I was reading the news over the weekend and once again a massive row has erupted about teacher's pay based on comments on the leader of our inspection regime. As usual, I scrolled to the bottom of the article to view the 'comments' expecting the poles apart responses of those who teach and those that don't.
Here are a selection of some of the comments I found from the non-teaching community:
- "Teachers are selfish and self obsessed, I think this is why there are so many comments about the 'real world'"
- "It's an insult to the term "Profession" to think of teaching as a profession. Nothing but bad mannered, poorly dressed layabouts. It's high time somebody made them work hard for a living."
- "Teachers are nearly as bad as those Islamic fundamentalists when it comes to being offended by criticism."
- "Teachers complain they can only go abroad during the expensive time. They're like farmers - never satisfied."
So did I jump on the comments and put them right? Did I disagree fervently and rant with my teacher friends over how 'misunderstood' we are? Did I ridicule my comparison with Islamic fundamentalists and farmers (those well known 'moaners' apparently)? Did I throw a fit and start ranting about politicians, bankers, the unemployed, immigrants, other public sector workers, the price of cheese, the colour of sheep or the lack of libraries? No.
Instead I was struck with a great sadness. When did we, as a society, become so mean? Teachers have been the subject of these 'debates' for years, as have any public sector workers, so it's not even that this particular 'attack' is aimed at a profession I work in. It's more the increase in viciousness that I question.
As an English teacher, one of the books we study is Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men'. Much to our Education Minister's particular offence, I would say that most children in our country study this as a cultural novel as part of the English Literature GCSE. In fact, I am studying it right now with examination students. It's a wonderful novel and teaches us a lot about what happens in a recession.
The message is simple and I see it whenever I open a paper, hear conversations about money, or turn on the news. Poverty and hardship makes humans mean. We lose our sense of community; we resent the money other people make; we're in a constant competition for who has it worse and strive to make sure that no-one is allowed to have it any better than anyone else.
This summer, the Olympics gave me hope. Our nation united with a level of pride and community that would make anyone proud. Less than 4 weeks later and the sniping has started. Gone is the inspiring news of Olympic success. Gone is the sense that united we can achieve the most amazing results. The 'legacy' that was so hoped for is fading and quickly.
I am left with an overwhelming feeling of disappointment for my community and increasing frustration that courtesy and respect for others is disappearing rapidly (which is almost ironic considering England is pretty much known for it's reservation and politeness).
This was going to be a simple 'rant' about my lift being broken for the last week, for the cigarette butts dropped on my balcony, for the offensive comments in the resident's book, for the pictures of men's genitals which someone keeps drawing on any note that they don't agree with, for the rubbish dropped in the stairwells, for the mud streaked across the walls and for the silence in which neighbours greet each other. Then I realised that this behaviour is symptomatic of everything that I thought about when I read the hateful attack on teachers in the news this weekend.
Economic suffering has made people angry, bitter, selfish and mean.
Not everyone, obviously. I don't even feel pity for those who attack others around them in a reaction to an economic situation that seems out of most people's control.
Instead I am grateful. I am grateful for the online refuge and community that I am involved in here. There may be cliques here and there, but people of all backgrounds, nationalities, intellects, genders and wealth come together and make a difference. It gives me hope. I am also grateful for all of my friends, family and work colleagues who are equally unaffected by the meany bug that appears to be going around right now.
Have any of you noticed similar behaviours in your country or community? Is this just all in my head? How can we as individuals make that change and restore a sense of 'real-world' community?
I can't wait to hear your opinion, whatever that maybe!