Belgium: Unions shed light on increasingly difficult job of being a teacher

Teaching is a ‘difficult’ job, according to a thousand educators at one of the largest teacher gatherings ever organised in Belgium.

A conference in Liège, east of Brussels, heard teacher after teacher describe how difficult the profession has become. Their views were aired at a study day on “Teaching, an increasingly difficult job”, organised by atrade union common front, including Education International’s affiliates, the Centrale générale des services publics–Enseignement (CGSP-FGTB), the Confédération des Syndicats Chrétiens de l’Enseignement (CSC-Enseignement) and the Syndicat Libre de la Fonction Publique (SLFP). The event aimed to both take stock of how the difficulties of the teaching profession impact staff health and to identify possible solutions.

Participating teachers  wanted the difficulty of their work to be recognised. One explained that “it is often difficult physically, on the back in particular, but also psychologically due to the noise in classrooms. It also requires a lot of time spent on preparing classes because children in kindergarten have a much shorter attention span”.

Workload

Teachers feel increasingly under pressure, and they also feel that their occupation has undergone significant change with society expecting too much of them.

“Nowadays, any problem in society has to be solved by the schools”, said CSC-Enseignement General Secretary Eugène Ernst. “If there is a problem with junk food, the school has to manage it. If there is a problem with the media, schools have to teach children about media culture. If there is a problem with radicalism, schools have to deal with it. These are all part of the challenges facing society, it's normal, but doing more with the same resources as before leads to difficulties.”

The discussions revealed that teachers have to manage between 800 and 1,200 interactions with students over the course of a 50-minute class. Many of them are exhausted and end up consulting doctors.

In January, Federal Minister for Pensions Daniel Bacquelaine will have to decide whether or not to recognise the teaching profession as a ‘difficult’ one as part of his pension reform. If a profession is deemed ‘difficult,’ it can allow for earlier pension age. However, this decision could potentially lengthen teachers' careers.

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