ERR editor and reporter Veronika Uibo spent ten years working as a teacher and writes about what eventually made her leave the profession behind.
People are often surprised to learn that I have spent ten years of my life working as a teacher. They usually ask: "Why did you quit? Did the children drive you crazy?" That is jumping to conclusions. The students were the best part. Unfortunately, the system itself has been broken for a while.
There are local governments in Estonia that have long since differentiated teachers' salaries. It is good that there is finally talk of boosting the differentiation fund (from which teachers are paid for differentiated aspects of their work – ed.) as its volume is currently modest and the money might not reach all teachers. From my time as a teacher, I recall that I had to correct essays, provide feedback and prepare lessons every single night and during the weekends.
During my last few years as a teacher, when I asked the principal of the school where I was working to discuss differentiating my working hours or salary because I have to work more hours as an Estonian teacher, their reply was, "What can a chemistry teacher do about their subject not ending in a state examination?" There is a lot of fighting windmills involved in education.
I expected more understanding. While the standard working time of a teacher should be 18-24 hours giving lessons and a weekly total of 35 hours based on a government regulation, the reality is something else entirely. In truth, teachers spend 50.1 hours on all necessary activities, including 5.6 hours during weekends. That is 15 hours more than what is permitted and nine hours more than an average Estonian works.
While rescue workers and doctors no doubt have it hard, at least they do not take their work home with them, as far as I'm aware. The last time I called my family physician because I needed a referral to a specialist with my broken thumb, I got a telling to that made me lose all interest in seeing the doctor. When I asked why my doctor was raising their voice with me, I learned that they had spent the day answering the phone and solving problems. Yes, there are those who are hopelessly overworked and underpaid, while I would still side with teachers. The amount of extra working hours is just that different.
The average salary of teachers has been growing largely based on excessive workload. News according to which teachers are planning to go on strike is often met with irony, suggesting that the only group in society who is looking at salary advance wants to go on strike. If Estonia wants the salary of teachers to hit 120 percent of the national average by 2027, the pace today is not enough as next year's advance is just €30 (from €1,749-1,778). Let us not forget that this is before taxes, and that highly educated specialists are really taking home €1,415 at the end of the month. At least there is a grand goal and the sights are set on average, not median salary.
Also, would someone please explain to me why couldn't we extend superannuated pensions to teachers. Is it because the average teacher is roughly 50 years of age and superannuated pension is meant for those specialists whose work causes them to have reduced professional ability to work before they reach the retirement age.
A separate chapter should be reserved for formative assessment and inclusive education. Many cannot even fathom the meaning of the words individual verbal feedback in the context of having 25 students per class, seven classes and two subjects, for example, Estonian and literature, to teach. Inclusive education was another good idea of how to save money. The high-sounding name and talk of how children should all be equal did little to hide the fact that equality is never linear in the field of education.
A Riigikogu Foresight Center report from early September reveals that around 1,500 teachers leave Estonian general education schools either temporarily or for good ever year. I dare not say I will not one day return to school, because I liked teaching and young people these days are amazingly intelligent. Unfortunately, there are many like me, who like the work and not the system. We can only hope that the government will find a way to solve the problems and the future will be brighter for it.
Editor: Marcus Turovski