A couple of months ago Alanna did a podcast with Albert Fong and myself on seminal books from our adolescence. I was all about Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers when I was a teen. It felt somewhat biographical (I joined cadets because my friend did – like Juan, the main character in the novel), but in retrospect the philosophy in the novel is what really struck home because it emphasized a clarity of purpose that I’ve always found elusive. At various points in the novel Heinlein goes to great lengths analyzing the failures of Twentieth Century thinking. When Juan is in officer training he gets to the bottom of why the robotically armoured mobile infantry of the 23rd Century are willing to have themselves launched out of an orbiting spaceship and ‘dropped’ into a terrifying war zone:
An army organized to lose wars—if history means anything. An army that is mostly organization, red tape, and overhead, most of whose “soldiers” never fight.”(Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers)
I don’t know where we are in Ontario education when it comes to teachers who are teaching versus teachers who are getting paid as teachers but aren’t, but if you factor in all the support positions across the system I suspect that 20% is optimistic. For every teacher earning a teacher’s salary that doesn’t teach, classroom teachers carry the burden. When classroom average sizes increase (as they seem to every contract these days), you seldom see support positions disappear. The education system is much more hierarchical than you might think.
At the school level we’ve already got a number of teachers working in non-instructional roles, but, like the 20th Century military that Heinlein criticizes, the fairy tale of a system with too much support and not enough boots on the ground continues at the board level where you find people earning teacher salaries doing administrative jobs ranging from shuffling health and safety paperwork to managing budgets. In addition to making teacher pay without teaching, each of these support roles has to be supported by a multitude of larger classes in order to keep a 23 students to each ‘teacher’ average ratio.
The only place the education system ever seems to want to make cuts or create harsh, standardized testing to assess effectiveness is in the classroom. Meanwhile, there is a hidden bureaucracy that remains untouched by cuts that hurt how children learn.
I’ve had a go at this before on Dusty World, but what kicked it off this time was a writing gig that came up recently. I took a swing at it and was surprised to get a call back. Why was I surprised? These kinds of jobs tend to get passed around in that insular group of educational bourgeoisie who operate beyond the classroom. Unsurprisingly, I appeared to be the only classroom teacher in the meeting. I was then stunned when I was told that instead of actually creating subject specific material for this subject council we were going to create material that supported the specialty programming that everyone else in the group ran as their day job. A guidance councillor who isn’t even qualified in this subject area then stated that we’d be writing support material for other subjects as well. This got me quite angry. I thought the purpose of subject councils was to support their subjects. The long and the short of this very frustrating interaction is that I seem to have been removed from the program.
I’m still boiling about this as I look at my upcoming dangerously over-full, under equipped classes. Instead of helping me and thousands of other teachers protect our programs, this subject council is busy feeding the educational bourgeoisie a second pay-cheque to support what they’re already doing in their day jobs at a board office.
I’m feeling very much a part of educational proletariat right now, but then all I do is actually teach. Heinlein was right, your morale takes a real kick in the head when you realize you’re doing the job others found their way out of as soon as they possibly could.
Were it the 23rd Century and humanity were united in an intergalactic war against insects intent on destroying us, I’d be proud to call myself a mobile infantryman doing a difficult job while knowing the organization I work with and the society it is serving recognizes and supports that difficult effort organizationally. Instead I work in Ontario public education.