Do teachers deserve a decent Tet bonus?

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As Tet (Lunar New Year) approaches, the papers are all talking about bonuses that employees are getting, and the general trend seems to be that everyone is receiving higher dividends this year.

I was flabbergasted to learn that a company in Ho Chi Minh City awarded the highest festival bonus of VND535 million (US$27,438), because for us teachers a bonus worth millions of dong is just a dream.

Sadness. Self-pity. Frustration. These are perhaps what most teachers feel on reading such news.

I have worked as a teacher for many years. I don't get any Tet bonus, except for a few tens of thousands of dong from the school's labor union. This is in no way sufficient to buy anything, especially given the price hikes before Tet.

We are allowed to get February's salary in advance to buy things for the eight-day holiday.

It's impossible not to give gifts to relatives and friends, because it's a Vietnamese tradition to pay respect to others before the New Year. It's also impossible to ignore our children's desire for new clothes.

That's why life after the holiday gets much harder for us.

People find it hard to believe when I tell them what paltry "bonuses" we get.

Well, I would ask them to consider this fact. My wife and I have worked as teachers for nearly 20 years, but our total salaries amount to about VND7 million ($359) a month.

This income makes it very difficult to make ends meet, especially when we have to bring up two children.

When I encourage students to become teachers, they ask me if I can live on the meager teacher's salary.

"Does your entire life's savings equal others' Tet bonuses?"

Such questions wrench my heart, but I have no reason to be angry with them, because the facts speak for themselves.

Many think that teachers are rich because they can earn money from extra classes, but it's only true for those who teach mathematics, physics, chemistry or English.

Moreover, only teachers in cities make any money from extra classes. Students in the countryside cannot afford them.

That's why many teachers take on other jobs to make ends meet.

Last year, many teachers looked forward to July 1 when the new Education Law came into effect, granting allowances for longer working hours. The allowances, in fact, were regulated in 1988, but were slashed in 1993 when teachers' salaries were adjusted.

But it's been a long wait and we still don't know how much this allowance is going to be.

Why can't we receive a month's salary as Tet bonus now, when we got it when the country was still in economic trouble?

I hope that the government will allow us to enjoy the 13th month's salary so that we can enjoy Tet without feeling self-pity.

People often describe the teaching career in lofty terms like "virtuous" and "pure". But what have we gained besides these platitudes?

Hung Ha,
a teacher from Bien Hoa Town in the southern province of Dong Nai

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