Why do we strike? Because the profession is in crisis. Because Immigration NZ declined my teacher mate’s residency application owing to the fact her pay is 39 cents an hour too little, writes Christchurch teacher Annabel Wilson.
I turned my school email to auto-reply at midnight on May 29 because I quite often get emails in the middle of the night. It’s not unusual for a student to send me work for feedback in the small hours. That’s because for teachers, there’s no such thing as after hours. When I message my family or friends to say I’m leaving work at the end of the day, I always have a sad giggle to myself because while I can say I’m leaving work, I can never say I’m finished work.
The role is not a job, it’s a vocation, and it’s incredibly rewarding. And because of that it comes home with you. In piles of marking. In emails from students, colleagues and parents, about assessment, pastoral care issues, co-curricular activities, sport, school events, Ministry requirements and professional development. In the planning for the next day, week, year. In the thoughts and conversations you have about those students you teach, about the best way to meet their diverse needs.
There was a lot of talk at the strike last week. Among the 50,000 protesters who chose not to teach and instead take the ‘last resort’ of striking, there was a strong sense of a shared message – the teaching profession is in crisis. The past 10 years have seen a 38% decrease in the number of new secondary teachers graduating. Student numbers are rising: there will be 10% more secondary school students by 2025. Teachers are getting older – with 21% of teachers over 60 in 2005, and no plan in place for what will happen when the Baby Boomers retire.
The demands upon teachers continue to evolve and increase, and a payrise is only a small part of the solution. We need more time, money and resources in order to ensure all our rangatahi are provided with the education they deserve. The PPTA’s vision, to ‘bring out the best’ applies to both teachers and learners. Teachers require support so their job is sustainable, and they don’t get burnt out. When we value teachers, we value education, and paying them enough would be a start. With fair pay and adequate resourcing, we will be able to empower our young people to reach their true potential.
A colleague stood beside me on the picket line last week. Along with her partner, she’s packed up her life in South Africa to take on a specialist maths teaching job here. She’s committed herself wholeheartedly to her work and the wider life of the school and is already a much valued part of the fabric of our College. Since joining our community this year, she’s led our staff in morning karakia, joined the Social Club and put up her hand to be the ‘grief person’ who writes cards to colleagues in times of loss.
In the last four months, as well as meeting the daily requirements within the classroom, she’s been there at Pasifika evening, Polyfest, our overnight marae visit. She tells me that Immigration NZ has just declined her expression of interest in residency, because her pay is 0.39 cents per hour below the required threshold. When a highly skilled teacher is turned down from living here because they don’t earn enough, there’s something wrong. So we marched, sang and chanted “We Want Change” because we do.
Just after midnight on May 30, my email flicked back to normal. Messages, marking and tasks flooded in. A lot of this communication is enriching and exciting – because every day is different and every day we know we are making a difference. Some of the messages are from the PPTA, with updates about the rolling strikes to come.
We won’t teach Year 9s today. Next Tuesday, Year 10s will be ‘rostering home’, followed by Year 11s the Tuesday after that, and Year 12s on Tuesday 2 July in accordance with the PPTA’s strike notice. The nature of this action will be a continuous withdrawal of all labour related to those students for the duration of the strike day, which means no teaching and learning, no feedback, no marking, no report writing or planning for that cohort on that day. Rolling regional strikes are also proceeding for the week of 17- 21 June.
We’ll continue until our voices are heard by the government. Teaching is a verb and we will keep doing what we do and we don’t do it for the money. I hope something happens soon so my colleague gets to stay in the country, and continue to get kids fired up about Maths. It’s situations like hers that just do not make sense, situations that illustrate the frustrations of people working at the chalkface. The profession is at a turning point, and I hope that change is coming.
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