If ever a chalkie had the time to reflect, he might seriously wonder why it is that he does what he does. For as he conducts the daily Socratic dialogue with his charges (“Why should I?”/”Because I’m asking you to”/”Get stood on”) or seeks for “outcomes” with colleagues (“I think you will find I was ahead of you in the photocopy queue”) or calculates at what temperature permafrost will form in the gulag of the outer portable classrooms, a part of his being is whispering “you’re completely and utterly mad”.

How is it then that he ever became a teacher? The received wisdom is that teachers hearken to the siren call of the pedagogic muse because of that one teacher in their adolescence who profoundly shaped their plastic sensibilities. The more prosaic explanation is that many teachers enter the profession because their high school grades were not good enough to get into anything better.

Sad to report but at certain schools the mediocre are over-represented. As are those biding their time until they receive a better offer. Happily there are plenty of good teachers to offset the duds. As naff as it sounds, all the dedicated want is to make a difference. Altruism which the government is not ashamed to ruthlessly exploit as it holds down wages and drags its heels with school improvements.

Consider only the practice of contract teaching. The contract teacher is engaged from term’s beginning to term’s end. Unless the teacher is re-engaged from day one of the following term he will not receive holiday pay. Happy Christmas, Mr Chips. It makes one almost nostalgic for Workchoices.

Even should the teacher score a permanent position, he must still teach in surroundings which make those Third World village schools depicted in heartening pics sent by international aid agencies to Mum and Dad sponsors (who attach them to the Kelvinator Deluxe with fridge magnets) seem enviably advanced.

The meagre remuneration is not a cause of the decline in teacher numbers and quality but a symptom of an expediency which says it is fine and dandy to cut costs in an area which is critical to any meaningful and productive future.

So the next time the pong in Room A3, the signal of a bereavement in the rat metropolis beneath the floorboards, becomes so chumpy you could carve it or the air-con blows hot instead of cold on a day Venusian in meteorological extreme or the power shorts because the bursar has thoughtlessly switched on an electric jug, the most you can do is gaze up to the ceiling studded with spit balls and the accumulated sh-t of a million flies (and wherein asbestos surely lurketh) and sigh.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey