By: Liam Rutherford

Children go to school to learn critical and creative skills. Photo / 123RF

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, when talking about the education of New Zealand’s children its this: our children go to school to learn the critical and creative skills they’ll need to grow up in the 21st century. And, for that, they need teachers.

Children need teachers with enough time to actually teach. Enough time to give each child the attention they deserve, to help them develop a love of learning that will set them up for life and to reach their own unique potential.

And children need other inspiring and passionate people to be attracted to teaching, so there’s enough teachers for every school.

Enough teachers with enough time to teach. Its not too much to ask. But at the moment, New Zealand children don’t even have this.

Children are being denied opportunities to learn because their teachers are bogged down in administration and testing, or are struggling to get support for children with additional needs.

Kids are increasingly trying to learn in huge classes, with one teacher to as many as 50 children, as schools struggle to find relievers, or fill classroom teacher vacancies.

Those kind of conditions are hard enough on a child with average ability, let alone those with extra learning needs, who successive Governments have chosen to deny resources to, repeatedly, year after year.

This is a failure of our children on a massive scale. And principals and teachers, like me, are not prepared to accept it any longer.

At NZEI Te Riu Roas conference last week, hundreds of primary teachers, principals and support staff drew a line in the sand and put the incoming government on notice that our patience has finally run out.

In the closing address of the conference, National Secretary Paul Goulter tapped into the frustrations of educators, declaring that negotiations over collective agreements for primary teachers and principals next year will most likely go to the wall.

When he said that were looking down the barrel of industrial action, the conference erupted in cheers.

Teachers are traditionally very reluctant to rush to the barricades, so how has it come to this?

For years now, weve been seeing headline after headline about children being denied adequate support for learning and behavioural needs, the Government not providing schools with enough funding for basic running costs or support staff and teachers getting swamped with bureaucracy and testing requirements.

More recently, a dire shortage of teachers has emerged, as exhausted teachers leave for jobs that are less stressful and that pay enough to allow them to support a family.

A public education crisis isn’t coming; its already here and getting worse.

In the middle of next year, primary teachers and principals will have their collective agreements up for renegotiation.

Were giving the incoming government advance notice that theyre going to have to take major steps to give every child more teacher time, and attract more people to teaching. Also, crucially, theyll need to ensure principals have time to lead teaching and learning.

Otherwise, teachers will be forced to take industrial action. Were not talking strikes at this stage, but the message from our conference was, its not off the table if were forced.

More teacher time means freeing teachers to teach. Exactly how that will form part of our claim will be up to members, but for starters schools need more teacher aides to support struggling students and more professional support such as social workers to come alongside the growing numbers of children with major psychological and behaviour issues.

This will relieve the workload burden on teachers and itll ensure every child is included at every school.

When teachers are freed to teach, and are respected as learning experts, more young people will be attracted to teaching and they’ll want to stay in the job. The other side of the coin is a pay rise and were not talking one or two per cent.

The OECD has warned that our teachers are paid 10 per cent less than other New Zealanders with similar levels of skills and experience, and were paid much less than our peers overseas.

NZ is ranked 19th in the OECD for teachers pay based on purchasing power. That’s well behind the UK, the US, Australia and Canada.

Teachers are also fed up with being political punching bags. The message is its time to do what works for children, not just what works for politicians.

Source: NZ Herald


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