OPINION: I am a teacher and I love my job. Last week, I voted to strike. Again.
I have been asked if it was a tough decision and that is difficult to answer. I genuinely feel like I did not have a choice. My students are so important to me and the teaching profession is a vital one. I made the choice to strike for my students and for the future of my profession.
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I want my students to have the education they deserve. I want them to have teachers who have time to teach them. I want them to have teachers who aren't exhausted, burnt-out, and feeling undervalued. I want them to have teachers full stop!
I made this choice because I know my colleagues are incredible people who have dedicated their lives to education. I want them to stay in this profession that they are passionate about. I want this profession to be one students aspire to. I want this profession to be a viable career option in today's society and in the future.
We are facing a major, very real, crisis in education.
How can we entice new recruits into teaching? How do we retain quality teachers? Many other occupations are far more attractive for today's workers. They have half of the professional development expectations, they're less emotionally and mentally taxing than teaching, they require less skills, and they offer better remuneration.
Teaching as a career option today simply cannot compete.
It took me six years to become a fully-fledged teacher. I have a degree and a post-graduate diploma in teaching, as well as two years of provisional training. I walked out with a heavy student loan debt that has taken me ten years to pay back.
I chose teaching because it meant something. It means something. But, in all honesty, it's becoming increasingly harder and harder to stay.
I do stay, because our children need us.
It's especially hard to stay when it appears by their actions that our government doesn't inherently value us, our sector, at all. It's disheartening that we have such an adversarial relationship with the government. It's an awful, demoralising feeling to have to continually justify and prove your skills, your value, and your worth over and over again. Not only to the government, but also to the public. Do we as a nation value the education system? Do we value teachers? Do we want the best for our children?
I know our children are worth investing in because I see them every day. Our children are so important – we just want the government to see what we see. We want the government to put the needs of our children at the forefront of their actions.
What we are asking for is not unreasonable. It is absolutely possible to deliver on the demands for our children.
We want reduced class sizes so that our children get more one-on-one time with their teachers.
We want extra classroom release time so teachers will have time to plan and implement effective lessons and programmes. This gives us time to teach and time to do the heavy administration tasks that go on behind the scenes. It also gives us time to meet the needs of each and every child.
We want a fully funded Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO) in each school. A SENCO is a teacher whose sole responsibility is to provide school wide classroom support for children with learning needs. This role ensures children who need it do actually receive support. It ensures nobody slips through the cracks.
Finally, we need a major pay jolt to address teacher recruitment, match other professions that require degrees and to retain quality teachers who are leaving in large numbers. For us to face this education crisis, we need a sustainable profession which attracts and retains the best and brightest educators. We want our children educated by the best.
The government's offer still keeps teacher salaries far below other skilled, degreed professions, so this is not enough to address the crisis of retention and recruitment.
Since our strike action, the government have insisted our children wait, and they have said there is no more money to invest in education. Proudly, they have since announced a surplus of $2.5billion. Proudly, they have pledged $10.5million on recruiting overseas teachers and last week announced a $95million programme to improve teacher supply. But, they will not invest in teachers here, now. Teachers with knowledge of our Tikanga, our curriculum and the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi within education. Teachers currently teaching and wanting to stay in the profession for our children.
The worst thing about the latest government offer is that for the first time it removes pay parity for primary teachers and early childhood education. The Ministry's offer suggests teachers with the same qualifications, same experience, same work load, same responsibilities and knowledge should be paid differently. We would no longer have parity if we accept the current offer and there would be no clear pathway to return to it. This will make the teaching profession even less attractive.
We worked so hard to win pay parity under the Bolger government in the 1990s and it began a journey for us to be valued as a profession. It was a hard fight, it was so tough – and now the government wants to roll back these hard-fought rights. We want the government in good faith to honour pay parity.
We care so deeply for our students that it comes at a personal cost. Our children need more and more help as we begin to better understand learning differences and challenges. We are navigating this as class sizes increase to staggering proportions. We have phenomenally high administrative expectations behind the scenes. All of this means we are often unable to prioritise the needs of our own families, and own health and wellbeing.
Our students always come first. And they should. But at what cost? We are injecting our own incomes back into the classrooms because the government doesn't value us or these children. This is what it takes to commit ourselves to other people's children professionally in an underfunded, undervalued sector.
We "teach for love" and doing that has held the system up. But it won't hold any longer. We are exhausted. We can't do this anymore.
We never clock out. And time has run out for the government. Teachers will not wait. Our children cannot wait.
It's time to invest in our children. It's time to invest in education. We just have no choice but to fight for this. Our education system needs it and our children are worth it.
Lisa Geraghty is a teacher at a school in Kapiti.