Daily Archives: August 31, 2010

The Rat Race, The New Academic Year, and a Man and his Words Worth Remembering

As August slips into September, many ELT teachers will be either returning to work or beginning to negotiate their timetables (or maybe looking for their first job).  This is probably for many, including fair-minded Directors of Studies, the most odious and difficult time of the year. With a likely drop in student numbers in private academies around the world, this September will be particularly difficult. Of course, many schools will be keen to retain  whatever experienced teachers are still around (low pay obviously drives experienced teachers away) and will probably offer any remaining teachers the pick of the timetable. Few schools will have clear criterion onhow to distribute hours other than to honour existing contract staff with similar hours where possible. Many teachers who have taught in the same school for some years will feel disappointed with their timetables and unable to see the transparency behind the decision making. Some teachers will accept job offers, well aware that if another better offer comes along, they will abandon the first offer with little or no notice. In short, the industry shows itself to be particularly unpleasant at this time of year.

We should not leave August, therefore, without paying tribute the great Scottish orator and activist, Jimmy Reid, who died, aged 75, this month. In 1970, Jimmy Reid famously led a wonderful campaign to save the Upper Clyde shipyards and prevent six thousand redundancies. Rather imaginatively they organised a “work-in” rather than go on strike (not that we are against striking mind you) and attracted support from around the world. They forced the government to back down and extra monies were found to keep the shipyards working. Of course, ten years later the Conservative party were to make mass-unemployment a constant part of British life and whatever small advances  were made to rid the scourge of unemployment and its terrible consequences from the UK are now quickly evaporating under the current crises. There is a similar tale across the advanced industrialised countries.

In 1971, Jimmy Reid was elected Rector of the University of Glasgow, where, by way of acceptance of his new role, he made one of the greatest speeches of all time. You can read the whole speech here. However, for September and the new academic year, we have chosen these particular lines on the term “rat race” which he referred to in that great speech:

Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit. Or as Christ put it, “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?

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