Thursday, August 11, 2016

Letter from a Russian University Teacher to the Russian Bureacrauts: The People, the Country, the Truth and Even the Russian Language Are Alien to You

A text in English follows the introduction written in Russian.

More and more it becomes absurd and even offensive to call Russian oligarchy and Russian bureaucracy "Russian"

Российская бюрократия, видимо, настолько привыкла к «почтовой прозе» (что ни день, то петиция от учителей – как тут не привыкнуть), что перестала в принципе на эту прозу реагировать. Либо реагирует так, как будто вообще русский язык не понимает. Так, 08 августа сего года министр образования Ливанов отреагировал на возмущение учителей низкими зарплатами тем, что заявил, что наши зарплаты, оказывается (внезапно), сравнялись со средними по региону (07 августа не были равны, а теперь вдруг сравнялись). Т.е., например, если в Самаре средняя зарплата 27 тыс., то и учителя получают столько же. Другими словами, цифру 16-17 тыс. (реальная з.п. в Самаре при нагрузке 1 ставка или чуть больше в зависимости от школы) Ливанов просто отказывается воспринимать.

Создается впечатление, что власть вообще перестала воспринимать русский язык. Понимаю, если бы это было 300 лет назад – тогда чиновники часто говорили по-немецки. Или 200 лет назад – тогда они общались по-французски. Но теперь они, вроде бы, должны понимать русский. Ан нет… 

В таких условиях российскому учителю, точнее, учительнице (поскольку подавляющее большинство учителей женщины) остается использовать открытый еще Пушкиным старинный способ – писать письмо на иностранном языке. Может быть, кто-то и прочтет.
Предлагаю вашему вниманию свое «письмо Татьяны», точнее, Ольги. Итак, писала по-английски…

In the following text I would like to share with you my vision of the current situation with the Russian teachers and education in general. I am writing in English now because when Russian teachers speak Russian nobody seems to hear them. Maybe, our government doesn’t understand Russian at all. So, I am writing this in the hope that this text in English will be read at least by someone.

First, I would like to say a few words about myself. I dare to call myself a patriot because Russia, the Russian language and culture are everything to me. But, it seems, they are nothing to the Russian bureaucrats.
My name is Olga and I have been a teacher all my life. The qualification I acquired on graduation from university is “teacher of English, French and German”. Besides teaching, I do some research work. In 2010, I defended a PhD in History. I combine working at school and at university in a Russian provincial city (1500 km away from Moscow – and this is so far that the bureaucrats in Moscow seem not to understand the strange dialect I speak).

Financially, my status is the following (and my situation isn’t the worst in the country – there are people whose situation is worse though it is hard to believe). My monthly payment makes it impossible for me to buy a flat (not even in a lifetime) or a car (though I will keep trying). I cannot afford to travel. It is too expensive. If my parents didn’t support me, I would be a pauper. Thus, at my age of 35, I cannot fully support myself and my daughter and am totally dependent on my parents. Indeed, I should have started a business…
I come from a (proud) family of doctors, teachers and engineers. These three professions (as well as musicians) are repeated in my family through generations. I cannot imagine other profession for my daughter than a doctor, a teacher or an engineer. It looks like a vicious circle. And, as the Russian prime minister rightly said, it is totally our fault that we cannot break this circle and improve our living conditions.
I have no relation to banking, finance or accounting. And it is my fault that after graduation I chose not to emigrate from Russia but to stay and work for my country.

Of course, theoretically speaking I could have started some business but with my monthly payment it is impossible to accumulate a starting capital. I cannot take a loan because it is too expensive. Taking a loan will ruin me financially (but, of course, the prime minister knows better).

So, speaking of the monthly payment of teachers… Below is the payment check I got at school in January 2016. It is my payment for the previous month. At school, I worked half the standard time (10 hours per week, while normally it is 18 – the traditional load). But, as I had to combine this part-time job with the work at university, I could not take more hours.

The figure is underlined. It is 8,776 (eight thousand seven hundred and 76 rubles). If I had worked the standard amount of hours, I would have been paid the double amount of what is indicated in the check, i.e. 17,552 (but the education minister is still sure (he said it on August 8, 2016) that my monthly payment is 27,000, i.e. equal to the average salary in the region – it’s either that I cannot tell 17 from 27 or that the minister is calling teachers liars).

From this sum I have to pay the monthly bills for my flat. Below is the main and the largest of them (the figure in bold is 5,038 rubles):

Actually, I should say that I am not the only one who tried to show the payment checks to bureaucrats. There was a well-known initiative started by a newspaper “Novaya Gazeta”: they invited the readers to send them the checks. The initiative started in October 2015 and still there is no reaction from the foreign language-speaking government.

Now let’s pass over to the university teachers’ payments (I am “lucky” to work both at school and at university). I work about the same amount of hours at university (1/2 load). This is my payment check for April 2016. Have a look:

The circled figure in the right-hand bottom corner is 8,524 rubles. If I worked the standard amount of hours, my payment would be doubled and reach the figure of 17,048. The same as at school. No difference (and payment or bonus for having a PhD – again, I should have started some business!).

I have to confess, like most teachers, I give private lessons. This small “business” of mine actually makes me an outlaw as I don’t pay taxes. If I did, my business won’t be profitable.

Believe it or not, but to me it is a mystery where the official statistics Mr. Livanov quoted on August 8 has come from. I suppose that to achieve this figure of 27,000, the salaries of common teachers were put together with the salaries of University rectors. The salaries of the latter are hundreds of thousands and in some cases even millions.

Why is this possible and where the roots of this inequality are? Partly, these roots are in the moral side of the problem. They are in the image of a teacher that has been carefully cultivated for 25 years now. With the help of the media, teachers and doctors have been made no less than the chief corrupters of the country. Nothing has been getting more coverage in the media than the cases of corruption at schools and universities. These cases got all the coverage and public attention (and hatred) that the corruption in the government should have got.

I don’t say that teachers are ideal (there is nothing ideal in this mortal world…). But to make a Ms Smith or a Ms Ivanova or Petrova the chief corrupters in Russia is ABSURD.

Unfortunately, this theatre of absurd has formed the public opinion on teachers and education in general. The slogan of the 25 year long anti-teacher and anti-education propaganda is: they don’t teach, they take bribes. This insulting, outrageous image-making has made it possible for the prime minister to address the teachers of the country with the words: “Go to business” (which means “go to hell”).

To sum up, I would like to quote a passage from a book “Without a Family” by French author Hector Malot. The book was written in 1878 and describes the France of 1830s or 1840s. In this passage the author describes his short (1-2 months) experience of going to a village school (the translation from Russian (not French) is mine – needs some polishing but the picture is clear):

“What I say might seem unbelievable. However, at the time I am speaking about many villages of France had no schools at all. And where there were schools, there were often teachers who didn’t teach children anything. They just looked after them thinking it to be their main responsibility. And this was the case of our school … During our presence at school he (the teacher) did not give me or my friends a single lesson. By profession, he was a shoe-maker. From morning till night he was making wooden shoes. … We talked only about the weather and our household affairs. We didn’t even mention reading or arithmetic. He delegated the responsibility of teaching us these subjects to his daughter, a tailor. … There were twelve of us, pupils, and our parents paid 50 centimes for each of us which made it 6 francs a month. Two people couldn’t live on such a tiny payment. What school couldn’t give, the teachers had to compensate by sewing and shoe-making. It is not surprising that I didn’t learn anything at school, even the alphabet”.
This is what happens when teachers “go to business.”

And a couple of words in Russian:

Ну, что же, дорогой читатель (чиновник со знанием английского)… «Судьбу мою отныне я тебе вручаю, перед тобою слезы лью, твоей защиты умоляю…» (А.С.Пушкин)

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