Teachers are our precious assets.

Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions’

It certainly doesn’t need a blog post to make this statement clear and obvious to anyone who has children or thinks in the longer term.  Or cares about the future even. But sometimes even the most obvious truisms need repeating from time to time. When my mother in law retired from teaching, she made a final comment in her leavers’ speech, linked to what her father believed, who had also been a teacher, and that was how proud she was to be a teacher and it was both a honourable profession and a honourable way to make a living. I agreed with her then as a young history teacher and I agree with her now as a leader of schools. 

I first came to see Heritage just over four years ago and having worked with great Moldovan teachers like my friend and colleague, Tatiana Popa, for a number of years, I knew then, as I know now, how precious and important teachers were to Moldova.  My wife’s grandfather and mother, both Welsh, both from a long tradition of a nation that values learning, on the opposite side of Europe, and also, coincidently, of a country that produces great educators. I saw that at Crickhowell and at Wyedean and still see it from other incredible school communities like these two every day.  

International education has also taught me a number of common points about teachers and teaching around the world.  We are the only profession where everyone is an expert just because they went to school once.  That a teacher and a school can be expected to change and pick up every issue that a child may have despite the influence of home and the wider society.  That one never goes out of fashion in any sector of education or country. When I address wellbeing, career development, pay and conditions of the teachers and teaching assistants I lead, my strategy has to be about ensuring we don’t lose the best and we attract the best.  And we can grow everyone if our school culture and approach is supportive, positive and systemic.

International education has also taught me that only the successful schools and the successful educators thrive in the way they do because they believe in the transformative power of learning and they believe in young people. Teachers often get told, mostly by those “experts” again, that it is a noble vocation but not about the pay.  Then there are all the “holidays”…  It is a noble calling and certainly isn’t a profession that one should go into because there wasn’t really another option or the government paid you for a couple of years and then you could leave.  

Like most in education, we have all been in social situations where another one of those “experts” quotes GB Shaw at us about those who can etc etc etc. Glib, lazy nonsense. As a history teacher I quote back that Shaw was in favour of both eugenics and of the USSR. He praised the Soviet Union and Stalin after a visit at a time when millions were starving due to collectivisation. People in this part of the world unfortunately know only too well what this meant for their families during these times, when the awful legacy of the Soviet education system is still something we have to fight against in countries like Moldova. Shaw’s much quoted quip is not a great citation to use where humanity is concerned and especially not to put down teachers. 

The problem of teacher retention and recruitment is not new but it has become more acute.  I have seen from my own experience in the Varkey/TTF2030/UNESCO global school leaders group how crucial this is especially around SDG Target 4C for many countries.  What is the point of hiring great teachers if we cannot keep them in our schools or even in the profession?

SDG Target 4.c By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States

Teachers are the key to achieving all of the SDG 4 targets. It requires urgent attention, with a more immediate deadline, because the equity gap in education is exacerbated by the shortage and uneven distribution of professionally trained teachers, especially in disadvantaged areas. As teachers are a fundamental condition for guaranteeing quality education, teachers and educators should be empowered, adequately recruited and remunerated, motivated, professionally qualified, and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems.

It wasn’t a complete surprise that the largest of England’s teaching unions, the NEU, began a series of one day strikes this month to bring pressure on the UK government, along with other key public sector workers like nurses, over pay and conditions. Teachers in other countries such as France, are also taking strike action for better conditions. I did like the response from teachers to the latest secretary of state for education in England, Gillian Keegan, calling for certainty and stability in education, not to disrupt a day of education. She is the 6th incumbent in 2 years and she is ok that schools can take a day off for an expensive coronation in May, so close to exams.  In contrast, I am only on my 5th education minister in 4 years in Moldova as things stand. As the Prime Minister and entire government resigned this month and the president spoke of a Russian coup against Moldova imminent, things may change.  

The agency of teachers under pressure has never been more visible this decade from the responses school communities made to the challenges of a pandemic for over 2 years and for our corner of Europe, as we face the 1st anniversary of Putin and Russia’s “special operation” that looks rather like a full blown invasion and war of Ukraine a year on. I continue to be in awe of my colleagues in schools in Ukraine and how my own school community in Moldova responds and lives with these threats and uncertainties daily.  I have never been more proud of being in education these past few years.

My pride in the agency of my colleagues at Heritage has been easy to find in these winter months of 2023.  Heritage has always placed a strong emphasis on supporting our colleagues in the national education community and to see past labels and sectors.  The first events we held for teachers at the end of January was aimed specifically at the grassroots and those educators in the arenas.  My great colleague and academic director, Inga Chiosa, put together a very powerful Saturday conference for school leaders from across Moldova to get a national conversation on education going forward.  This month, we held the first ever TeachMeet style event in Moldova on looking at AI/ChatGPT in learning led by my colleagues Tatiana Popa and Anna Maria Cires. A conference that they will be now taking to our wider COBIS schools’ family. Any school leader looking on at their team performing and sharing like I was privileged to these past weeks, can see clearly why teachers are such precious assets to school organisations and the wider society.  Teachers from across Moldova, giving up a Saturday, unpaid, but wanting to develop professionally further in an area of technology and pedagogy that is going to be crucial for this decade and the next one. I am in awe of these amazing professionals. I don’t want to lose these brilliant educators to the overseas diaspora from Moldova but for them to build our society here for the next generation. 

The next generation of teachers and every other profession are already looking to their teachers as role models and to continue to develop the very values we need to show in defiance proudly against those who only want division, war and hate. I even had the chance to remember what it was like to teach as I spoke at the Holocaust Remembrance Day event in school alongside colleagues like our Head of Lyceum, Dorina Calinovscaia, whose father survived the Chisinau ghetto and Holocaust.  To have the privilege of witnessing this thread of important history passed onto another generation of international students, made me realise why I became a teacher all those years ago. This month, we celebrate another whole school Black History Month and the calendar of events that teachers go the extra mile for, to provide compelling learning opportunities and experiences only exists because teachers make additional time for it. I saw it on the weekend when colleagues took students and parents to support the AREAL/FOMS animal shelter outside Chisinau and I saw it as the entire school community supported the victims of the Turkish and Syrian earthquake with their donation appeal linked to our colleagues and families at the Turkish Embassy in Chisinau. Every teacher I have known embodies the values of social responsibility and international mindedness.

At the end of February I will be back in the UK speaking at the Outstanding Schools Europe conference in London and it will be a wonderful opportunity to meet with colleagues and see a couple of educational heroes of mine in Sir Anthony Seldon and Dame Alison Peacock.  Two remarkable advocates for teachers and education.  This long winter is showing some signs of drawing to a close and I am looking forward to seeing my family again, celebrating some birthdays, a 15th wedding anniversary with my wife Gen as well as St David’s Day in Wales and Martisor Spring uniting my western and eastern European halves. 

The World continues to look uncertain and fragile but for any of us working in schools and with children, we find our hope and our certainty in the role we do daily.  Every one of my colleagues is a precious asset for my schools and I long for the day when all societies value the people getting the next generation ready to take over and lead one day. Politicians in the UK and elsewhere, always looking for the silver bullet for education, will cite Estonia or Singapore or Finland, as the model to follow, not understanding in their rash political short-termism the deep policy commitment and investment over time of developing teachers as a well paid, well respected and continually well trained profession, vital for the well being and needs of a prosperous society. We need our teachers.  We need to value them. It doesn’t matter about the education minister, but it does matter about the commitment and understanding of how precious our teachers are now and for the future. 

“Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. Competition for the best teachers should be fierce; they should be making six figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense”

Sam Seeborn; “The West Wing”. 

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