Teach­ers’ choice

The Northern Advocate - - Opinion -

An open l et­ter to pri­mary teach­ers:

I hear and un­der­stand what you’re say­ing. I’ve been there, I’ve gone on strike, I’ve marched in the streets. Look at the ar­chives — and look at the out­comes. Grad­u­ally, in­cre­men­tally, things have im­proved but it’s al­ways been a bal­anc­ing act.

I re­call a par­ticul arly vo­cif­er­ous NZEI meet­ing where some­one stood up and said we should move a vote of no con­fi­dence in the gov­ern­ment. Trem­bling at the knees, I got to my feet and said that the time to move a vote of no con­fi­dence was at the gen­eral elec­tion. I say it again now. If you’re not happy with what this gov­ern­ment is of­fer­ing teach­ers and what it’s do­ing to ad­dress the chal­lenges it’s in­her­ited, in two years you can vote for rep­re­sen­ta­tives of other hues. Try as I might, I can’t re­sist the temp­ta­tion to say, “Good luck with that”.

These days, we pro­mote “Learner Agency”. We want our learn­ers to have voice, choice and own­er­ship. This ap­plies equally to teach­ers. For ex­am­ple, there are se­ri­ous con­cerns about the range of com­plex needs teach­ers have in front of them ev­ery day. There al­ways were, though pro­por­tion­ally, they seem greater. In part, this re­lates to the fact that con­di­tions such as foetal al­co­hol syn­drome, Asperger’s, ADHD and dys­lexia were gen­er­ally not iden­ti­fied. They couldn’t af­ford to be — the sup­port net­work was a sparse, over­worked dis­tri­bu­tion of com­mit­ted pro­fes­sion­als do­ing the best they could.

You have the right and re­spon­si­bil­ity to let your voices be heard and it seems they have been. “It’s re­cently been an­nounced that: The Gov­ern­ment will fund 600 ded­i­cated staff in pri­mary and sec­ondary schools to sup­port chil­dren with spe­cial learn­ing needs such as dys­lexia, autism, phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties and be­havioural prob­lems.” au­drey.young@newzealand­her­ald.co.nz

To a greater or lesser ex­tent, de­pend­ing on your cir­cum­stances you have choice. You can stay in the pro­fes­sion, you can leave or you can seek teach­ing po­si­tions over­seas. Per­son­ally, dis­il­lu­sioned with To­mor­row’s Schools, I chose to move into in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion. No re­grets! It worked for me. It doesn’t for ev­ery­one. Glob­ally, there are schools and in­sti­tu­tions that see Kiwi teach­ers fly­ing back to where they came from, grate­ful for a lucky es­cape, and oth­ers where they’re val­ued and well re­warded, fi­nan­cially and in terms of pro­fes­sional growth. Mean­while, teach­ers from over­seas come to New Zea­land and em­brace the life­style and op­por­tu­ni­ties it of­fers them and their fam­i­lies.

Then there’s the third com­po­nent of “Agency” — own­er­ship. You can lay the blame on the gov­ern­ment for not rais­ing your wages as quickly as you would like. Al­ter­na­tively, you can take own­er­ship of your sit­u­a­tion and im­prove your qual­i­fi­ca­tions, thus mov­ing to a higher bracket and in­creas­ing your chances of gain­ing pro­mo­tion. Life ex­pe­ri­ence has shown me that change from within is more re­li­able than try­ing to force oth­ers to change.

As you ne­go­ti­ate your way to a pay set­tle­ment, I do hope you’re tak­ing stock of what has been achieved in the course of a year and what is planned for the fu­ture. Yes, there’s a long way to go — we all know that. We also know that hous­ing stocks, hos­pi­tal main­te­nance, in­fra­struc­ture and many other as­pects of life in New Zea­land are in ur­gent need of at­ten­tion.

We can pull to­gether as a na­tion, or we can fight our corner at the ex­pense of oth­ers.

Pa­tri­cia Fen­ton


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