Published on the Malta Independent on Sunday on 23rd April 2017 – by Marco Bonnici, Nominee for President of the Malta Union of Teachers
Being in the profession for almost two decades, the last six years as a union official, I have always been amazed about the level of commitment of the majority of educators and the sense of duty towards students. Following my nomination for the post of President of the Malta Union of Teachers, I carried out a series of school visits to outline and discuss proposals about the proposed union leadership. A particular aspect of the profession is still striking whilst heavily undervalued. All teaching professionals have a sense of giving which is unique, incomparable to any other profession. I believe we can all recall concrete examples related to our school years when we witnessed aspects of generosity of the teaching profession even if at the time we did not give any due importance to such actions. It is an aspect which in past years has attracted so many youth to the profession and which at the same time is retaining educators in the system. It comes as no surprise that a considerable number of educators were and are still very active in voluntary work in respective communities or organizations.
The said aspect of generosity is often mixed with a sense of guilt feeling if an educator feels that s/he is not successful in ensuring that students reach their full potential. Expectations of teaching professionals are already very high but unreasonable expectations from the system are becoming the norm and are unacceptable. Educators are doing miracles when they achieve excellent results despite excessive workloads, endless paperwork, different ability levels, multiple schemes, individualized programmes, added record-keeping, constant scrutiny, limited career paths, uncompetitive salaries/allowances, reduced work-life balance, fear of abuse allegations, serious misbehavior in class, aggressive behaviour, serious inclusion difficulties, limited resources, unreasonable demands and declining respect and recognition.
Aspects of the profession as described previously and which have not been tackled effectively for years are affecting the morale of educators. Given the considerable number of changes which were carried out in a short span of time, it is quite difficult to identify what is leading to the low morale being experienced in schools. Coming from a scientific background I always compare the changes in the educational system in terms of component-changing in a machine. Even when working on the simplest of machines, one changes one component at a time and evaluates the effect of the change. Changes in the educational system, whilst not comparable to straight forward component-like replacements, are never evaluated and a change is always followed by another one within a short period of time. It is this sense of instability caused by ongoing changes which was referred-to in the past years as the reform fatigue. However the said reforms never stopped and two major overhauls of the system are in the pipeline. Catching up with reforms is already enough to increase stress levels. Having to deal with a level of uncertainty about what shall be expected in the coming months and years is leading to increased anxiety levels, a sense of helplessness and in some cases burnout.
Young people are not choosing the profession whereas a number of experienced educators are trying to seek alternative employment or career paths. The decrease in the number of educators is being felt particularly in the primary and in a number of subjects at secondary level. We are duty bound to come up with solutions to decrease the effect of the crisis in the short term and to reverse it in the longer term without lowering standards. I believe that the complexity of the situation being faced requires a concerted effort by all, especially training institutions and employers. The setting up of a joint working group with the Ministry to examine and come up with solutions to the crisis is thus welcome and we shall use this structure together with a number of proposals to address the situation.
Our fifty proposals presented together with a team of educators and colleagues who share the same vision, are part of the manifesto which is online at marcobonnici.com. These are aimed at tackling issues which have been outlined previously together with other situations which are affecting the profession. I strongly believe that we cannot address national issues without improvements in our operation as a trade union. A third of proposals address specific improvements to union structures ranging from upgrading of communication with members to the introduction of new professional services to complement trade union work. Proposals addressing the needs of the profession range from the pressing need to conclude the pending sectoral and collective agreements at the earliest to a commitment to refrain from accepting any new practices outside agreements.