In , teachers are attacked by security forces, armed and armoured like monsters from science fiction. In Chicago and New Orleans, they are let go and replaced by non-unionised graduates with five weeks training. In India they are paid peanuts and routinely refused permanent contracts. In England they are bullied by a corporate inspectorate. These attacks on teachers are global and common. And ultimately they spring from the same ruling ideology, which holds that teachers and their unions are the only barrier which stands in the way of the total marketisation of education. Such marketisation would be based on the desire both to make profit and to replace any kind of democratic education with a standardised and technology dependent training, which creates flexible and unquestioning workers and credulous consumers. In order to reach this goal, teaching as a profession has to be routinely denigrated, teachers unions have to be disabled or destroyed and teachers who resist have to be punished.

In a recent headlined 'The hidden cost of corruption: teacher absenteeism and loss in schools', World Bank economist Harry Patrinos lays the blame for the abysmal state of education for most of the poor in the global South on the only people who are struggling to provide it – the teachers. “A shocking level of teacher absenteeism exists in the developing world” he tells us. “While there are many valid reasons for a teacher to be away from the classroom, some absences are clearly illegitimate, such as when teachers ‘moonlight’ – working elsewhere when they should be teaching”. Perhaps he should ask himself why teachers might be moonlighting. Could it be because it is impossible to live on the couple of dollars or so a day they are paid, leave alone feed a family? It is often the case too that teachers are not paid for months – what are they supposed to do then? However our no doubt highly paid economist tells us: “There is very little evidence that higher salaries lead to better attendance.”

Indian teachers come in for special opprobrium on this score not only from Patrinos, but from World Bank funded research. Yet in India, teachers are expected not only to teach but also to be responsible for every aspect of a child's welfare. I have witnessed half the teachers in one school being removed from the classroom with no notice to learn how to fill in new medical forms. Teachers are required to take weeks off to do the census and to do election duty. And in these and many other circumstances, for instance when they are on maternity leave, there is no cover. In this situation, it is hardly surprising that absence rates are comparatively high. And given the conditions in which teachers have to work in India and in so many other countries in the global South, as a teacher of 30 years experience myself, I am amazed at how low the absence level is. With class sizes not infrequently over a hundred, with few or no teaching resources, often with no electricity or toilets, sometimes without buildings at all in all weathers, teachers still turn up day after day and do their best to educate children. “Many teachers who were present were not actually teaching”, says Patrinos from his patrician heights. This is hardly surprising – the conditions for any meaningful teaching are almost totally absent.

The issue of teacher absenteeism in the South is one which has gained great currency among those who purport to care about the fact that so many low income children are denied an education. The mud thrown at global South teachers sticks – far from being celebrated for the work which most struggle to do, which verges on the heroic under the circumstances, they are characterised by World Bank economists as 'corrupt'. And such framing of teachers is then used by education 'reformers' like Michael Barber, James Tooley and their ideological masters in the World Bank to justify every form of neo-liberal 'reform' being visited on them – performance related pay, high stakes testing, temporary contracts and of course privatisation.

In the North, we are becoming used to the discourse of derision which is inflicted on us day after day. Moreover, we are subjected to routine bullying by managers who often know little about education but are working from a corporate checklist. This is a in the UK describing the effect of the punitive inspection system known as OFSTED, on her teaching. It's a long quote but it gives a flavour of this particular form of bullying:

On the 8th October last, I was subjected to a ‘learning walk’, which is really just a mini-observation. It was an English lesson, in which I was teaching a mixed-ability year 8 group creative writing skills. . . The following day, the feedback arrived in my inbox declaring that, whilst the content was ‘good’ (thanks a lot!) the ‘outcomes were unclear’ (what?). These people observed the first fifteen minutes of my lesson. . . . It was also noted that the starter activity lasted for ’20 minutes’, which was too long and also contained too much ‘teacher talk’. No mention of the fact that in that time pupils answered some challenging lexical questions AND read aloud from two of Dickens’ original texts. I really don’t understand the issue? In fact, I completely despair. I was attempting to introduce some higher-level, linguistic techniques to some of the most damaged, disillusioned and disaffected kids in the country. Instead of supporting and championing this aim, my management staff, - like some kind of zealot, religious converts, claiming to be acting under the auspices of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate – are telling me I’m wrong because my ‘starter activity’ was ‘too long’.


In Latin America there is a noble tradition of teacher unions struggling to build a new pedagogy, based in large part on the philosophy of Paulo Freire. This is being met in at the moment for example, with vicious new laws aimed at castrating the unions and enforcing a shrink-wrapped, globalised and US centric curriculum through high stakes testing and performance related pay and tenure. The determined and continual resistance of the teachers there has been met with everything from a refusal of dialogue, to police brutality, to disappearances and assassinations.

Here is a quote from a US but it is equally applicable to teachers all over the world, many of them working in conditions even more extreme and certainly with much less pay even than those working in low income districts in the North:

These fantastic folks with whom I'm privileged to be among, teach alongside, collaborate with are, as Diane Ravitch notes, "not data hounds or accountants meeting arbitrary targets;" rather, they are self-sacrificing, caring folks who stand in the breach of poverty, disenfranchisement, underfunded mandates; ; the trenches of cultural impoverishment, racist stigma, gender-biased bullying, and other horrors - and not just among urban poor. Our rural schools face much the same dynamics, and in some cases are much worse.

I long for the day when the narrative shifts from a money trail of snobbery directed against the soldiers of the classrooms to one of shared burden, a commitment to funding what is demanded, a righting of inequality-driven wrongs, and (an end to) the ability for the corporate powers who are currently wagging the dog of education and who unwittingly are about to drive civic democracy off the cliff of testing-mania, scapegoat-ism, and both, in the name of profits for investors.

The sooner teachers and their unions recognise that this is a global war, that we are all facing the same ideology albeit in different iterations, the sooner we will be able to learn from one another and support one another in our various struggles.