Low salaries and never-ending work; these are all words that are associated with the teaching profession. In this article Sana Lone talks to a cross section of teachers to find out the truth behind these beliefs and the reasons why teachers continue to love their jobs.
When it comes to choosing a profession many people base their decision on the kind of salary that they can expect. Like many others, I too grew up with the impression that teaching is one of the lowest paid professions. However, when at the age of 23, I became a teacher myself I realised that one couldn’t just make such an assumption without taking into account other factors. A lot of aspects such as the working hours, the work load, the type of work, work experience, training and specifically the organisation one works for, make all the difference when it comes to pay scales. However, even if you keep these factors in mind, the general impression is that teachers get paid less than those who have opted for other professions.
While writing this article I sought out teachers working at different schools to ask them their opinion regarding their work environment and the salaries they get. I spoke to teachers working both in the public and private sector. In the headmaster’s office of a public sector school, I spoke to a few teachers on the subject. The entire faculty of the school consists of five teachers. Of the five, three gladly shared their views with me.
Noshaba, who teaches Class 5, talked about the kind of salaries that are paid to teachers in the public sector. She recalls, “When I started work around 18 years ago, I was hired at Grade 7. My salary was around Rs. 5000/- per month. Recently, I was promoted to Grade 11 and my salary was set at around Rs. 22,000/- per month. At the moment the government is not giving any increments whatsoever.” In the meantime, Noshaba has made an effort to improve her qualifications. She explains, “In recent years, to improve my qualifications and my salary, I did my B. Ed. However this has had little impact on my status and made absolutely no difference to my salary nor did it help me get a promotion.” According to her, teachers should get a minimum salary of Rs. 30, 000/- per month.
While talking about the impact of their work hours on their family life, Zubaida, who teaches Classes 1 and 2 and Noshaba, both were of the view that it gets difficult at times as they cannot take leave due to the shortage of staff at their school. Muhammad Shahbaz, who teaches Class 3, explained that the staff at the government school is allowed to take two days off per month but they are unable to avail their leave due to staff shortage. Elaborating on her predicament regarding the leave situation Zubaida said, “It gets difficult at times, especially if one of my children is sick at home and I can’t take a day off because there is no other teacher available to take my place.”
After talking to teachers in the public sector, I decided to interview staff working in the private sector and solicited their views regarding pay scales and working conditions. One teacher Aiman Najam used to be a quality control officer in a fast food franchise before she left and opted for teaching as a profession. She felt that a school would give her a healthier and more productive job environment. She is currently teaching Classes 5 and 6 at a well-known private school. Aiman is very clear about her views on teachers’ salaries, “It’s not the pay that is an issue, it is the workload that makes me uncomfortable. The job description that was given to me at the time of hiring has been superseded and is often deviated from, which I think is unfair. As far as my salary is concerned I feel okay about it, not very sad but also not very excited.”
Keeping in mind that most of the private sector schools do not allow their employees to disclose their salaries I could make out from our discussion and the discussions that I had with other teachers that the general figure ranged somewhere between Rs.15,000/- and Rs.20,000/- per month.
Fasiha Shahid who until recently, was working at a private school, shared her opinion regarding the salary scales of teachers, “For private sector teachers, salaries depend and differ according to the school’s tuition fees. The schools that have higher tuition fees, and that have decent facilities usually offer a good salary package to their teachers. There is a difference of pay between primary and secondary school teachers, which I think is fair because the teachers’ tasks and responsibilities are totally different. At the secondary level, there are more complex teaching tasks.” When I questioned her about how she feels about her salary, she laughed and said “It’s always ‘not enough’.”
As mostly women have to manage their homes along with their jobs, how does a teacher manage her family alongside her profession? According to Fasiha, “It all boils down to the person’s time management skills. If a person can manage to achieve her tasks at a given time, her family will never suffer, especially in the teaching profession as it is not a 9 to 5 job.”
After listening to the teachers in both private and public sector schools talk so candidly about their pay and their work hours, I was compelled to ask what continues to drive them to teach despite such working conditions. Noshaba was quite emotional when she said, “It’s my conscience that tells me to perform my duty as a teacher. I want to earn ‘halal’ (legitimate) money and I can only do that if I perform my duty honestly.” Zubaida said, “I like teaching and that’s why I am in this profession. I am very interested in it.” Aiman explains, “I get a lot of pleasure from imparting knowledge, and am very comfortable with the working hours which suit me.” Fasiha elaborated on her reasons for staying in the profession, “Teaching is my passion and when I am with the children in my class I feel relaxed. I feel online casinos good when they learn something from me.”
While none of the teachers seemed too pleased with the low salaries, it was surprising how motivated they seemed to be about their work. How did they manage to stay so motivated? One point of view stood out during our discussion on this topic and this was that a teacher’s motivation had a lot to do with the sort of management she was working for. Aiman said, “It depends on the type of guidance they are getting from the school and how they are made to feel about their work.” Fasiha’s point of view on motivating teachers, “If teachers get appreciation in the form of certificates and incentives, they can stay motivated and can be much more loyal to their work.”
At this I wondered aloud whether there was anything that inspires a teacher from within. Aiman was quick to elaborate on her feelings about motivation from within: “When I was in school all I can remember is that there was a big classroom with tables and chairs. But the most interesting thing these days is the human touch that is being incorporated in schools. My teachers knew my name and they knew that I was in their class, but they did not know what kind of person I was. These days it is very important to have a connection between the teacher and the student. The most important thing you need to be able to do in order to impart knowledge is add the human touch.”
After all these discussions it was not difficult to conclude that despite the meagre salaries in the teaching profession, teachers continue to be very passionate about their work. The thing that motivates them is the intrinsic happiness and satisfaction of making a difference in a child’s life through imparting knowledge and by taking care of children’s emotional, physical and social wellbeing.
When I think about myself, I realise that I came to this profession because my family encouraged it as a career option. Teaching is considered a respectable profession for women in our culture, however by taking up teaching I was also listening to my inner voice, which guided me to realize that I simply love teaching children. When I started looking for a job I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but at that point I wasn’t sure about which level I should teach. Circumstances led me to teach young children (I teach Class 1) and I love it. I developed a special connection with the children in my class and for me meeting them and teaching them every day became motivation itself. Every morning when you get to see more than a dozen eager young faces waiting for you so that they can learn something new, it really warms your heart. For me this feeling is my motivation and the main reason I continue to teach.
In my opinion, only a person who is passionate about teaching can stay motivated in this profession, as the sole purpose is not just to earn money, but also to embark on a journey of knowledge and nurturing with the children in your class.
Sana Lone is a TRC-IECE graduate and is currently working as an early years’ teacher at the P.E.C.H.S. Girls’ School.