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Personal Contracts for Teachers are a Solution, not a Problem

Once again, the Teachers’ Association has ordered teachers to withhold grades and threatened a strike. What is the most recent casus belli? The association’s chairman explains in a formal letter to the teachers: “The Finance Ministry is standing by its demand to hire teaching staff by personal contract, meaning that teachers and principals will be transformed into contract employees”.

Let’s explain. The ministries of Finance and Education want to allow around 10% of teachers and principals in the high school system to be employed by personal contracts, i.e., contracts that are disconnected from the collective agreement made with the Teachers’ Association. In other words, the system will absorb teachers whose salary will be settled by contracts that allow them to start with high salaries, rather than be forced to begin with low wages that increase only with tenure, as is the case today. Personal contracts allow for easier hiring and firing practices and will allow teachers to work longer hours instead of being limited to a certain amount as they are today.

High schools are desperate for teachers. Personal contracts will open the door to new options: people who can teach only a small number of hours or people without a teachers’ certificate, and the system can accept people interested in teaching as a second job or those starting off with a higher salary than beginner teachers. Look around and you’ll discover that that is how the market works. In every industry, salaries and terms are settled by supply and demand. What Ran Erez calls “contract employees” is, in fact, what most of us are; we work at places that can fire us or give us a raise based on our personal achievements and their own needs.

In the market, the primary component in a rise in salary is not tenure, but ability. Why should things work differently in the education system?

The Teachers’ Association has its own employment model – one blind assembly line that ignores the rules of supply and demand and prevents schools from meeting their needs. All teachers of all subjects receive the same salary, the same training procedures and have the same salary increase timetable.

A Jerusalem based high school principal told me in an interview how impossible it is to find computer teachers, since their salary is inadequate. He is also searching high and low for math and physics teachers qualified to prepare his students for bagrut matriculation. He said, with feeling: “If we could hire teachers by personal contract, we could open bagrut classes for these subjects”.

The excuse the Teachers’ Association provides for its objection is that personal contracts will harm teachers. Thus Erez writes: “Close your eyes and imagine your life in a school where some of the teachers work under contract employee conditions.” Dear Mr. Erez, there’s no need to imagine – that is the simple reality in nearly all employment industries. Professional workers who are in demand earn more, even hi-tech workers are employed by personal contracts. Of course, if some teachers prefer to preserve the rights granted to them by the organization, they are welcome to continue to be employed by collective agreement.

Karl Marx opened his Communist Manifesto with the words: “Workers of the world, unite!” The workers’ union of yesteryear sought to end the proletariat’s abuse by the bourgeois class. Apparently, things have been turned upside down, with the Teachers’ Association serving neither the teachers, nor the education system nor, most obviously, the students. Instead, the golem has turned on its creator – the organization serves only itself. Erez is fighting to preserve the organization’s power, to preserve the state of affairs in which all teachers are subject to him and are not free to manage their own jobs and salaries.

First published in Israel Hayom (“The Anti-Teacher Organization”, Jun 24, 2024)

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Dr. Naama Avidan

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