By: Anne-Marie McDonald

On any school day, Mrs Corcoran may find herself teaching, answering the phones, driving the school van, looking after the swimming pool, planning school work, fixing the photocopier, answering emails, paying her staff . . .

“That’s a typical day. I’m officially the principal but I spend 70 per cent of my time teaching and have to cram all my principal’s duties into the other 30 per cent,” Mrs Corcoran said.

“So I have two jobs. I’m a principal and I’m a teacher. And because Waitotara School is small, I get paid less than principals at larger schools.”

Mrs Corcoran is quick to point out that she is passionate about her job and loves being at Waitotara School.

“But I do wonder about the sustainability of the job in the long term.”

The small South Taranaki school has just gained a second classroom – and a second teacher – with a role of 26 pupils. Its students are all locals but they come from a wide geographic area: from Maxwell to Waverley, Wai-inu to the Waitotara Valley.

Lynda Stuart, president of the New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI), and Paul Nees, principals’ support officer with NZEI, visited Waitotara School on Friday to discuss these issues and more with Mrs Corcoran.

Ms Stuart said NZEI had recently conducted a survey of school principals and found many of them were suffering the effects of stress and burn-out.

“That is even more pronounced among rural school principals. Rural principals are, in many cases, having to do it all for their school.”

Ms Stuart said the local school was often the hub of the community, which was good but also placed pressure on the principal.

“It came out in our survey that principals are often the subject of gossip and speculation,” she said.

Mrs Corcoran, who lives in the Waitotara community, agreed.

“The lines can really blur between work and life. Waitotara people are my friends, and when I socialise with them they want to talk about school.”

Ms Stuart said NZEI would like to see a guarantee from the Government that no principal would have to be in sole charge of a school. The organisation would like to see at least one other teacher besides the principal at every school.

“It’s a health and safety issue. What happens if an emergency happens with a pupil and the principal is the only adult at the school? They have to make a decision that could be life or death.

“We would like to see principals being given time to be principals,” Ms Stuart said.

Source: Wanganui Chronicle


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