In today's edition of the Times newspaper, there is a Thunderer opinion piece entitled "Obstructive unions give teachers like me a bad name". It is written by a teacher in a state school here in the UK who is relatively new to teaching. The piece argues strongly in favour of continuing face-to-face teaching in the present circumstances and castigates teacher trade unions for advocating a delayed return to schools as the Christmas and New Year holiday ends.
However, the last paragraph of the article contains a give away line (my emphasis added):
Teachers need unions .... However, the unions must not forget that, like nurses and doctors, we are public servants. We have a duty to do our bit in times both difficult and good.
The term "public servants" is clearly open to differing interpretations - it might refer generically to people who provide a service to members of the public or, in its perhaps more common and specific interpretation, it might refer to those who are in the service of and paid by the government or the state.
Should teachers (or, for that matter, nurses and doctors) really see themselves as servants of the state? Are they not firstly at the service of the families of the children they teach or of the patients they treat? Teachers are collaborators with parents in the fulfilling of the rights and responsibilities of those parents for the education of their children; and medical professionals cooperate with their patients in providing health care to them.
Teachers, nurses and doctors may be paid by the state, as they are in the education and health services of the United Kingdom. But that state funding does not undermine the first relationship between them and the families and patients with whom they work. Rather, the role of that state funding is to provide a mechanism that enables those first relationships to take place and to thrive.