It doesn’t pay to be a teacher

Poor pay scale in private schools makes teaching an unrewarding experience

“I am ashamed to say it,” was a physical education teacher’s apologetic reply when asked about his salary. After 15 years of service, this teacher, whose students include national champions, earns less than Rs. 14,000 a month.

“My job is considered respectable. But even a manual labourer makes Rs.500 a day,” said the teacher who works at a private CBSE school in the city. To make ends meet, he runs a business after school hours.

Most teachers of private schools in Kochi will identify with this man’s plight. Government and aided school teachers have a fixed scale of salary and promotions. In the private sector, however, decisions on appointments, salary and benefits are not uniform.

Private schools have to rely on students’ fees to pay their teachers. But even schools that charge high fees do not always pay their teachers well.

A school near Chottanikara that claims international standards pays its teachers a pittance. The school collects more than Rs.10,000 as tuition fee from each kindergarten student per term, but some teachers there make even less every month. A teacher on probation gets just over Rs. 8,000 in hand per month. After a year of probation, they may get Rs.2,000 more. “Salary standards do vary with qualification and experience. But they are generally low,” said a teacher at the school.

“A few schools in the city have started paying teachers on par with the government scale and the teachers there are happy. But there is no uniform rule that enforces this across schools. Some schools don’t pay pension or other benefits at all, whereas some others do,” said another teacher in a prominent city school.

Salary, however, was only one of the problems teachers in private schools faced, he said. Teachers in his school do not get maternity leave. They are free to take up to a year of unpaid leave. But cannot be certain that the job will be theirs when they return. “One of our teachers had to return to work just less than two months after she had a caesarean delivery for fear that the school would use it as an excuse to fire her,” the teacher said. Some other schools give just a month's paid maternity leave.

The absence of a forum to voice their grievances leaves these educators helpless. Those who take up their issues with the management are victimised and find no support even among their colleagues. All teachers The Hindu spoke to asked to remain anonymous for fear of being targeted by their school managements.

A part of the problem is gender-based, says a teacher from a school near Tripunithura. A large percentage of teachers in private schools are women. Society considers their earnings as a secondary income in a family compared to that of a man of the house. Hence, it is ‘acceptable’ to be paid little. “While we all are afraid to speak out because we could be fired, husbands of women teachers sometimes forbid their wives from airing their problems,” said a male teacher. “Many schools, in fact, prefer hiring female teachers because they protest less.”

V.K. Satheeshan is a government school teacher with 28 years of experience. “The lot of government teachers has improved greatly in the last few years. The condition of private school teachers, however, is unfortunate. Those with Master's degrees and Ph.Ds are sometimes paid less than a house maid.” The other side to the faulty hiring process in private schools was that unqualified teachers often make their way in, he said. “If you are close to the management or make enough donation to the school, you can become a teacher even without the necessary qualification.”

The only way out of the situation, he said, is for parents to take an interest in the affairs of their children's teachers. This would ensure that schools pay the teachers well for the amount of the responsibility they take.

“Most of us continue working at our low-paying jobs because of the satisfaction we get out of teaching children,” said another teacher. “But after 20 years of service, we are treated no better that a house maid.” she said.

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