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Not just wages: we need a reform in teachers’ status

Michal Cohen, Rashi Foundation CEO and former Director General of the Education Ministry

I’ll start with the obvious, or at least with what should be obvious by now – there is a need for substantial increase in the wages of teachers in Israel. Although the wages have gone up over the years, this doesn’t even come close to compensating for the wage erosion, certainly not in view of their highly demanding work.

The work conditions of teachers, especially those who enter the education system full of motivation but with low payment, affect not only the teachers themselves but every parent who sends his or her child to school. The situation lowers the status of teachers and of teaching as a profession, pushing more and more to leave and causing critical shortage of teachers in certain subjects.

Still, talking only about wages is misguided. Time and again, the reform efforts focus on the here and now – a small, inadequate raise – while the fundamental issue of improving the teachers’ status is put off until a future time – which never comes.

So what else do we need to take care of?

Legislating the Teacher Law
In Israel, there is no legislation that refers to teachers: determining their rights and obligations, setting limits for parents’ involvement in their work, protecting them as public servants, and above all – defining teaching as a profession, just like a lawyer, doctor or accountant. Such legislation will send an important message of public appreciation to teachers, as well as to those who consider teaching as a career.

Reform in training
Teachers training in Israel, like professional training in general, suffers from many years of neglect. Adaptations to the changing world are needed: redefining the teacher’s role, providing relevant teaching practices, using new spaces and technologies, emphasis on learning skills instead of rote learning, and more. The training must address the gaps that were revealed during the COVID crisis, particularly in the skills that distance learning requires. Teachers are yearning for training that will help them not to fall so far behind their students in technology literacy.

Establishing a national council for teachers’ status
To succeed, this council must be a-political and comprised of professionals only. Its sole mandate will be to deal with what determines the quality of the education system (as we learned from the McKinsey Report) – the quality of its teachers.

The issues the council will handle, besides the terms of employment, include the teacher’s role and personality traits, suitable training programs and skills, and so on. The main advantage of such a council is the ability to plan ten years ahead rather than a year or two, with a comprehensive view of the teacher’s career from college to retirement.

Continuing the increase in school autonomy and decrease in matriculation exams
The recent Gefen reform of pedagogic and managerial flexibility is a step in the right direction. So is the decrease in the number of matriculation exams, which started in the Significant Learning reform and continues now. These reforms were launched with commendable persistence, despite external pressures.

Changing the vacation days mix
As mentioned above, teaching is among the most demanding jobs. The last thing we should do is cut back the teachers’ vacation days, which they often use for independent study and professional development. What is needed is to give teachers more flexibility in deciding when to take time off, for example, exchanging holidays for vacation at a different time.

Emphasis on improving the work terms of young teachers
In spite of the present situation and lack of financial incentives, many young people still choose to become teachers, apparently motivated by values and idealism. But even the best of them get burned out early on when the return is not rewarding enough and the profession itself is being criticized nonstop.

A teacher for life? Not really
A good teacher will remain good as long as he or she feels they can change, make an impact, give a receive. Teachers should be allowed to retire with dignity after a decade, instead of being forced to stay until retirement age. A burned-out teacher doesn’t do any good – not to himself, not to the education system, and not to our children.

To recap: higher wages – yes, together with fundamental changes in other aspects of teaching and teachers’ status.

Photo credit: Yossi Zamir, Shatil Stock

06.06.2022

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