High School Teachers / Lack of Trust

The collapse of negotiations between the teachers and the government last night, less than 24 hours after an agreement in principle was drafted, exposes a basic mutual lack of trust. The teachers don't trust the government to uphold its commitments, and the education and finance ministries refuse to believe that Secondary School Teachers Association chairman Ran Erez is capable of signing any agreement. Indeed, Erez got scared off by the criticism piled on by teachers during the day, and is now trying to back away from the agreement he proposed in the first place.

The ministries still don't know whether the collapse of the negotiations is meant to let Erez flex his muscles, but there isn't a lot of time for that kind of behavior since the back-to-work orders handed down by the National Labor Court are supposed to go into effect tomorrow. If on Monday the prevailing assumption was that neither the teachers nor the Education Ministry was interested in getting the teachers to return to the classroom because of the back-to-work orders, by the time the talks broke down last night the treasury was repeating a well-worn statement: Erez has an interest in the back-to-work orders, which will let him continue leading the struggle.

Perhaps one of the key implications of the teachers' struggle is that the elementary and high schools are going in different directions, rendering an overall reform in the education system virtually impossible. It appears that any deal that does not include an increase in instruction hours, accompanied by a wage hike, will split the teachers into two groups: members of the Israel Teachers Union - who will work more and whose salaries will rise by an average of 26 percent - and members of Erez's SSTA, who will have to make do with a smaller wage increase.

So far the reforms have been implemented in only 300 elementary schools. Government officials, however, say that once they are fully implemented, by 2013, they expect the high school teachers will want to join the reform and might even pressure their union leaders. But before that can happen the extent of genuine change must be clarified and the question of whether the extra pay is worth the extra work must be resolved. The reforms allot more hours for teachers to work with students individually - the Education Ministry's response to charges of overcrowding and lack of sufficient attention given to students.

It's too early to know whether the implementation will meet the high expectations for the reform. And what about secondary school education? The education and finance ministries, and apparently even the SSTA, knows that reducing overcrowding alone will not resolve the problems of high school education.