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.” firstname.lastname@example.org
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.