Workload forces teacher out
Burnout from a draining classroom workload is forcing a Nelson teacher to leave for a smaller town so she can afford to cut down her hours.
Year 1/2 Tahunanui School teacher Heidi Newland said the high workload had spurred her plan to leave for Westport.
‘‘My current job as a teacher is too emotionally draining to do fulltime until I’m 65,’’ she said.
The teacher of eight years spoke out as primary school staff prepare to strike next Thursday for the second time in three months.
Newland said she was moving with her family in 2020 so she could stay in a job she loved but afford to work fewer hours.
She had become burnt out trying to meet the ‘‘huge range of diverse behaviour and learning needs’’ in her class, which consisted of children who had been at school from six months to 21⁄2 years.
Her plight was backed by parent Anna Kara, whose son Cruz is in Newland’s class and has highly complex needs.
Kara said teachers didn’t get paid ‘‘anywhere near enough’’ for what they had to deal with ‘‘day in, day out’’.
‘‘Their workload is massive, and then you get someone like Cruz on top.’’
Teachers had been between a rock and a hard place when trying to deal her son, Kara said. ‘‘He needed to be restrained when he was melting down and hurting other students, but they weren’t even allowed to do that.’’
Newland said the 7-year-old didn’t have teacher aide support in the afternoons, while support applied for at the start of the year (for a different student with higher needs) had only just arrived.
Tahunanui School principal Barbara Bowen said teachers were snowed under with unrealistic expectations, and something had to give.
She said a requirement for teachers to meet the individual needs of every child in their class was now unachievable at many schools, because the range of needs had become so wide.
Bullying, nutrition, values, wellbeing and mindfulness were just some of the issues teachers had to address with pupils every day, as schools handled more
‘‘The diversity of [children’s] needs is huge.’’
Barbara Bowen, Tahunanui School principal
children with special needs and behavioural challenges, Bowen said.
Teachers were struggling to fit regular curriculum subjects into the school day, Bowen said. Meanwhile, schools were being overwhelmed by assumptions from parents that their individual aspirations for their children could be catered for.
‘‘The reality is that the diversity of needs is huge. While teaching to the individual needs of every child in the school 20 years ago might have been doable, it’s not now. People’s perceptions of those individual needs and how to meet them are so wide.’’
Teachers were increasingly being taken away from their classes for extra training, and because of mounting responsibilities in areas like interschool collaboration, but quality relief teachers were getting harder to find, Bowen said.
Expectations started to become unrealistic around a decade ago, but teachers were too bogged down to raise their heads.
The change of government was a chance to decide ‘‘what teaching is’’ and make sure money was put in the right place. ‘‘We don’t need any more initiatives or government managers.’’
More detail was needed on a government announcement on Sunday of 600 new support roles for children with special needs across the country, the school’s special educational needs coordinator (senco), Kay Norgate, said.
‘‘It’s a step in the right direction,
but whether it’s far enough, I doubt it,’’ said Norgate, who juggles her senco role with teacher, team leader and deputy principal.
Zoe Stevens was among parents who spoke to teachers at a ‘‘community action’’ morning at the school on Wednesday, to respond to questions from families about the planned strike action.
‘‘I think the teachers have every right [to strike],’’ she said.