Secondary school teacher appalled by intransigence of her union

‘I cut up my union card because it made me ashamed to be a teacher,’ says secondary school maths teacher appalled by intransigence of her union to get children back to school

Appalled by the intransigence of her union when it comes to getting pupils back into classrooms, this maths teacher at a state secondary in the North of England resigned her membership. 

Here, in a powerful account, the experienced teacher in her late 30s – who asked to remain anonymous – lays bare the unions’ shameful attitude.

The idea that my union should advocate that schoolchildren be forced to wear face masks in schools would have been the final straw for me – if I hadn’t already cut up my NASUWT card a month ago. 

I cancelled the direct debit when I realised they just didn’t really represent me any more. Nor, I suspect, do the unions speak for the vast majority of teachers on this whole issue of going back to school. In fact, the unions have been a brake on us going back to work. 

When I’ve had to make phone calls to my tutor groups, their worried parents ask, ‘They are going back in September, aren’t they?’, and I’ve been really honest and replied: ‘If you want to know who’s been causing the problems, it’s the teaching unions.’ 

Appalled by the intransigence of their union when it comes to getting pupils back into classrooms, one maths teacher at a state secondary in the North of England resigned their membership (stock image)

My union representative has been like a dog with a bone on the subject of returning to school and unable or unwilling to see both sides of the argument. I’m sure that’s the case in a lot of schools and the heads feel their hands are tied. Recently, our head drew up a risk assessment and asked us all to sign it. My attitude is that there’s always risk in everyday life. 

Inevitably, some of the things in the document were utterly absurd, such as prohibiting us from making a cup of tea for a colleague. But after months of trying to teach online, I was happy to sign it and get back to work. Yet the union rep insisted we shouldn’t and had so many daft objections.

I was left thinking, ‘Do you know what? We get paid to do a job and I believe that kids need to be in a classroom, learning.’ 

Teachers need to realise there are always going to be risks and I don’t expect my head to be able to guarantee my safety from a virus. It’s time for us to say enough is enough and get back to doing our job. At the moment, I feel embarrassed to be a teacher because we’re taking a salary and not earning it. 

I’ve got colleagues earning between £40,000 and £50,000 a year and they’re doing little or no work. Putting work online doesn’t count, to my mind – we’ve had a lot of kids who haven’t accessed it at all. 

We know who the COVID-vulnerable people are now, and obviously a teacher who is vulnerable needs to take that up with their head. 

But the vast majority of us should be going back to work. We’re behaving as if we’re working on the frontline and we’re not. 

‘The idea that my union should advocate that schoolchildren be forced to wear face masks in schools would have been the final straw for me,’ she said (stock image)

There’s a lot of scientific evidence that the kids don’t transmit the virus much anyway. Social distancing was one thing, but when the NASUWT said kids should be wearing masks all day, it just became ridiculous. 

It’s psychologically damaging and completely impractical. We’re always told in teaching that it’s all about building rapport and relationships but how on earth do you do that if you and the students are wearing a mask? 

You wipe out the vast majority of your communication skills by putting one on. Imagine the Year 7s, starting at secondary school for the first time. How terrifying would it be to step into a school full of masked children and teachers? Masks have such negative associations. 

In any case, children should not be asked to protect adults, it ought to be the other way round. If teachers want to wear gloves and masks, that’s up to them, but I don’t. 

Teachers are always seeking the moral high ground and saying ‘It’s all about the kids’, but since March it hasn’t all been about the kids, it’s been about the teachers and the unions have played up that aspect. Schools do need to go back to normal, not just for the kids’ education and their mental health, but also for the good of the wider economy. 

Schools should be the example for the rest of society to follow and teachers need to get a bit of backbone and say: ‘Yes, we’re going back as normal in September. The kids are entitled to an education and it’s wrong to impose restrictions on that.’ 

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