Marieta Makaridze, 41 years old, Tbilisi

„I’m a mother of three, and I teach Georgian language and literature in a private school. My maternity leave experience just bears witness that women are put in a helpless position and at risk of losing their job during every pregnancy.
Before, I taught in one of the private schools, where I went through my first two pregnancies. Unfortunately, that school wouldn’t reimburse hours for sick leave or maternity leave. I was only paid one-time compensation of 1000 GEL by the government. Having talked to a lawyer, I found out that it depends on private school’s will whether they’ll pay maternity leave pay or not. Such an attitude struck my financial affairs a lot. having three children, my husband and I share financial responsibilities equally, and my employment is vital to the survival.
Return to work after maternity leave is even more challenging for teachers.

Schools usually recruit at the beginning of the academic year or semester, so it turns out that even the end of maternity 6-month leave may not coincide with the recruitment process and you’ll have to wait for a new academic year or semester.

That is where we, teachers, encounter the paradox of incompatibility with the law. Here’s what I’m talking about: In 2011 I received a certificate giving me a senior teacher status. The status also involves earning credit points through practical activities such as preparing and delivering lessons and activities, participating in training courses and so forth. That is to say, your status will be suspended if you don’t manage to return to work on time, and your leave lasts more than 6 months. Apart from financial difficulties, for teachers, the mechanism for maternity leave involves the risk of losing their job at all as schools, and especially private schools, do not accept the teachers with suspended status.

So, I often had to return to work early, and I still pay half of my wages to the babysitter to remain on the job market. Even so, it isn’t that easy going back to work. Nobody’s telling you you’re fired although they reduce your working hours so that it’s not worth returning. They claim that having a baby you won’t be able to work for them properly.

I must mention a hostile attitude towards pregnant employees in private sector. Firstly, they do not allow you to go to pregnancy consultation – that also depends on their will. On top of that, there is often a psychological pressure from the administration. I remember once, I had this morning sickness during one of the pregnancies, so I got my clothes dirty on my way to school. Being unable to enter the class like that, I had to get back home, so I called at school saying I was late for some 15 minutes. They asked another teacher to enter the class. Having arrived at school, I was met by deputy head who told me aggressively: “Don’t you know your chief can’t bear pregnant employees?” They make you feel helpless just because you’re pregnant claiming you’re incapable of working which is not true. We all are human beings and anyone can get sick. Schools must have the capacity to hire substitute teachers but nobody wants to pay more. On finding out you’re pregnant, they make faces, saying things like: “Pregnancy is disastrous for business” or “Its embarrassing to enter the class to older pupils in that condition”. They do everything to make you feel humiliated and worthless which, of course, affects self-assessment too.

But teachers’ productivity is suppressed by the state regulations themselves and not physical condition of the teacher. Teachers’ income depends on the number of hours. It shouldn’t be this way. Having finished lessons, maximum 3-4 hours of classes, the teacher should spend rest of the time on self-development. I really wish teachers’ to be paid salaries, not wages. For teachers to be productive, they mustn’t have more than 4 teaching hours a day as apart from that they have plenty of other work to do such as making tests, correcting pupils’ works, filling online class register, preparing next day’s lesson plan and syllabus – loads of work outside classes. Do teachers have to be in a desperate hurry to keep up with their work? We should be writing thorough comments and tests for them to be fit all levels, but nobody has time for that. We bring our work home mixing working hours with spare time. When your job becomes a heavy burden, you are no longer a teacher. There must be fewer teaching hours and more time for self-development. All teachers are eager to get more hours to boost their wages, consequently, they’re not able to divide their efforts effectively which makes classes fruitless.

I had to make much effort to find a job in a school, values and ethical standards of which coincide with mine. There are very few such schools, so I’ve been very lucky to work here.

Another problem is a lack of childcare services for employed mothers. In nurseries, children are accepted from the age of 2. However, there are 60 children in each group taken care of by one teacher and one nursery nurse. Employed mothers are under the stress all the time as they don’t know in what conditions their children are. Overcrowded nurseries show that with worsening economic conditions in the country, more women are getting involved in the labour market these days. Although, there is a little input from the government to support employed mothers. Especially during the holidays, mothers have to go through the tough times. For me being a teacher, it’s much easier as holidays at work and in nurseries coincide. Christmas holidays last from December 22 to January 15 while holidays at most jobs last only for two days. Except for being a huge problem, it costs mothers a pretty penny. They are in fact in a hopeless situation.

It’s not just status of Patriarch’s god-children that helps to increase demographics, but the government should make a greater contribution to support the professional development of women, offer more services, especially to teachers, since qualified teachers play a crucial role in the development of youngsters and the establishment of their values. I became a teacher as a protest – I didn’t want to be like my own teachers who didn’t allow me to speak up. Reading comprehension, your own critical assessment, vision – those are the skills essential to the development of adolescents, and teachers must also be aware of it. If today the government contributes to such a system, tomorrow we will get much better results. Not like now – poorly paid teachers and their work underestimated.

Author: Maiko Chitaia
Photo credit: Nino Baidauri
Translation: Nino Suramelashvili