I’m striking. Not so much about my own pay. I am middle-aged, single and financially comfortable, though not from teaching. I am striking because I am tired of the lip service that politicians of all persuasions pay to education and teachers in this country. Lots of talk, no action. They call teachers “professionals”. We are definitely not professionals. A profession controls entry into its own ranks. Lawyers, doctors and even accountants are “professionals”. Teachers are not professionals in this country. We have little control over entry into our own ranks. We have little control over our pay and conditions.
We retain a colonial attitude to education in this country. Likely a legacy of our youthful history. We were a society where land was the crucial resource for acquiring wealth. Formal knowledge and learning were held in little regard. Getting on with doing the job was crucial. A number 8 fencing wire approach prevailed. Higher Education was regarded as a luxury. But the world has moved on.
Education is crucial to our success as a country. We are living in knowledge-based societies. Land is no longer the main source of wealth creation. Knowledge is. Smart, motivated teachers are essential for the success of our young. We need to pay our best teachers much more to inspire the best and brightest to regard teaching as a viable option. We are selling our children short and wasting a lot of potential talent in our young people. There may be potential Bill Gates, Thomas Edisons and Martin Luther Kings who are falling through the cracks because of the gaping holes in our schooling system.
But at the same time we need to ensure that great pay for great teachers is linked to greater accountability. There is heaps of room for innovative public policy in the design of teacher pay and accountability. Yet It is not being touched upon.
Forget about education hubs, technology devices and endless other curriculum and assessment reforms. Smart, motivated teachers inspire students to succeed. Everything else is peripheral.
One of the saddest things about the current state of teaching in New Zealand is not the teacher shortage. It is the fact that principals are being forced to put warm bodies in front of classes to plug gaps. That good kids are being put off learning because the calibre of teachers is declining as principals desperately search for someone to unlock the door and supervise the class.
The other sad aspect is that schools in poorer areas are the worst affected. Teacher supply acts like a food chain. Private schools get first eating rights because they pay the most and provide the best conditions. Next comes high decile schools with access to extra funding, such as fee paying overseas students. The schools that cater for the poorest in our society often get the teaching leftovers. Not always. There are some wonderful inspirational educators in our least affluent schools. But they are definitely at the bottom of the supply chain. We were once a country that prided itself on equality of opportunity. No longer.