This is about the teachers’ strike. If you are not a teacher, please read this; this is to you. This is the stuff you may not know but you need to understand.

So primary school teachers are planning to strike. I no longer work under the primary school contract, so I’d like to pen my support for them (as I think all secondary teachers should). For anyone grumbling about teachers, I understand. You really have no idea. You think you know because, after all, you went to school – but trust me, you don’t.

The current state of education in New Zealand worries me and I think you should be worried too…quality education is the foundation of a healthy and prosperous society. It impacts your kids and our future communities.

What am I worried about? Mostly about the increasingly complex needs of kids coming to school and the lack of resourcing going into education. In any given class teachers will be catering for refugee children, migrant kids who speak absolutely no English, students with severe behaviour, kids with complex mental health disorders, students with complex learning and behavioural needs, and severe anxiety. Teachers are trying to figure out how to help the child with dyslexia, the boy with autism, the girl who has come with no breakfast and the kid who we suspect is being abused.

Teachers will quietly feed the boy with no lunch. And the teachers are trying to teach your child…your quiet child, your high-achieving child, your child…whatever their level and ability.

You are correct that teachers chose to teach and we love making a difference. Your child’s teacher has probably had a coffee at 8:30am and then will often be racing for the rest of the day…no breaks, no lunch, no toilet stop. After school many teachers will have meetings or coaching until 5pm so they take all their planning and marking to do for a few hours at night and weekend. We do this because we are passionate about teaching and we truly love and care for your kids. And don’t even get me started on the hundreds of hours teachers put into productions, choir, band, dance, jump jam competitions, sports teams, kapa haka, cross country, school camps…

But what non-teaching people don’t realise is that teaching has changed in the last 10-15 years and these changes will affect your child. Funding has been reduced so teachers have less help with the diversity of needs. For example, in my previous job as a SENCO I had to wait 18 months to have one of our highest needs students even assessed by the Ministry of Education’s special education team. They are amazing, but…it’s a funding issue.

So, for years teachers just had to cope with having this child (non-compliant, kicking, hitting, running away) in their class with the other 30. And this is not the anomaly! Teachers have multiple challenges in every single class. Teachers used to have curriculum advisors who would come in to give us professional learning and support – but the National government got rid of those (probably to fund the ineffective National Standards).

Teacher aides, who are an invaluable part of your child’s team, are terribly underpaid, but even the number of teacher aides has been reduced. The workload on teachers is huge. To judge a teacher for ‘all those holidays’ is completely misplaced. Teachers do take some of their holidays (deserved), but they need time in the holidays to prepare for the following term, write reports and attend PLD. The curriculum has increased with increasing demands to teach digital fluency and social-emotional curriculum, often with little to no PLD.

We would be naïve and complacent to just put our collective heads in the sand and think teachers will keep doing this. We can’t keep piling more stuff on teachers and not expect cracks to appear. And they are. Teachers are leaving the profession. Good people are not choosing to come into teaching. And relievers are really scarce. This affects your children.

So please support the teachers. They are doing this for everyone. Striking is not something they will want to do, but will feel they have no choice. Please support teachers because it affects us all.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting points. Certainly there are excellent teachers who support children, listen to families, and provide an excellent education for the children in their class/school. However we see also teachers who show little interest in the individual child who doesn’t “fit” into the norm, and teachers and school management who do not listen to parental concerns nor allow parental input. Like any occupation or profession, there are good workers and there are not so good ones in teaching too. No-one would dispute that looking after 30 children every day is hard work, no matter how homogeneous the group is. However perhaps if some teaching staff took the time to actually hear what children and parents are saying and meet their needs, rather than just doing what the teaching staff condescendingly think is best, then schools and their workloads may be a little better off.

  2. The central theme, the central problem in Paula Wine’s article above is our teachers’ onerous workload, constant demands for accountability, time-consuming work on various differentiating programmes and plans for children with varying handicaps. To me it looks as if most teachers would happily keep working on their meagre salary if they could only spend their lives teaching “normal” children in their classrooms without any distractions – and that was indeed how teaching used to be not so many years ago. 60 years ago I myself spent a delightful 6 months as a sole teacher of 40 children between 10 and 14 years of age in a rural school – there was such a shortage then (in Denmark) that many schools simply had to employ unqualified teachers.

    It is only over this last generation things have changed (as Paula Wine points out) – and they have changed because successive governments have continually added more and more new work (new plans, new programmes, new ways of doing things) onto teachers – without ever first doing their homework, namely ascertaining exactly how much time these changes actually would absorb. If a CEO in a commercial business wishes to produce more or do things differently, he/she will first of all determine how many more new workers are needed, how much extra training present employees would need and whether perhaps the lay-out of premises needs altering or increasing, etc. – i.e. : What is the actual cost of enacting the changes? Education ministers over the last 30 years (beginning with David Lange) have blithely neglected such basic considerations : they just blindly plough ahead and expect teachers to cope.

    “We can’t keep piling stuff on teachers and not expect cracks to appear” – Well put, Paula Wine.

  3. I am thrilled that the above comments have been made by Paula and supported by Andy. I went into school teaching years ago when we were taught at College to spend time with each child, to love each child, and to make school a wonderful place for the child to come to each day! A huge emphasis was put on the Arts..we sang, painted, danced and dressed up with our primary school children. I loved it! As the years rolled by, we were told the children must be quiet at all times in the classroom, and that I had to attend up to 4 staff meetings a week. I had to report on each child’ s progress frequently, and I must never forget, I was told, that ‘my classroom must look stimulating at all times’ . Well, go back and read Paula’s article, and see if you could manage that! The crunch came for me, when I finally pulled out of teaching in London, when I was told by a school, that they would never have me back, because I had done a delightful hour of drama with my Year 3 class one afternoon. What was the problem? The children were not silent when a senior staff member walked past my room!!! The children were HAPPY and totally caught up with what we were doing.
    I was lucky..I had also trained as a pianist, and so, I jumped into piano teaching and have been doing it very happily ever since. I am very worried about primary school teaching in NZ. To throw out folk dancing, learning the recorder, drama and painting as weekly subjects, is in my view, disastrous.However, all the wonderful teachers we have who are probably longing to do these subjects, because they know as I do, that the Arts develop the child’s imagination and spirit , are not allowed to . Time must be given to learning the computer instead..!! I am so glad that I can give so many pupils the gift of music.. I am currently teaching many children at very low fees so that they can discover beauty and expression of one’s self through music.

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