Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Russian Teachers Union

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) -  Second City Teachers interviewed a prominent activist from the Russian school teacher trade union 'Teacher', Leonid Perlov, a geography teacher, about the pay, prestige, role, conditions and problems being experienced by Russian school teachers.

             We met on Pushkin square where the figure of the great poet Pushkin looms up and reminds you of his formidable and towering presence. He seems to be gazing over the horizon with an uncanny penetrative philosophical gaze. The words of his poem are inscribed below his figure declaring, 'I want to summon up feelings of freedom, kindness and glory for the fallen in this cruel century'. What does he mean? Was this 'cruel' century the 19th or is it now the 21st century? I wondered if teachers were amongst the 'fallen'.

            Leonid Perlov comes across as a friendly, frank and accessible teacher. He is endowed with a gift for  communicating complex ideas in a simple, straightfoward way. He also illustrates his arguments or cases with numerous amusing anecdotes.

            Second city Teacher
            A recent survey by TALIS,(Teaching and Learning International Survey,) claims that the salaries of school teachers have increased but that their work load has increased compared with their colleagues abroad. What do you think? Have the salaries of school teachers risen over the past few years?

            Leonid Perlov
            Well, you have to point out that there is a big difference between young specialists of the first catergory or rank starting off and the more senior teachers. Senior teachers are not paid that much more than junior despite their greater length of service.

            Younger  teachers can't be dismissed from the         school they have been assigned. If they don't perform work well in the school they can go somewhere else to find work.

            As for the claim that teaching has become a more attractive profession for young people, I don't agree with this. The problem is that we still don't have enough young teachers and I would not say the profession has become more attractive to young people.

            As for the claim that the salaries of school teachers have risen, in comparison with other countries, it still has not reached the average level of wages in Russia. If you want to make comparisons with other countries, Finnish teachers earn 2.2 times higher salaries than Russian school teachers.

            Therefore I don't agree with the findings of this survey
and there can be no dynamic rise in wages until we reach
the average level of salaries in Russia.

            The second point to make is that although salaries have risen the pay mechanism is not clearly defined and worked out in terms of how you should be paid for doing a number of hours in some regions. For example, in the Caucasus, some teachers might get paid far less than the usual average rate and in a gas-rich area of Siberia, the teachers might receive more hours of work and get more more pay. Pay tends to be given according to the quantity of hours and not the quality of teaching. Now the problem with this is that the quality of teaching can go down with the increasing hours. Russian school teachers work more than their American colleagues.

            They can work from 40-60 hours a week. Usually a full time working week is defined as doing a minimum of 18 hours a week. There is a common saying comparing two teachers.

            The first teacher says, 'I have the pay but, but I can't afford to eat,' while the second teacher tells him, 'I have more work but don't have time to eat!'

            S.C. Teacher
            How does the government assess the quality of performing teachers?

            Leonid Perlov
            The government inspects and checks teachers. The main problem lies in the criteria of how work is defined. It is assessed on a quantitative and not a qualitative basis. If you do more hours, you get a higher salary and it means he or she is a better teacher in the eyes of officials. Concerning the assessing by quality this is impossible to evaluate. The government thinks it can assess this but it can't. They use incorrect criteria of assessment. So more and more attempts are made to evaluate teachers with more and more points but you still can't reach a proper conclusion.

            S.C. Teacher
            Don't Russian teachers have any legal protection from being unfairly dismissed?

            Leonid Perlov
            There is a law and not just one law enshrined in what we call the Labour Codex which protects teachers. There might be good and bad reasons for dismissing teachers. A bad reason is when a teacher does not agree with his head master or fellow teacher.

            You can't really be legally fired for this. And if you are late because you fell and broke your leg you should not be fired.

            We have a three warning system. The authorties can only dismiss you with the third warning. If they have not given such warnings, then it could be very difficult to dismiss the teacher, especially since this warning system is written into the law.

            S.C. Teacher
            What do you think of the proposed reforms?

            Leonid Perlov
            We have had reforms for a long time. We have been in a state of 'permanent reform'. It began 20 years ago and is
still going on. Any reforms risk failing in such a huge country
such as Russia. The government has three options; It can leave the situation as it is, it can make the situation worse or it can make it better. Reforms are needed but they must be clearly defined, assessed and analysed. In practice there have been many new experiments in, say, 10 regions of Russia out of 185. This is not a cheap thing to do. It costs a lot of money and the officials who are implementing the reform must prove the work is effective. In practice, those reforms don't often work!

            It is difficult to assess the effectiveness of new reforms because it takes a long time to find out if they have been effective. The results are not available immediately as there is a long time scale involved. Take the example of introducing a new exam for children in their first year. If you are implementing a new program and methodology in their first year, when do you think we can discover whether the results have been truly effective?

            The TALIS survey claimed that the amount of paperwork teachers are having to do has risen tremendously. They found that this was a recurring complaint amongst the headmasters as well as other teachers.What is your opinion?

            Leonid Perlov
            That finding is certainly true. I know a member of the Duma, Alexandr Molon. He is blind but a good and honest teacher. He states that, 'We have the criteria for improving teacher qualifications, if you want to reach a higher rank in teaching.

            But a teacher has to fill in 13 kilos of application forms for officials to read. Do you think officials are going to read any of this paperwork? Nobody will read this paperwork. My wife is a doctor in a polyclinic and tells me she spends more time filling in forms most of the time than dealing with her patients.

            S.C. Teacher
            Why is there such needless paperwork? They tell me that there is more red tape than in the Soviet era.

            Leonid Perlov
            Government officials can't objectively assess the criteria for evaluating teachers and education. Officials are not capable of doing this. It is like the joke about the man who loses his watch in the park. He was looking in the part of the illuminated park and not the dark part. Another person asked him, 'Why are you looking in this part of the park as I have seen your watch in the dark part?' The man who lost his watch answers, 'Because this part of the park is lit and I can see, and I can't see where I lost the watch in the dark part.' So he never finds his watch.

            Officials read documents but are not qualified to do anything else.

            What can the union Teacher do to help unfairly dismissed teachers?

            A problem is that people badly know the law in Russia. As a trade-union we can find the dismissed person a lawyer, or organise acts of solidarity in different schools. We can go to parliament and ask for help. We can also take the problem to the organ of the procurator's.

            We can help him find a new job in another area as a teacher.

            Has the prestige of Russian school teachers increased in recent years?

            Leonid Perlov
            The attitude of the public to teachers is extremely low. If a teacher is so badly paid his work will not be accurately
acknowledged. Alot of capable teachers won't enter into the
profession if the wages are so low. We can compare the attitude to teachers in the West with the Far East. In South Korea, the teacher is chosen by the pupils while in the West it is the opposite. In the West, the status of teachers has been low for centuries. In ancient times, teachers were slaves and even now they are like slaves. This is because they are often like paid mercenaries - 'He who pays the piper calls the tune.'

            The piper has turned teachers into slaves. In the Far East, we see a different picture. The teacher is treated like a god or a saintly figure. The pupils don't tread over the toes of the teacher.

            I visited and worked in South Korean schools so I 'm acquainted with their views.

            S.C. Teacher
            What do you think of the recent cases of two American teachers being imprisoned for 22 and 30 years for
illicit sex with their pupils?

            Leonid Perlov
            One of my colleagues fell in love with their pupils but they only married ten years after she had left school! They are both currently happily married and have a child. But they waited.

            You need to keep a distance with your pupils. I don't think the teachers should be imprisoned. Yes, they should be dismissed and not permitted to work in this specific district of America but not put in prison.

            S.C. Teacher
            What if a teacher says, "I want to join a union but I'm too scared of joining least someone find out I'm a member and I might lose my job.''

            Leonid Perlov
            I always try to meet those teachers and ask, 'Why do you want to join?'  It usually is because they are working in a bad collective, don't get on with other staff, can't relax, but not always. In one case a teacher came to me who was in a good collective. I gave her an application form and proposed 'If you don't change your mind the Union will defend you.' Yes, people 
are often afraid of joining.

            I'm not a Christian, but Jesus was for the poor, the weak and the underdog. The union is also there to defend the people who need help, especially teachers who tend to be poor.

            S.C. Teacher
            What do you think of the recent proposals by the government to test the competence of school psychologists?

            Leonid Perlov
            The question is 'Who will evaluate those psychologists?'

            Will high-ranking psychologists evaluate them? Russians know what an accountant is but they don't know what a psychologist is or what they do.

            What is your opinion of this book by Alexsi Ivanov  'The Geography Teacher gets drunk'?

            Leonid Perlov
            I think that this person should not have been allowed to teach in this school. He had no experience or training as a school teacher. I have read this book twice and watched the film three times.  Teaching is one of those professions which
many people think they know something about and have the
right to profess any opinion on it. This is despite the fact they
have no qualifications or experience which would qualify them to make such judgments.

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