Teachers deserve much better

Schools are often the 'melting pot of society', that face the wrath of a culmination of societal issues...

During educational events, I often mention how the role of the teacher is much harder than that of a Minister. This isn’t to disrespect a ministerial position, but I know how difficult it has become to teach a class, day after day.

Earlier in my career, I was a teacher. Some of the challenges which educators tell me they face today are not too different from ones I had to confront back in the day. In other elements of the job, progress means some issues from my time have been resolved, others have intensified and new ones have definitely cropped up.

Schools are often the melting pot of society. They face the wrath of a culmination of societal issues which can be isolated in everyday life, but intersect in a school. The behaviour of some pupils is one of them. There is a small number of youngsters who come from difficult social situations. It would be wrong to dehumanise them, and start referring to them with derogatory adjectives. 

I’ve met some over the past four years, and I know they’re no angels. As educators we have two options: we can either abdicate responsibility or try to find real, tangible solutions that values them as human beings.

I know it is easy for me to say this, but we have many success stories of young people, labelled with the nastiest adjectives, who turned their life around with the right educational setting, support and programmes. Let’s build more of those rather than abdicate. Despite what it seems, today, in schools, there has never been so much aid and help to achieve this, both in terms of resources and human capital. 

This also means that schools and teachers need the support of the wider community. The absolute vast majority are supportive parents who have a very good relationship with the school and just want to see their child get a positive educational experience.

However, as with everywhere in life, there are a few bad apples. We have a zero-tolerance approach to any individual who goes to school with an air of entitlement and arrogance with the aim of trying to bully staff. This is unacceptable and, as I often tell school leaders, they should feel empowered knowing they have the total support of the administrators in education and myself.

At the moment, the Government is negotiating with the Malta Union of Teachers on the financial package and conditions of educators and teachers. First off, it is important to understand where we’ve started. We did not start from a good place, because from 2005 onwards (and even before) salaries and allowances had not improved much. 

Previous administrations, despite their honourable words, neglected the teaching profession and over the past twenty years the financial gap with other roles, not just in the public sector but also in the private one, has increased considerably. Our job is to close that gap and make sure teachers are well paid, because, while I acknowledge that teaching issues go beyond financial matters, teachers cannot live on compliments and nice words alone. 

As negotiations continue on this front, it is important to emphasise other areas which we need to work on: 

•     The respect and mental well-being of educators. 

•     The need for teachers to be at the centre of curricular and pedagogical changes.

•     Quality up-skilling opportunities.

•     Incentives for young people to become educators.

•     The Education Act.

•     More flexible opportunities for supply teachers to earn a regular position.

These are all priorities which we will address in the coming months. We must address them because teachers are an invaluable element in the progress of the next generation, and paired with that, the whole country. We have come a long way in recent years. We have opened doors for pupils wishing to learn in different ways, we’ve improved the social support services, investment in education has doubled, we’ve improved technological resources in schools and introduced a wide array of new opportunities for young people.

But there is a lot more that we need to do. As I said, being a teacher is a tough job. It’s harder than being a Minister. But at the end of the day, despite all the difficulties, it is a very rewarding job because you can truly make a difference in a child’s life and a lot of our teachers are doing that. They deserve much better.


Evarist Bartolo is minister for education and employment

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