Luxembourg’s shortage of qualified primary school teachers has often made the front pages in recent years, even though the OECD has once again reported that Luxembourg’s teachers are the best paid. A shortage and an exceptional salary may seem like an inexplicable paradox, even to those of us in Luxembourg, as comments left by readers nationwide attest.
Nevertheless, as a teacher, I fully understand how this situation has come to pass. Primary school teaching, as a career, has become significantly less attractive in recent years for multiple reasons. My colleagues and I have seen a clear and marked increase in diversity and heterogeneity in our classes and schools, and an increase in the number of children with special needs. Managing such a varied group of children and bringing together pupils with, among other things, attention deficit issues, behavioural problems, learning difficulties and developmental delays is thus becoming a challenge that many primary teachers often find unsurmountable.
This is a reality that I have experienced myself throughout my career, having been in charge of classes that were sometimes easier and sometimes more difficult. A reality that is all the more difficult to accept given that I chose the profession mostly for altruistic reasons, to support pupils by helping them become educated citizens and, in doing so, contributing to society. Within this context, an inclusive approach is essential, and the creation of an environment conducive to learning for each of my pupils is one of my professional ideals. However, this ideal is becoming more and more difficult to achieve. A failure is consequently perceived as a personal failure and is sometimes difficult to manage. I think most of my colleagues are in the same situation. A situation that leads to a degree of career dissatisfaction and for some, even burnout.
Pay cannot ultimately compensate for this sometimes overly heavy load, especially when, as in my case, the choice to become a primary school teacher was not motivated by money. I believe that most of my colleagues feel the same. Furthermore, we must look at primary school teachers’ salaries in the national context and when we do, we see that they are not particularly high compared to other professions. I’d say that Luxembourg has many of the best paid jobs and professions, and education should not be an exception.
The fact that I’ve stayed and will stay in the profession is mostly due to the political desire to remedy this situation and equip schools with sufficient resources so that the measures necessary for inclusion and the success of every pupil can be put in place. Within our union we have created working groups comprised of motivated teachers who work together to draw up statements addressing the difficulties encountered in our daily working lives. It was in this way, and as a result of our work with the Ministry of Education, that new measures, such as the creation of the position of special needs primary school teacher, were introduced two years ago. This is a primary school teacher who helps the children in question and supports the classroom teachers in line with an inclusive approach. This is a job that I chose to take on upon its creation because I had learnt over the previous years, primarily during my work in an organisation for children with behavioural problems, that it’s the school’s responsibility to create a framework that makes optimal learning possible for everyone and that school should be a place where the values of an inclusive society, such as mutual respect and solidarity, are lived, so that diversity becomes a source of strength.
The ongoing training available to teachers of special needs primary children, as well as the help and guidance provided by our Ministry, have been flawless, even exemplary. However, there is - just as our union is claiming - an even higher need for primary school teachers just as there is for special needs primary school teachers. Because in the absence of available resources, the desired inclusion could quickly turn to exclusion in our classrooms.
The creation of additional jobs for special needs primary school teachers is one of the measures we need to take if we’re to make the profession more attractive again. Teaching has become increasingly complex and in order to accommodate our diversity and our heterogeneity, our schools must have the personal resources necessary to harness this strength and the richness of this diversity.
In a knowledge-based society, child education should be an absolute priority and primary school, by building our children’s education, should attract the most highly qualified staff. It is with this in mind that our union wants to intervene with the government to end the shortage and give our schools the staff and the means necessary to provide an inclusive education.
The theme of World Teachers’ Day 2019 is “Young Teachers: The Future of the Profession.” To mark the occasion, we are launching a mini-series of blogs featuring the voices and experiences of young teachers and Education Support Personnel. This is an opportunity to hear directly from young education professionals and young unionists and discover their stories: what drew them to the profession, the challenges they face and their plans for the future.
If you are a young teacher or Education Support Personnel, or if you recently joined the profession, do not hesitate to contribute to the series and have your voice heard. Please get in touch with Sonia at [email protected].
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.