Talking point: Public servants

Written by on 27 May 2014

I recently read a news story about an eighty-year-old woman in China, who spends her days swatting flies.

Estimating that she can kill about 1,000 flies per day, Ruan Tang is willing to sit next to a litterbin for two hours at a time to up her kill rate. She has been doing this for 14 years.

She said: “I had retired and was looking around for something to do to help the community, and I noticed how much flies were troubling people in the summer. I decided that killing them was the best way for me to be useful – and I’ve been doing it now every day since.”

She continued: “I feel it is a great honour to help neighbours to wipe out disgusting flies. It is also great to have a meaningful role for me to do in my old age, and it helps me to keep fit.”

Her neighbour said: “She is really a fly-killing specialist, she is our heroine.”

Compare the treatment of one public servant with another, and we get a grim, contrasting picture.

The Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS) has reported that teachers’ job satisfaction is at an all-time low, with stress levels found to be “very high”.

From the 7,000 teachers consulted, around one-third said that they would recommend it as a career. Just 12 per cent told the union they were satisfied with their workload, and 22 per cent said that they have a very good work/life balance.

The Scottish Government promised to address the report, with the biggest problem identified as the volume of paperwork teachers have to complete.

Teachers may get little public thanks for their job, but like Ruan Tang,  they can become local heroes. One newspaper said of her: “Who knows how many flies there would be in the area if she was not in action.”

Now clearly, an eighty-year-old woman roaming the streets with a spatula will make no significant difference to the number of flies in a city of just under nine million. But that is not the point.

Teaching, like killing flies, is a never-ending task. Children, like flies, keep coming to either be taught or ‘swatted’ and given that neither is a particularly well paid career, job satisfaction is important.

We need happy teachers and if the Scottish Government does not attack bureaucracy like Ruan Tang attacks flies, the results will affect everyone.

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