Dear Minister Hipkins,
Too often the narrative around why we need a pay rise can become focused on how hard the job is. The act of teaching is hard, however be assured, a career in teaching is a privilege. That said I do believe each and every teacher in this country deserves a generous pay rise, not because it’s a tough job, but because it is a bloody important and complex one.
Here are my 13 reasons why…
1) What we do is important!
There is no question. Being a teacher is one of the most important roles in our community. We are not only fantastic (low cost) caretakers and babysitters for much of the year, we are also trusted to provide young people with the knowledge and skills they need to survive and thrive, whilst also addressing community concerns and government priorities – we are miracle workers (and hence we deserve the pay to go with it. What we do is seriously important work on many levels.
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
– Malala Yousafzai
2) We are challenged on a daily basis
See above! With the privilege of doing such important work comes huge challenges. There is no question that teaching can be massively challenging and at times hugely stressful as teachers feel the pressure to be all things to all people. Whilst we are told that relationships and people are the most important things in teaching we are also then pulled away from that by pressures related to administration, data mining, keeping up with the latest priorities and not to mention assessment and reporting. Yep, it’s hard work, but it’s good work, it’s meeting the challenges head on, managing the crises and working out ways to work smarter that can also be hugely rewarding. Challenges that constantly force us to grow.
3) Our job changes every year
Whilst we get to experience a comforting cycle of work life, knowing that at the beginning of each year we are working to an end point, beginning of each term we are working towards another well deserved break, we also get to experience a sense of genuine rebirth and renewal every year. But with a new year comes new classes, new challenges, new faces and names and a new set of diverse learning needs for us to address.
Whilst we refresh our knowledge and skills as we set about designing learning we also need to be poised to address the specific needs of up to 30-150 different learners each and every day.
4) We cause incredible learning
And because we work so hard to do this we do get to experience one of the biggest joys (and gifts) of teaching – helping people learn! I can still recall so many moments from throughout my teaching career where I have been privileged to see that light bulb flick on. Whether it’s teaching them tricks to improve their writing, demystifying the art of essay writing – it might sound dull but seeing a student who has struggled through ten plus years of writing and seeing essays as an insurmountable mountain of words, helping them to see that it is actually no more than jigsaw of teeny tiny parts that they can totally do is totally rewarding. Honing my ability to make the seemingly complex, seem achingly simple has been one of my greatest sources of joy.
Giving students tricks and strategies that help them to help themselves is freakin’ cool, but do not take this for granted, do not forget, this is also a highly complex skill set that deserves to be recognised and rewarded.
5) We provide (and create) safe havens
Not only do we get to teach all of these young people, we also get to create a safe place for them. I love love love creating spaces where teenagers feel safe to let their freak flag fly. A place where being different is celebrated, where having an opinion is encouraged, where failing is fine and challenging me is expected. Being a teenager is hard and being a teenager in the age of social media is a total minefield. How cool is it that we can provide a haven from all of that, we have the ability, even if only for an hour of that teenager’s day where they can feel assured that it’s okay just being them. We can teach subjects and topics that challenge them to develop greater empathy and understanding. We have the ability to make each and everyone of our young people celebrate who they are and what they can do, simply by getting to know them, listening and caring.
Consider how much we as teachers do for students, on behalf of parents, on behalf of society. Not only do we nurture these young people, it is often a teacher who helps them to nurture and care for others.
6) We ignite passions
And if that wasn’t enough, we also share our passions so as to ignite the passions of our learners. Most teachers I know came to teaching with a desire to share their love for learning and particular subjects. The great thing is, even as education evolves into more integrated approaches and with a greater focus on skills, we share our passions on a daily basis. For me that is an absolute love for poetry. There is so much that can be taught through poetry – any topic, any theme, any aspect of human nature, poetry has got it covered. I LOVE Maya Angelou. If you’ve been in my English class at any point I’ve probably shoe-horned in some Angelou. There is nothing better than sharing your passion and having it catch on. In a world of algorithm echo chambers, curated play lists and YouTube subscriptions there has never been a more important time for broadening teenagers horizons by exposing them to all the fantastic literature and learning we know and care about.
It is often teachers that take students away and beyond the realm of those back lit screens and YouTube channels and on to the page and beyond.
7) We teach cool sh*t thanks to an amazing curriculum
And the thing that allows us to weave in our passions and personalise learning is our awesome New Zealand Curriculum. One of the greatest gifts that speaking at international conferences and events has been the growing realisation that the NZC is not normal and neither are our teachers.
NZ teachers are not only skilled, they are creative and work hard to create incredible colourful environments and incredible colourful creative learning experiences. Often reaching into their own pockets and foregoing time with their own families to do so.
8) We assess learning creatively thanks to our flexible assessment framework
And if that wasn’t enough we can be totally creative in how we assess it as well. Increasingly our teachers are exploring new and creative ways to assess the progress of learners. With the removal of National Standards and the flexibilities of NCEA and growing focus on internal assessments our teachers are going beyond the test and exploring new and interesting ways to capture and evidence learning.
Again this is complex and important work that needs to rewarded!
9) We share and collaborate (and often pay to do so)
Not only do we get to do awesome stuff we share it! I have been an over sharer from way back and I can attest that sharing what you love is totally rewarding. But we shouldn’t take this for granted.
Our teachers design and create powerful learning experiences and then often (pay to) attend conferences and events where they give away their resources, expertise and knowledge for free! Who wouldn’t want to invest in such incredible generous professionals.
10) We create amazing PLNs and support networks
Teachers are also incredibly agentic and find free sources of support and professional learning. You can turn to twitter for any number of chats – #edchatnz is a constant source of inspiration, challenge and support and there are now more “chat” hashtags than you can poke a stick. We have incredible Facebook communities and list-serves. We have subject associations and unions who all work hard to support teachers. We have an evolving Education Council that is producing exemplary professional learning and support resources such as Our Code | Our Standards.
This profession is unlike any other in the way the whole sector supports and grows one another. Imagine what they might achieve with even greater support.
11) We never stop learning
Whether it be through in-school professional development or through more formal professional development and study. Many teachers are stretching themselves by engaging in further learning at tertiary level. Many teachers are spending evenings and weekends learning Te Reo.
Invest in teachers and you would be investing in an ever learning, ever improving profession.
12) We take on extra responsibilities with school and across the sector
Not only do teachers teach, they often coach, direct, manage, conduct and cheer on learners. They also work beyond the school gates so as to enrich and improve our education system end-to-end. Teachers are often on the sidelines, in the audience. Many are involved in writing resources, marking and moderating at a national level, they are part of local and national reference and advisory groups, working with NZEI, PPTA, MoE and NZQA.
Teachers do this because they care deeply about the whole system and know it is important to participate and share. Invest in them, just as they continue to invest in you.
13) We get insights into a lot of other worlds
Whether it is gaining an understanding of what it is like for a young Pasifika women to get up and catch trains and buses from the far corners of Auckland just so they can be part of the AGGS community or move out of home into a hostel at EGGS or the complex pressures they experience to be the best they can be in the classroom, on the sports field or on the stage or the challenges they may have to come overcome due to all kinds of family and community complexities and differing cultural norms. Not to mention the online world in which they also exist. I don’t think are many people who get the privilege of learning as much about different worlds as we do, I also don’t think there are many people that support as much we do.
The teacher has both the privilege and the immense challenge of being all things to all people in a time where our young people are experiencing more poverty, pressure and anxiety than ever before.
It is often the teacher who bridges the vast chasm between “the haves” and “the have nots”. It is often the teacher who provides the bridge between the digital divide, the cultural divide and the ever increasing economic divide.
Minister, even if this was a purely a question of a good investment and was only about being seen to be fiscally responsible, then you would be crazy not to spend your money here! As Mitt Romney once stated, “Education is the investment our generation makes in the future”. By investing in the teacher, you invest in our children and you invest in our country’s future.
To under invest in teachers is to rob us all.
This is republished with the permission of the author. The original version is here.