Saturday, April 9, 2016

Russian Teacher Woes

By Stephen Wilson

Russian teachers are being asked to do more with less. Sound familiar?

(Moscow, Russia) -- 'Serfs you are, and serfs you shall remain'.

                King Richard's speech after breaking his promise to free the peasants from oppression.

                It was hopeless trying to contact this teacher. Her  phone always answered:

                'Not available', or you just heard  an incessant drone. What had happened?

                Had she suffered an accident? May be she been mugged or had got lost?

                When I did finally manage to track down Maria Koroleva I unravelled the riddle.

                She had thrown her mobile phone away. Maria Koreleva, a member of staff and an academic at the prestigious Moscow State University informed me:

                "I threw the mobile phone away because the administrative staff kept on phoning me up asking me to come in and supervise those exams, do this and that task. I could not do anything else and could not get any peace. Most of this work was unpaid and far from necessary."

                Maria Koroleva's situation is hardly exceptional. All over Russia, teachers at universities and schools are constantly being asked to attend conferences, make reports, fill in forms, supervise exams or take students on an excursion.

                Just at the time when teachers salaries are being  cut and many threatened by redundacies, the length of hours has soared . It is not uncommon for workers to do a 50-70 hour working week instead of keeping to the 36 hour week limit laid down by the labour code of the Russian Federation.(article 333)

                Teachers are not just expected to teach in the classroom but take students on excursions, supervise students at special Olympiad competitions, prepare for lessons, mark homework and exam papers, answer the inquiries of parents, photocopy endless documents, and show their lesson plans. Then some Russian teachers
are asked to attend parent-teacher meetings even if they have to cancel their own private students. Oksana Chebotarva, an English teacher, stated: " I either have to ask a colleague to attend instead of me, or reschedule the lessons of my private students. This is very difficult and inconvenient. I also badly need this extra money".

                According to some research, 80% of Russian teachers are doing too much work unconnected with the teaching of their pupils due to poor management.

                A primary school teacher has to check 250 school notebooks a week and, on average, 1.5 hours a day are spent on checking school notebooks and an estimated 64% of teachers are having to clean up their classrooms and the rest of the school around them.

                Despite the fact that a Russian teacher workload should not exceed  four daily lessons, "A typical Russian teacher performs 5-6 lessons a day," claims Maria Balueva, an English teacher from Saint Petersburg. But according to research by the Russian Academy of Sciences, the physical condition of teachers after performing 5 uninterrupted lessons reaches breaking point and after the sixth and the seventh, they are literary worn out.

                This has led to a situation where teachers have been likened to serfs.

                The Russian government has recently declared that a recently prepared project, 'Concerning the specific working schedule of working hours and rest of teachers in existing educational activities', is designed to alleviate the predicament of teachers. For instance, the paper proposes teachers could rightly refuse to undertake work suggested by their head, at special summer camps during holidays as well as other unreasonable demands made upon them.

                 This has not satisfied the representatives of the unions, University Solidarity and 'Teacher'. Pavel Kudyukin, co-hairman of University Solidarity states:

                 'The order widens the list of unpaid hours.... " He explains that according to the order, some previous forms of paid work will become unpaid. There is also no real mechanism for practically preventing this abuse of labour.

                 The Unions of Teachers were not even consulted about this order.

                 He adds: "There is a necessity to distinguish between two forms of working hours. Those connected with education - planning lessons, informing parents, conference participation, and work with libraries which can't be concretely counted, and extra work paid by agreement such as going on excursions'. Attentive examination of this order
indicates the unpaid teacher hours will rise not fall. Pavel Kudyukin declares: "Lecturers are one of the most weak and oppressed categories of employees as there are in the majority of universities mass dismissals being carried out. The working load of teachers is increasing beyond control. Anyone can be dismissed after their contract expires."

                 Both Univeristy Solidarity and the Union Teacher, have collected 8,000 signatures against the order which would mean an increase in unregulated and unpaid teaching hours.

                 "Teachers are confronted with a choice: either muster super -strength, forget their families, self-development, or raise up their hands, leave the profession and become private tutors. The latter alternative will
worsen the quality of education," states Pavel Kudyukin.

                 A third proposed alternative of throwing away your mobile phone met with bemused and raised eye brows!

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