Marching Myself

Last week I went on about people marching for democracy. Anybody who read that blog and marched would have probably been telling me to shut my big mouth – and fair enough too. If I believed in something and someone was telling me I was wrong I would have a few choice words of the Queen’s vernacular to deliver in their general direction.

Take this as a kind of apology – qualified if you will. I perhaps should have said this last time: you are quite welcome to have views of any description, but at the same time be prepared to feel the wrath of my words rallying against your view. My point last week was that the group organising the march were talking about wandering up Queen Street for ‘democracy’ rather than their actual reason for marching which was to be allowed to hit their children and claim a defence of reasonable force if they were taken to court. That’s what they had voted for in the referendum and the government said ‘no’ to making the referendum binding, so they marched.

So to this week… it’s my turn to march.

Currently, and for the next two weeks and two days, I am a teacher. I have my own class of wonderful Year 5 & 6s. To give you an idea of numbers there are 28 of them. As any teacher knows, it really does depend on the make up of your class as to how independent they are as learners. Sometimes your class can be filled with kids who require very little assistance with their learning, whereas other times you may have a lot of kids lumped under the ‘special needs’ banner.

Special needs is an umbrella term that includes a vast range of things – I call these things ‘things’ because you can’t really lump them together even though they quite often are. You can have kids on the autistic spectrum (in itself this is a capacious grouping), children who’ve moved to New Zealand from other parts of the world and have English as their second language, kids with specific learning needs in one or more of the core curriculum areas, those kids who are now dubbed ‘differently abled’ by the PC brigade (again a huge range of different things there, from cerebral palsy to spina bifida, blindness and any other affliction in between), kids with nut allergies who, if they touch a nut, go into anaphylactic shock and need an injection of adrenalin or they will die.

These are the children I can think of while typing. I’m sure I’ve missed loads out and I apologise to those kids.

In New Zealand we have something called free education. It is available to all children from the age of 5 until they leave secondary school. When I say all children I mean ALL children. If you are 5 years old and were born in New Zealand you can go to a public school here. You can read all about it right at the start of the Education Act 1989.

So, all kiwi kids can go to any government-funded school. This is great! In so many countries around the world this is not the case. We are truly lucky.

With class sizes of around 30 teachers have to cater for a massive range of different educational needs, including, possibly, some of those children mentioned above. If you are a very lucky teacher you can occasionally get a little bit of help delivering specific learning programmes (I suppose you could say teaching!) to these kids with the help of a teaching assistant. Sometimes they are assigned to specific children and work in the class with the teacher, other times they may take groups of children with similar needs from around the school and teach them together. Either way, these learning support staff are integral to the running of any school.

You must be thinking at this point, “if these staff are so integral to delivering learning to the children in the schools most in need, then they must be getting rewarded for their amazing work.” You could think this, but you’d be wrong. Due to a variety of reasons, most notably in education (and nursing for that matter), because the vast majority of the workforce is made up of wonderful female women who are so altruistic with their caring, a multitude of governments over the past 30 – 40 years have used this to their advantage and because of this some of the lowest paid educators in this country are paid less than the people who clean their rooms at the end of the day.

WHAT???? you all say in disbelief, but this is completely correct and I’ll repeat it just to cement my point. In some schools, the cleaners are paid more than those with finely honed educational skills responsible for teaching those most in need.

Is this fair? In short, no, and so today I am marching in support of my colleagues. My wonderful and amazing colleagues who have given so much over the years and receive so little in return – sometimes, depending on their qualifications, minimum wage. It’s just not fair.

So far I’ve talked about a specific group of support staff, but there are so many more. In my school, for example, there are the learning support staff responsible for teaching those kids under the ‘special needs’ umbrella, but there are many, many others. Our ICT person responsible for making sure the school computers, network, internet and communications are cranking along in the correct manner is part of the support staff (this person would be worth tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands working a similar job in the private sector). Our librarian who runs things in that part of the school. Our art guru who produces the most amazing displays for school, resources for the classroom teachers and enters the wearable art awards each year. The list goes on and on and on (and I apologise if I’ve missed you out – you can hit me at school on Monday).

If you think not getting paid enough is unfair then think about this. Support staff are not on full contracts either. Their contract ends at the end of the school year so technically in two weeks or so all the support staff in New Zealand are out of a job and don’t get paid for 6 weeks. Schools do keep these people on year by year, but in the private sector if you’re on a fixed term contract when your contract comes to an end you are out of work. So every time there is a change at the top these people must be concerned for their positions. Who’s to say a new boss isn’t going to look at things when they come in and say, “we don’t need all these people, surely” and just not renew contracts come the end of the year. Fixed term contracts end and uncertainty every Christmas isn’t good for the psyche.

And so my call goes out – support the support staff in your local school. Go in on Monday, find them and thank them. They are the teachers in your school you are getting from minimum wage up to around $20 an hour (depending on qualifications).

My final point is this: support staff at our school are paid not from the wages and salaries budget, but from the same budget we purchase our toilet paper with.

Actually I have another final point: John Key, our venerial venerable leader said if support staff wanted a pay rise then perhaps teachers would be willing to take a pay cut.

Both of those final points show exactly how much the current (and previous) government value not only support staff, but education workers as a whole. What do you expect from National – after all, they did choose an Minister of Education whose sum total of previous experience in education was going to school.


Kindest regards,

Boon x


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