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Op-ed: 4 reasons why my schools are NOT striking

Tomorrow thousands of teachers walk off the job and it looks like about 2000 schools will close.

Our two State Schools will be fully staffed and fully operational – and for good reasons.

Firstly the children who come to South Auckland Middle School and Middle School West Auckland are, on average, two years behind from their previous six years of schooling. They need every minute, hour and day that we can give them. We can show that they make approximately 1.5 years worth of growth for each year with us but this is highly dependent on consistency and using every day. We don’t have teacher-only days and have the children fully engaged up to the last day of each term.

Secondly, the last thing many of their parents/caregivers need is extra cost and hours of work lost through a teacher strike. Teachers may consider that they can afford to lose a day’s income – many of the school families can’t. At our schools we provide uniform, stationery, IT and do not ask for donations. This saves our families approximately $900 per child in February (and many have 2 – 3 children with us). To hit working families with costs now is counter-productive – as is hitting businesses with parents taking days off because they need to care for their children because the teachers are on strike.

Thirdly, the collective contract is completely outmoded – it does not recognise regional differences – it does not allow difficult to staff schools to incentivise, it does not allow schools to provide extra benefits such as health and life insurance. With a new government this was a chance for the union/profession to modernise – not hark back to the 1950s.

Fourthly, many of the things teachers are complaining about are school management issues and not contractual. Schools determine their class sizes. Much of the additional workload piled on teachers is through their principals and middle management through countless and needless meetings and administrative requirements to justify their own existence. The strikes are missing the correct target and the vast majority of workload issues are not dictated by the contracts.

The strikes are about pressuring the government through public support. Strikes are so very last century. If schools have the support of their community then do a Community Sit-In after school one day and publicise that through effective social media. Don’t put the kids on the street.

Because of the way that they operate – including their bullying approach – only one of our 65 staff have chosen to join a teacher union. Our kids love coming to our schools (our transience and truancy levels are very low) and make great progress. Our staff turnover is also negligible and we have few problems filling any vacancies that do come up with good people. 

There was/is a better way to increase incomes for teachers than harmful strikes – particularly when the independent Employment Relations Authority has said it is a good offer. 

We are fully open tomorrow.

Alwyn Poole

Alwyn Poole, from Villa Education Trust, is the academic manager at Mt Hobson Middle School and the academic adviser at South Auckland Middle School and Middle School West Auckland.

9 Comments

  1. I can see where this writer is coming from. There is a lot of extra work coming from management to justify its own existence a lot of the time, but to say it’s their fault is unjustified. They have boxes to tick to keep their jobs. I worked at a Decile 1 school in South Auckland and the Principal used to spend THOUSANDS of govt. money on the landscaping!! The schools Principal was so outdated (and bullied sick and pregnant staff members because relievers were so “hard to get”) that of the 9 new staff that started at the beginning of the year, 1 of them was left at the end of the year. And it was a BT who didn’t have a choice but to stay. I reckon with schools it’s about 50/50 whether you get a good management structure that spends money wisely and treats staff right. The above letter talks about how it’s managements fault, but the truth is that still stems from the govt. A lot of schools just don’t have the money to employ the necessary staff to make their teachers lives easier. They can’t afford to hire someone to mark tests, or input data for their teachers, they can’t afford a full-time aide for the high needs kids in almost every classroom. Shivers they can’t even afford to get an IT guy to fix the reports up so we don’t have to copy and paste usually unread comments about specific learning targets. Why isn’t it a tick-box system?? Parent’s just want to know that their kids are improving and are trying hard. It seems they’ve moved the tick box system to management because they are so busy ticking boxes that rather than employ the people necessary to keep the mental health of staff at safe levels, they are busy gardening or re-writing the key-competencies.

    On the other hand, teaching is a rough job. It’s hard. We know it’s hard when we get into it. It takes a nice big chunk of your personal life from Day One. It gives you a heaping of high-pressure over the safety, wellbeing, and education of 30ish children that aren’t yours. Do we love the kids? Yes. Doesn’t the job satisfaction make it worth it? No. We’re too busy to enjoy the small success’ we get. Our job is literally never finished, there is always something we could tweak or do and we do it at home often enough. I’ve come into teaching from other professional jobs and I have to say, arriving at work at 7.30am, leaving at 4, then doing another hour or so at home is ridiculous for what we are paid ($59k for me, maximum $75k in – 4 years. Then never another pay-rise even if I get better at my job… so I’ve planned just to copy-paste and stop trying at that point *sarcasm*).

    Many well-paying jobs, you leave the job at work when you go home, you get your weekends. Heck with some of them between 8-10am you don’t even really need to work and just casually chat over coffee in the morning. We’re not paid like lawyers or doctors for somewhat obvious reasons, but at the same time, we provide a vital and risk-heavy service and I can’t even afford to buy a house in the city I live in! I just want that. I just want a house that isn’t a single cardboard box on a 2sq metre bit of land for half a mill. And the thing is, I’m not the only one, and teaching isn’t the only profession suffering. We all are. We literally all are, our kids are, our grandkids, none of them can afford to get into the housing market on their own anymore and if they can, they are the few lucky ones. THIS IS THE PROBLEM. I honestly wouldn’t care about the hours I currently did (because I’m used to it now, though I know I would be saying something more outrageous if this was 3 years ago) IF I could afford a nice, small, 2 bedroom home, with a nice couch and office area that I could call my own and put my feet up while I work, then I wouldn’t be complaining. That’s literally all I want, and it is so far out of reach thanks to the housing market and the 30 year mortgages that make you pay DOUBLE for your slice of the pie, that I just don’t want to participate.

    If nothing changes this year, I’m out. There are other countries that pay better. I am a jack of all trades, and I’ll not be pigeon-holed into this life our own citizens are okay with. Our teachers union has been weak for decades to allow this to happen, but WE are weak as a nation. We need to demand more of our leaders, and I’ll be damned if owning our own slice of the country we love isn’t on the cards anymore. There are landlords with so many properties that their net-worth exceeds millions of dollars while the people that rent them pay their mortgages for them. It is a cruel joke that successive govts level at us because Joe Moneybags thinks that property should is a good way to make money when ethically that is highly questionable.

    TLDR? Teachers just want to be able to afford a house without having to marry into wealth.

  2. An interesting letter and certainly raises a number of great points- however the writer does not offer full disclosure that these schools are run by a trust (were previously charter schools)- now designated as special character- and as such they fall under the “state” schools umbrella but are essentially run as private schools- as such the rolls are much lower (hence the smaller class sizes), technology is better (because of external funding) and I would be intrigued to know if they operated under the collective agreement or had their own contracts and pay scales (in which case they can pay their staff a higher salary, reduce workload etc).
    I would love to be able to operate in a society where class sizes were this small and resources were plentiful- but not every school can work under direct “sponsorship”…and if we set a precedent of allowing schools to dictate their own pay scales etc then some schools who can afford to fund staff and lower class sizes (potentially in high decile areas) will be able to offer a much more competitive working environment- the consequence of which is underfunded, “state” school will struggle to attract staff (If I offered you $10,000+ PA more than you are on now to teach a class of 15 in a well resourced school would you genuinely turn it down)- would you sign up to the collective agreement if non union members were paid more than you?….
    I would have loved a touch more transparency here.

  3. Obviously this ‘good offer’ is motivating thousands of people to study teaching. The ‘good offer’ will mean that teachers will no longer have to spend 1/2 their income on rent. The ‘good offer’ will stop the deluge of teachers moving overseas to teach and save up so they can buy a house in New Zealand.

    What ARE your suggestions for increasing incomes for teachers?

    Obviously your organisation is against striking and peaceful protest. Is this philosophy then imparted to your student body?

    How can you label the voting system used by the teacher union as a ‘bullying approach’ and then with the same breath, single out and openly discern that member of your staff who has, by personal choice, joined the union? Wow.

    Finally, our low decile families supported the 1 day strike today.
    They value their teachers.
    Do you?

  4. Hi People above

    Our State schools are in decile 1 & 2 areas. We started on 7% of a State schools set-up and have always had the same funding levels as equal sized and aged States schools.

    We organise our resourcing differently which allows for class-size and the other things mentioned.

    Yes – we highly value our staff (and payed them more until the unions intervened and demanded that we don’t when they came under the collective contract. Yes we highly value our decile 1 parents which is why we were working yesterday and save them so much money throughout the year.

  5. Mr Mellor. One hopes that teachers are earning their pay rise through doing a good job – not walking up the street with infantile signs and sending the children home.

  6. Unfortunately nothing will change with unhelpful comments or articles like this. We are in this together and we need to stick together. Yes management have a lot of unnecessary meetings and generate a lot of unnecessary box ticking paperwork, yes they are trying to justify their existence and yes some may not want to strike because want the prestige of saying we are so very very fabulous and good . However, most are adhering to the requirements set out by the ministry of Ed in a lot of cases.
    The reality for the majority is that class sizes and main streaming have turned classrooms into stressful places to be. Our toolboxes have been emptied, we can’t even defend ourselves from the increasing violence in some classes because we are prohibited from restraining students either hurting themselves or others.

    I feel that many teachers would agree that the extra money should go to support staff (who are payed very little to do what can be a very difficult job) as we cannot function effectively without them. I would be happy with this as well as a system that didn’t require so much useless paperwork that will never be read by anyone.

    I work with special needs and am expected to do personal learning plans for all students for every curriculum area as well as planning for their special needs. We rely on TA’s to help with out students as many of them have high needs in many different areas. We struggle to keep support staff due to the low wages and high stress levels involved when working with special needs.

    Maybe if the country as a whole supported those of us in the public sector a little bit more , the teachers, nurses etc wouldn’t feel the need to strike. Every school is different, so instead of vilifying your own profession you might be more proactive and support the profession as a whole and encourage parents to do the same. If nobody takes a stand, nothing will change.

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