is being bullied
  • who cannot read
  • who cannot do maths
  • who is pretending to have difficulties learning, so they can be lazy
  • who gets the other students to be naughty, without getting caught themselves
  • who has mental health issues
  • who should be wearing glasses really
  • who must sit at the front
  • who must not sit next to whom
  • who probably has not had breakfast and won’t get dinner
  • what “level” the child is working at, what level they should be working at and what level I hope for them to achieve in the year with me
  • which class they are in and who their other teachers are
  • what their family/cultural/religious background is
  • who has allergies

When I worked in the UK, my class size was around 29. My highest class size was 35 and my lowest was 10. (Both of those outliers were special needs groups) I had at least six groups. That is approximately 180 students that I had to know at that level of detail. Not to mention the children I did not personally teach but had to know at least a little bit, in order to get along with them/anticipate issues while on break duty/covering lessons for absent colleagues.

If I told you that you had to learn 180 full names of people you get to see maybe two-three times a week, I think you might tell me I was being unreasonable. And that is just their name.  How hard is it to learn 180 names? It takes me around two weeks.

This is while being expected to be able to:-

  • choose activities which are the right level for each member of their class
  • choose activities which require more active input from the students
  • assess the progress on a regular (weekly to fortnightly), basis of every member of the class
  • have deep, specialist subject knowledge
  • choose a variety of methods of teaching and assessing and rotate these methods frequently
  • explain key concepts in simple terms
  • ask questions that test more than recall
  • recognise correct answers they were not expecting
  • get along with children who have challenging behaviour (often due to shocking background circumstances)
  • understand how the learning of new facts and new skills takes place in the human brain
  • know how to grab the interest of people who may have rock bottom self-confidence
  • recognise when something new has been learned and when something needs to be re-addressed
  • present uninteresting content in an interesting way
  • communicate with home about behaviour and progress
  • communicate with social services about concerns
  • recognise when home must NOT be communicated with about behaviour because that would result in a dangerous situation for the child
  • persuade bullies to stop (after noticing they are bullying)
  • reassure victims that it is not their fault if they are bullied
  • encourage a child with learning difficulties to give something new a try
  • keep up with current youth culture, so you can relate new concepts to things they already know

Don’t get me wrong. It is an honour to do this. I love doing this. It is exciting and interesting and exactly what I want to be doing. But it is not, by any means, “easy”. I do not stride into a classroom, say “Turn to page 33 and complete the exercises” and then go stick my thumb up my arse, is what I am trying to say.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, I have to

  • manage resources
  • prepare teaching aids
  • select books
  • practice activities
  • research new ideas
  • keep up to date with the subject
  • coordinate with colleagues
  • keep teaching assistants informed
  • become familiar with new curricula and assessments every new government regime
  • write long form reports
  • meet with parents
  • grade assignments and tests
  • regularly grade homework
  • ensure safety at break times
  • email students who have questions outside of school time
  • maintain my teaching blog, to keep my students informed about my lessons and homework
  • run afterschool clubs

This takes time. You cannot expect me to show up at 8am and teach until 4pm Monday to Friday AND do all that other stuff on top. Not if you are only paying me for eight hour days. Pay me overtime for the hours all that takes and we can talk.

Often, it is at this time that someone brings up the “holiday” issue. We are NOT paid for all our holidays, any more than you are paid for the weekends. Our pay is spread out over the year to help our employers out. If we were paid our hourly rate over the holidays, we would be rich indeed. The holidays are “for” the children more than anything and we use them for our preparation and assessment.

People with no imagination who are not teachers imagine that we did our degree and then just rock up to the class and tell the kids about the American Civil War for 40 minutes off the tops of our heads and then go home gleefully dancing with joy for tricking the taxpayer into paying us to do such an easy task.

The government knows that what we do is more complicated, more difficult and requires more hours on top than mere “lecturing” but they encourage you in your delusions, so that they can make it easy to reduce our preparation time. You do not think that surgeons are lazy because they only spend a few hours in the theatre. You don’t think soldiers are lazy because they only spend a few hours a day shooting at people. You don’t think YOU are lazy because you do other things than your main responsibilities during the working day.

They play on your long standing deep seated issues with one or two shit teachers you had back in the day. I also had several really shit teachers. You have to let it go. You are a grown ass adult. Let it go. I am not your goddamned 1st year French teacher. We are not collectively responsible for the crap lessons you had in trigonometry. Let it go. Live in the now.

A reduction in time to do other things than simply teach will necessarily mean a reduction in quality of teaching. And shame on you for falling for it, Denmark.