Guest Post: Open Letter on Teacher’s Strike

A guest post from a reader who is a teacher:

I’m sorry we are going to strike on Thursday.  I’m sorry for the inconvenience it brings you and your whānau.  We realise it’s not ideal, with an already disruptive last few years.  We know your tamariki have already had their education ‘covided’ and ‘cycloned’ and consequently have had many absences from school.  Their education matters to us – that’s why we are striking.

We are striking for better conditions.  

We are striking to try and address class sizes.  If we have less kids in our class, we can meet their needs better.  That’s a no-brainer.  It also helps to address our workload.  33 kids in your class = 33 reports.  33 comments in Writing.  33 comments in Maths.  33 general comments.  Plus more.

Our workload is broken.  Most teachers I know work 50 hours a week.  Our school brain never turns off.  A number of teachers in my school work 4 days a week to keep up with our workload and have a work-life balance.  We are lucky to have a principal who supports that.  And just because we don’t get paid that day, you better believe we are still working!  Since I had my daughter I only worked part-time (3 days a week initially, then 4 days).  I would always do some mahi on my ‘day off’.  This year she started school (exciting!), so I figured if I need to bring her to school and I do work anyway, I may as well get paid for it.  I realised I was squishing 5 days of work into 4.  I also made a decision not to have my own class while she was young because I didn’t want to be at work until 5pm each day and working evenings.  Before I had my daughter I worked 7am – 5pm, but that’s a luxury of time I don’t have since having her.  

I refuse to work evenings and on the weekend.  Sorry, that’s not true.  My work brain turns on and I just need to prep this or respond to that email.  When I taught overseas, it helped me break the cycle of working evenings and weekends.  That was our time.  It was refreshing!  The holidays were actually the holidays.  I brought that ethos back with me when I returned to Aotearoa.  But working the weekends has crept back in, in a bid to keep up.  Most teachers I know work evenings, weekends and/or early mornings – either some or a combination of that.  A friend of mine has made a conscious effort not to open up her laptop before 7am (she gets to work around 7am).  Another friend of mine died from a heart issue probably brought about by stress.  She worked, doing what she loved, from 8-5pm and after her beloved kids went to bed, often to 11pm.  It was unsustainable for her.  Now, I’m not sure the government can do anything about working hours, but I think the public needs to know that we don’t just work 9-3pm.

We are striking for more provision and support for teaching children with special needs.  We are stretched and at breaking point.  If you had a learning assistant to support you with Takiwātanga all day (like we once did) then that makes the job doable.  It’s not unusual to have 3-4 neurologically diverse children in one classroom.  How are we supposed to educate everybody in the class when these tamariki require extra thought, extra planning and extra time?  I’m not moaning about teaching children with special needs, they bring diversity and empathy into the class mix.  My point is that we need the support to do this well, or else something has to give.  

Money is a contentious issue.  We are well aware of the demands the government has at the moment with Cyclone Relief.  I would be happy with a payrise that was aligned with inflation.  Surely, that is not too much to ask?  Also, on a side-note, did you know that teachers only get paid for a 5 hour day?  When we work 8-10 hours a day?  That makes no sense to me.

I am aware that striking is an industrial action, when we are striving to be recognised as a profession.  We are professionals.  But what are the alternatives to striking?  When I taught in Vietnam, I was delighted to be recognised for what I do when we celebrated ‘Teachers Day’.  It was lovely and so nice to be validated and recognised as an educator.  People would go and visit their previous teachers – ones who had made a difference in their lives.  We were valued and it felt good.  Really good.  Overseas, teachers get paid more.  It is a lucrative market.  I am tempted to go back overseas to teach as it’s such a good lifestyle.  But my heart is in Aotearoa.  I want to make a difference in the lives of our children.  And I should not be penalised for that.

Right, that’s my rant out.  I hope it provides you with a better understanding of this inconvenient event on Thursday.  I know I am not alone in what I have described here.  So start the korero at your school.  How can we make our conditions better?  What do we have the power to change?

And just FYI, I am writing this at 6am on a Saturday, because my work brain has started up (thinking about how I’m going to get two of our akonga to camp) and when else would I find the time?

From a Teacher. A passionate one.

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