Saturday, October 19, 2019

Teacher Salaries

By Stephen Wilson
At school we were taught to never ever ask such an intrusive and unwanted question : "How much do you earn?" It was just not done ! It was not just a case of encroaching upon a person's personal privacy which is regarded as sacrosanct, but rude. There are other practical reasons for refusing this, answer especially to a stranger. You might entice a criminal or the person, if he or she is narrow-minded and myopic, can respect you less. Many Russians ask me this question, but I never retort: " Mind your own business" or "Go to hell".
In fact, I just frankly answer: "I have not the faintest idea ". That is the answer many Russian school teachers might well answer because there exists no standardized Russian payment system in Russia where there is a typical average salary. For not only do salaries dramatically vary from region to region, but even a teacher's personal monthly salary can vary from month to month. In fact, the system of paying out salaries remains almost a conundrum.
In Soviet times the payment of school teachers was much more straightforward. Your income was dependent on how many hours you taught. Now, almost a quarter to a third of the salary is based on stimulated pay. A teacher is paid according to how many school students do well in Olympiads or obtain a five in exams. But in some schools you can be awarded points for taking students on an excursion, starting a poetry group on a patriotic theme, supervising a study circle or even organizing a special school newspaper. You receive points which can be converted into rubles according to an often complex point system decided by headmasters.
But in some schools, you might not be paid for those activities, while in another school you will obtain pay. In one school, there might be an 18 point system while in another school it can be a complex 100 point system which confuses teachers. A school which is poorly funded in a small impoverished town might not pay you while one in an enormous town can pay you. 
But there exists an enormous yawning gap in income between regions which represents the most glaring injustice. The Russian government agency Rosstat  can't even completely conceal this. And yet they present a rosier picture of the level of income. According to a recent Rosstat survey of 2019, a monthly teacher's salary in Moscow comes to 95,774 rubles, a salary in Dagestan can be 25,730. A teacher working in the southern regions of Russia can make as little as 18,126 rubles yet has to work 31 hours a week at school. And this is only at school. He must also check school notebooks as well as plan lessons, claims Valentina Fedoseeva, a member of the Union of Workers in Education and Science. "The cost of a lesson - for a colossal workload comes to a meager 91 rubles an hour. We are interested in how much a cashier in a supermarket earns. And frankly speaking, I am not surprised by the result : 150 rubles an hour", states Valentina. 
In the Altaiski region of Russia a young teacher earns approximately 6000 rubles a month for an 18 hour week. In a huge town with massive local government budget, the young teacher can earn 60,000 rubles!
In order for poorer teachers to earn a half decent salary he must work 36 hours or more and this may well be the situation of over 80 % of teachers in  Russia. But such a staggering workload takes an enormous toll on a teacher's health. And of course, the more hours you do, the poorer the quality of the lessons. What is strange is that so many people presume that the more pupils you have, the better your teaching. It means you are popular and hence in demand. But a teacher is not a business man. The level of pay or the number of students can't be correlated with the performance of a teacher. Even the grades students obtain might not reflect teacher performance. When directors threatened to cut the pay of teachers unless so many students got excellent results, the teachers dramatically awarded higher marks! The number of school students being awarded a five suddenly shot up. You have 'grade inflation' which is a common affliction in not only Russia but Britain. Anxiety about keeping your job can lead to teachers becoming too lenient! 
So you have an absurd system where in Moscow, a school teacher might make 500-800 rubles an hour, while a few kilometers beyond Moscow a teacher earns 50- 100 rubles in a poor town!  Asking the question, "How much do you earn?" is worse than a rude question. It is almost insulting!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Wednesday Forum

Come to a Forum & Discussion
Wednesday, October 9, 6:30 p.m. 
United Electrical Workers Hall, 37 South Ashland, Chicago

Across the country there has been an escalation of racist and outright fascist attacks. From Charlottesville, Virginia to Portland, Oregon, white supremacists have unleashed murderous violence against immigrants, African Americans, Latinos and those who fight back against racist terror. 

Chicago, one of the most rigidly segregated cities in the U.S., has been a focal point of racist reaction going back to the 1919 riots against black workers and segregationist mob attacks in Cicero in the 1950s and ’60s. Today, fascist groups target Chicago in support of the police who terrorize African American areas, as the cop murder of Laquan McDonald and official coverup highlighted. That terror reflects the economic devastation caused by shutting down of industry, the slashing of social services and closing schools in impoverished neighborhoods.

To defeat these attacks, the Internationalist Group Wednesday, October 9, 6:30 p.m. United Electrical Workers Hall, 37 South Ashland, Chicago calls to mobilize the power of the multiracial working class in defense of the oppressed and to break with the capitalist parties of racism and war.

While Republican president Trump whips up anti-immigrant hysteria, Democratic mayors from Rahm Emanuel to Lori Lightfoot are the bosses of the racist killer cops. Massive labor/black/immigrant action is needed to stop deportations and racist attacks. An example of what’s called for is the resolution put forward by the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) in Portland calling on labor to stand ready to act to crush the racist threat.

This motion was taken up by the Chicago-area IUPAT District Council 14, which took it to the Painters union recent national convention, where it passed unanimously. But to turn such calls into action will require concerted action by class conscious workers in the ranks.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Day of Teacher

What some Russians think of their school teachers
By Stephen Wilson
Ask a passer by in the streets : "Who goes to work at school ?" Lets just do this experiment without microphones and cameras face to face. Of course, someone will speak about how teachers love children and their vocation. But I very much doubt that will be the most popular answer. In the mass consciousness of people, teachers are either losers who can't find a more prestigious job elsewhere ... or have a strange personality because they are ready to work for kopecks and therefore don't inspire trust ', declares the author of 'The Daily Life of a Teacher', Pavel Astapov. 
Well, on the eve of 'The Day of Teacher,' Second City Teachers took up the challenge of carrying out Pavel Astapov's experiment. We embarked on a quest to discover how some ordinary Russians actually perceive school teachers. We asked some students, lawyers, caretakers, shop assistants and engineers.
The attained answer turned out to be not what we completely anticipated. We were often surprised. The answers were more complex, contradictory and ambiguous than Astapov suggested. Out of almost a dozen respondents questioned, only about one agreed with the claim they were 'losers'. Most agreed they did a difficult job and were under tremendous pressure and some who had tried teaching themselves claimed that not anybody could do teaching. When I asked Alexei Aleshin, an Editor in Chief who works in a model shop in Moscow whether he considered teachers losers, he answered, "Teachers have lost a lot of authority and prestige lately. They don't have many rights. I don't think they are losers. Those people who scold them as losers have something missing in their brains. Their brains are out of order. Those people only think about how to make money and steal from other people. A teacher can only be regarded as a loser if his pupils don't learn."  
I later ask a 51-year-old care-taker and ex-ambulance driver Dmitri what he thinks of school teachers. "I respect teachers, but I was never a good pupil. During Russian literature lessons I just fell asleep over the book all through the lessons. The teacher just left me alone. I remember how one of my school tasks was so full of mistakes it was saturated with red" he laughs. Yet Dmitri is always carving model planes and rockets from wood as well as making all kinds of beds, chairs and tables. 
When I asked a young woman, Julie, from Siberia, what she thought she answered, "I think teachers are losers. They don't know much about life outside their profession because they live so much in their schools." Her husband Vladimir states: "I think the situation is more complicated. I think they are under a lot of pressure from too much paperwork. But a true teacher will try and upgrade and improve her skills.
A manager of a foreign language company Tania states, "I have friends who work in schools so I know how difficult the situation is. They do a lot of paperwork which is unneeded. But they can't skip this work. They often have to teach classes of 30 pupils. When I was a school student there were 40 pupils in my class".  I asked Dmitri Kim what he thought and he answered : "My ex-girl friend is a teacher. Teaching is not as simple as it looks. Some people think anyone can teach, but that is not true. Once I taught and I found it very difficult. They often find themselves in extreme situations and have to figure a way out. They undergo 'rites of passage.' I really respect teachers ".
Kate from Belorussia told me: "Not all teachers are talented and have low scores at school. The pedagogical institute is the easiest faculty in University to enter and that is why they enter it". In this sense her answer resonates with the common cruel joke that, "Only idiots enter the pedagogical institute because they are not clever enough to enter other faculties." (Editors note: Or in the U.S. we joke - Those who can't - teach, those who can't teach, teach gym.) 
I asked a manager Yevgeny, who works for a Swiss company what he thought and he answered: " Well, I would not say teachers in Moscow are losers because they can earn as much as 100,000 rubles a month and that is the equivalent salary of some middle executives. But teachers are under a lot of pressure. They have to do a lot of paperwork . Then they have big classes to teach. My 14-year-old daughter attends a class full of over 30  pupils. " When I claimed that a teacher should be regarded as a loser if his pupils don't learn and not how  much they earn, he fully agreed. 
I asked Pavel Stepaneko, a 39-year-old engineer, what he thought and he answered, "Teaching is definitely a highly-skilled job. You not only have to know your subject, but be able to communicate this knowledge to pupils. You need to know a lot about the psychology of children. I have noticed that my young son at the kindergarten always does what his teacher tells him, but he doesn't always obey me. They seem to know how to manage children. Of course, not all teachers can do this. But I fondly remember some great teachers that really helped me. One school teacher who taught me for 3 years had also been the teacher of my mother ! She must be about 60 now and her name is Galina Anatolyevi. I still remember many things she taught me. I recall how she told me: "Write this down in your notebook. It is very important. It is the difference between Fauna and Flora. Fauna means animals while Flora is plants. I also recall that when I was a student at Bauman's University a businessman would drop into teach us physics. He would substitute for another teacher and he was a brilliant teacher. He could communicate very well by using his hands. He taught the subject as a hobby. " 
I was lucky to meet up with a lawyer called Maria, who is a student at the Higher School of Economics. She told me, "This profession is not respectable when pupils don't learn at school. Most school teachers don't want to know anything new. But many teachers are expected by the parents of their pupils to fix all their problems. They are expected to bring up pupils instead of the parents. My mother works in a kindergarten at Voronezh . A mother came to her complaining that her 3-4 year old child could not speak in sentences. The teacher stressed that it was the task of the mother to speak to her child and she must be the main authority. The mother refused saying: "No, you have to do this not me ". Parents don't often speak to their children, but instead give them a pet to play with. So children don't learn to speak.
She told the following story:

"I recall that when I was at school I had to answer a question relating a work of Russian literature with a theme such as compassion, love or war. I chose to write a composition from my favorite novel "The Master and Margarita " when Margarita is asked what Woland can do to her as a favor for being his escort at the ball. Margarita compassionately made the request that Frieda, a maid who strangled her baby to death with a handkerchief should not be tortured by having this handkerchief thrust in front of her eyes every night. She had been raped by her employer and landed with an unwanted baby. I gave this as an example of an act of compassion. The Russian Literature teacher did not agree and failed me. So I went up to her in an angry mood and complained. Since the teacher was scared of me I was allowed to resit the exam and passed.
"I remember how my dream was to enter Moscow State University. Almost everybody told me to abandon this dream. It was impractical and impossible because they only accepted students from Voronezh who could pay money for a place. But one of my school teachers, a teacher of Social Knowledge and History believed it was a dream that could be fulfilled. She was the only person who believed in me. She supported me. My parents told me it was impossible to enter this university, but she believed it could be done. I still keep in touch with this teacher today. Her name is Svetlana Nikolaevna. When she taught Social Knowledge in her classroom every pupil listened to her. Even the bad pupils paid attention to her. She could present the subject in an interesting way which could get the attention of everyone. All the pupils did well in her class ... I did enter Moscow State University!"

Book Review

By PAVEL ASTAPOV - Moscow the Publisher Act 2020.
{Буни Учителя, О Чем Молчат Педагоги, Павел Астапов, москва  Издательво ACT, 2020-320 Звезда Соцсети.]
I stumbled across by accident a book by U Tube Blogger and ex-teacher Pavel Astapov, The Daily Life of a Teacher. I found it below a table with a huge placard promoting the imminent Day of the Teacher. The book has been launched on the eve of this day. {On the 5th October}
The book claims to reveal what Russian school teachers remain silent about. That is, it represents a real insight into what goes on in school behind closed doors. It is based on the direct everyday experiences of Pavel Astapov, who worked as a teacher of Russian and Literature for eight years. The book is written in an attractive, lively and colloquial style. You instantly feel that the author could be chatting away to you in some school canteen. The book  largely consists of numerous anecdotes, the author's views on the education process, what teachers think of their pupils and parents and vice versa. The book is never dull. Unfortunately, it has yet to be translated into English, but if you know some Russian it is well worth a read.
You quickly obtain an impression of the style of the book when you read, 'Let's get acquainted! My name is Pavel. I'm 32 years of age, and I love romantic suppers with candles as well as going for walks at night through the city. and, 'Well, this is information for another site.' So you can expect a lot of humor as well as irony.
Astapov is at pains to point out : 'No, don't think this is a book about complaints, this is story about the truth. About MY truth. it is about the education system I landed in and got closely immersed in and experienced terribly ... I greatly understand that my story can be fully different from other stories.'  With statements such as this Astapov comes across as offering a frank and modest account of his experiences.
Anyone eager for sensational stories about scandals will be quickly disappointed. Nevertheless, the book  has humor and it is difficult to put down. The reservations I had was the author fails to raise the issue of how vulnerable school teachers are in regard to job security. Practically nothing is said about the cases of school teachers being unfairly fired for simply getting into an argument with their headmistress, or posting their photo on a social network. Nothing is said about the existence of an illegal blacklist used by the local Ministry of Education to ban teachers from employment. The strikes and the emergence of a Teachers Union for teachers are not acknowledged. There again Astapov acknowledges that his book does not pretend to be an inexhaustible claim to the experiences of all school teachers. But his claim that the main aim of school teachers is to impart knowledge to pupils so that they can pass their final exams will also raise eyebrows.
Despite  reservations, some stories by Astapov will sound very familiar to school teachers. How some teachers stifle the creativity of pupils by forcing pupils to ritually stick within the parameters of the school program is brought home to readers. "I never forget that when I was in 5th grade, and how I had fully and hopeless fallen in love with the history of Ancient Egypt, put a picture of Mummy Ramses on the board, gave a talk ,and was interrupted half way through my story by the teacher, demanding I only answer according to the school textbook! ' "Answer only what is written in the textbook. You don't need to say any more".  So Pavel was forced to sit down and say what was in the textbook and got the mark  five.
What do most Russians think of school teachers? Pavel  suggests readers carry out the following experiment . He states in the chapter headed, 'Why nobody respects teachers?' : Ask passer-byes in the street : What kind of people go to school ? Only, let's do this without a microphone or camera on the streets. Someone, of course, will recall people who loved children and had a sense of vocation. But I very much doubt that this will be the most popular answer. In the mass consciousness of people, those who go to work in school are losers who can't find a more prestigious place. Everybody recalls the cheerful saying about the absence of intelligence and those who enter the pedagogic institute. or those who go to work in schools are oddballs'. I have also heard the joke that people only enter the pedagogic institute because it is the easiest university to enter. Given the low pay, long hours and endless humiliation of teachers, Astapov imagines the average Russian taunting anyone with aspirations to be a teacher. Well, I carried out the experiment suggested by Astapov and received a mixed response. A lot of people I asked on the streets answered they really respected teachers although a significant number confirmed Astapov's claim. The response can be more complex than anything anticipated. 
Astapov confirms that many parents place highly unrealistic expectations on school teachers. He is amazed that so many people believe that teachers have a magic wand that can conjure away problems. He writes about how one mother insists that he instruct his son to become an ace student and win a medal despite the pupil's limited academic ability. In one interesting story he meets a mother who complains her child never picks up a book, but is glued to the computer. Astapov asks the mother, "And do you read books at home?" The mother answers, "I'm too tired to read books and all the books on the shelves were those left by my parents. I watch television."  Astapov retorts that her child is also tired and that if she doesn't read books, it won't exactly inspire their children. The main people to bring up children must be the parents. Yet parents are attempting to thrust this task on to overworked teachers. But teachers can't replace parents or at least completely as the main person who brings them up.
Pavel  Astapov feels strangely obliged to remind some pupils that school teachers are human and also have families and children to look after. Some have hobbies! Pavel tells the amusing story of how a girl spotting him entering a cinema and being shocked. She can't believe a teacher would enter a cinema or a bar. Why are teachers not at home marking homework? He states, "It surprises me that so many people presume that teachers only live between their school desks and the staff room checking school work". He warns that teachers are being judged for just about everything, how they look, speak , and what clothes they wear. Teachers operate under many restrictions. Their lives are in a sense very censored.
The chapters where Astapov sarcastically mocks the claims of 'the average school salary' and the huge amount of needless paperwork teachers are expected to perform are handled superbly. Astapov can be sharply succinct and acutely perceptive. 
It is clearly evident that Pavel Astapov is not only a brilliant teacher, but an accomplished storyteller who can keep the attention of his audience. He is currently working as a professional U Tube blogger. The questions I'd like to ask is, 'Would Pavel Astapov ever return to teach in school? ' Would he really want to? '

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Stop Lying to Children!

By Stephen Wilson
An Open Letter calling for an end to state intimidation, imprisonment and beating up of youth recently received the signatures of over 2,000 Russian school teachers.
It all began with school teachers arguing about the school play. How old does a school student have to be to fully understand Shakespeare's Hamlet? How many school students can grasp the complex meaning conveyed by the play? As the discussion grew more deeper it seemed patently evident that parallels could be made between the situation Hamlet finds himself in and the terrible predicament which young people find themselves in modern day Russia. Like Hamlet, many people feel alienated, and angry about the blatant injustice which pervades their lives. For example, quotes such as  'The time is out of joint' and 'Denmark is a prison' could be applied to Russia. But the teacher Irina Lukyanova, a teacher of literature is hardly the first person in Russia to be inspired by Shakespeare! Boris Pasternak translated Hamlet and a Russian philosopher, Leon Shestov, described Shakespeare as his 'first master in philosophy'. He attempted to develop a philosophy from his own creative interpretation which he titled 'Shakespeare and his Critic Brandes.' Russians regard literature not as a light or academic subject, but as a way of life. You don't just read literature but should live it by practicing the virtues and values it embodies. A poet is not just a poet, but can be a philosopher and guide to action. Many teachers believe that Russian literature should be taught to inspire people to be honest, helpful and law-abiding citizens. People should not tell lies. But if the school students see that the government itself is not practicing those values, then why should they?
Adults who are preaching those values to children will be viewed by their own children as hypocrites. Lukyanova stated that the main message of the letter was an appeal to "Stop telling children lies". She stated that "it was high time teachers woke up and adapted their civic position. Stop being afraid! Children won't forgive us for being silent and not telling the truth".
Irina Lukyanova 's Open Letter, in a way, starkly expresses the unwanted predicament Russian school teachers find themselves in. For instance, a school subject such as 'Social Knowledge ' teaches children to learn all the main articles of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. They learn that Article 31 allows them the right to peacefully gather and demonstrate, yet when they actually try to gather they can face mass arrests, be beaten up and falsely imprisoned on bogus charges of inciting mass disorder. When they hear that though freedom of speech is guaranteed by the constitution, but bloggers are being thrown into prison for exercising this, they can't help noticing a huge discrepancy between the law and the reality.
The letter states : 'Most of the arrested are young people. By their age they are our students of yesterday. It is impossible to talk to school children honestly about the Decembrists, about penal imprisonment, the Gulag, Blok, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and many other classics of Russian literature to teach them about freedom of choice, morality, a person's responsibility for the society which he lives in and at the same time pretend nothing happened beyond the classroom. This is hypocrisy and we don't want to teach children hypocrisy.'
In Soviet times a person from a school or institute who wrote such an open letter could be fired. And her school or institute could all be collectively punished for not controlling her. Teachers were expected to police each other and prevent such letters. But within a few hours of writing this open letter, Irina Lukyanova was surprised to discover that over 2,000 teachers, including some headmasters and mistresses, had signed the letter in support. The letter evoked a strong resonance among teachers. Those teachers were from all over Russia. Russian school teachers are losing their fear. They have woken up to the unacceptable. A teacher Sergei Volkov stated, "This letter was written for everyone. For all people! Teaching is such a profession where for us everyone is a person ... Now it seems that it is time to explain the moral law ... You must not lie, kill, rob, and bear false witness!"

Few people would disagree.


Thursday, September 26, 2019

Teacher Preps Ruse

Teacher Preps a Ploy to Get Us Nothing?
By Jim Vail

Several teachers have been wondering if the city´s demand that principals direct two of the four teacher-directed prep periods - to plan lessons, grade papers and do paperwork - was just a ploy.

A ploy is described as an action designed to turn a situation into one´s advantage.

In this case, what would make teachers more upset than to threaten during negotiations to take away two teacher preps. The principals already have one prep that they direct so that teachers cannot grade papers, deal with parents or students, and attend to the ever mounting paperwork.

Something sounded fishy here so I asked one principal if they really wanted to direct two more prep periods. How about the Reach evaluating new teachers four times a year? No thank you, very much!

Principals do not have a union, and therefore appear to have little if any say about the whims of the Chicago Public Schools.

Troy LaRaviere, the director of the Chicago Principals Assoc., looked into the CPS prep demand back on September 10th.  

Troy said that he had not heard this demand from principals so he decided to survey admins to get data.

The data showed that a majority of principals or about 70 percent are against the idea of directing two more preps. 

His survey showed:

- A supermajority (68%) of principals and assistant principals are opposed to the district’s proposal to reduce teacher-directed preparation time and increase principal-directed preparation time.

92% of school leaders want 30-minute morning teacher preparation time restored (97% either support or are unopposed to the restoration of morning preps).

- 93% want full-day professional development opportunities for their teachers and 74% want four to eight full teacher PD days per year.

So in terms of less preps for teachers, it was a ruse - or action intended to deceive us. Watch Mayor Lori Lightfoot say, ¨Ok, you got me. We won´t take more preps away from the teachers. You won.¨

Which is B.S.

¨This was a fake fight,¨ one union member wrote. ¨CPS principals never wanted our preps. Good distraction though. Got people riled up. Then CPS can give in on this (in exchange for something that costs them money) and CTU can say, “When we fight, we win.”

¨At the end of the day, the teachers are no better off...but have been tricked into thinking this was a win.¨

Let us hope our union does not fall for this trick!

Monday, September 23, 2019

We are all Illegal

Red Rover Series