As the dust clears following yesterday’s industrial action, one group will be looking at any outcomes with great interest: the early childhood education sector is currently negotiating the lay of their own land with the government. Education Central spoke to a former ECE teacher who says he felt forced to leave the profession behind, and take a job that gave him the space – and the income – to be confident about starting a family and moving his life forward.

Denish* is a qualified and registered early childhood teacher, of seven years’ experience. But when he and his partner decided to start a family, he felt compelled to leave the profession. With a mortgage to pay and a wife on maternity leave, ECE simply didn’t stack up any longer – financially or in terms of his ability to be the husband and father he wants to be. So Denish made a career change: he’s now an Uber driver.

Making $55,000 at a Wellington ECE centre, Denish, as one of two household income earners, could justify pursuing his passion. He was doing what he loved, what he’d put so much time and effort into training for.

The prospect of a new addition to the family though tends to force us to examine our extravagances. When his partner fell pregnant Denish decided that his career as an ECE teacher fell into the ‘hobby’ category: something that he enjoyed, which was no longer sustainable given his new responsibilities.

“My wife wants to take a year of maternity leave. That means family income falls on me.

“I started driving for Uber after work, just to see how it went, and at the weekends. I realised, ‘hey, I can actually make some decent money doing this.’ That’s when I decided it was probably healthier for me and my family to go down to teaching part time. After two months, I just felt like teaching, with all the responsibility that you have to take on, and things like having to keep up with professional development, the workload, and with the money that I could make [in ECE], it just wasn’t worth it.”

“I can pretty much make the same driving an Uber, if I put the hours in.”

“Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less – but during the three months I’ve been driving, it’s literally worked at roughly the same per fortnight.”

In his first week as a ‘full-time’ Uber driver, Dinesh worked 39 hours, putting in those hours on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The following week he put in 45 hours, and worked Monday to Friday. On both weeks, he reports that he took home “a bit more than $1000.”

Adjusted for tax, Kiwisaver at three per cent, and for student loan repayments, a conservative figure of $1000 dollars per week entered into the salary calculator at paye.net.nz returns a weekly net income of $715. Dinesh’s reported ECE salary of $55,000, entered into the same calculator, returns a figure of $746, supporting Dinesh’s claim that he can make roughly the same driving an Uber as he does working full-time at an ECE centre.

These are obviously incredibly rough figures, and don’t account for the fact that as an Uber driver, Dinesh must pay his own taxes – which are less than those paid by employees, but he also needs to pay for his own expenses – petrol and other car expenses being the big and obvious ones. But he can also deduct those expenses from his taxable income.

The point is that if you accept that overall, employees and sole-trader contractors keep roughly the same proportion of their income, then the calculation that led to Dinesh’s life-changing decision holds water.

Given that the income difference isn’t dramatic, the deciding factor for Dinesh then became the flexibility that a life as an independent contractor entails. He wants to be a ‘hands-on’ father, and he wants to be part of the early years of his son’s life.

“That’s the thing. If I choose to work in the mornings, I can go home in the afternoon and help my wife out. And if say they were asleep the next afternoon, I could go out and drive then.”

So what would it have taken to keep Dinesh in the profession? Would he have stayed for 65k, to throw an arbitrary number out there? He says it’s not just a matter of money – as pretty much all New Zealand educators are saying right now, there are systemic problems in education, that the current government must do something to address, if it hopes to make good on the pre-election ‘raising the status of the profession’ rhetoric, and staunch the bleeding of teachers entering – and staying – in the job.

“I guess that would be more attractive, in terms of security for the family.”

“Everyone knows that the pay doesn’t reflect what we do. It’s a really common conversation. Many parents who drop their kids off are like, ‘how do you go through this?’ If they knew how much we get, they’d be like, ‘why do you guys do this?’ It’s a shame.

“It took a long time to make this decision. I enjoy the job, that’s why I did it in the first place. And it was fine when it was just me, but when I had to buy a house, and I had a family to consider, it literally isn’t good enough.”

“The thing about the job is that you do it for love. It sucks that that love isn’t enough.”

*not real name. Interviewee spoke to Education Central on condition of anonymity.

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