Trio of students tackle teacher aide salary inequities

New Zealand’s largest education sector union is throwing its weight behind a petition started by three students who have demonstrated that social awareness and positive activism is alive and well among the younger generation in Aotearoa.

NZEI Te Riu Roa President Liam Rutherford visited at Macleans College in Auckland on Wednesday 15 June to meet Year 13 students, Aimee Thompson, Sammie Chamberlain and Joe Blest, who organised a petition after their class was challenged by their Social Studies teacher Sarah Snell to create a project that would raise public awareness of an issue relevant to them in an effort to change a government policy.

The trio chose to examine the salaries of teacher aides at their school and contacted NZEI Te Riu Roa, which represents teacher aides in both primary and secondary education, for help in circulating a petition to raise salaries.

Rutherford said the issue was particularly important as teacher aide salaries are not centrally funded but paid out of a school’s operational budget – the same pool of money that is used to buy stationary – while their job security is often tenuous as they are employed on a term-by-term or year-by-year basis.

“We were blown away that they started this petition and then had the nous to contact us about it,” he said.

“We have seen how politically engaged the younger generation is over issues like climate change and have been really impressed by the willingness of Aimee, Sammie and Joe to try and take control of something that directly affects not only teacher aides but other students in their community.”

He said the trio’s actions were timely, given the recent release of a New Zealand Council for Educational Research report into the benefits of social activism amongst teenagers.

The report recognises that politically engaged teenage students are better able to access the full benefits of their education, learn and understand how to work collectively, feel empowered, are connected and valued by their communities and tend to have more positive wellbeing outcomes.

“We feel that this just demonstrates all the things we, as adults, want to see in our children. We want them to be inquisitive and engaged and standing up for what is important, and to care about their community,” he said.

“It’s a great credit to their teacher Sarah that she has them thinking like this.”

Rutherford has been so impressed by the students he asked Snell if he and his PPTA counterpart Melanie Webber could also talk to their class about how collective action can be used to make positive social change.

“I have been really impressed with the depth of engagement in this year’s class,” Snell said. “And it was great to see Aimee, Sammie and Joe reach out to the union.

“We are really looking forward to Liam and Melanie coming and talking to the class as it allows the students to hear how positive social change is achieved in the real world.”

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