Why am I striking?

Imagine, if you will, a small class of, shall we say fifteen to eighteen pupils. Perhaps this class is in a small and well-resourced school. Maybe the class has one-to-one devices. In all likelihood this school is a charter school. Or a private school. Or a well-resourced school in an affluent area. This school is not most schools.

Most schools have class sizes of around 30 pupils. Most teachers are working to cater to the needs of 30 or so kids. It takes a vast array of talent and skill cater for the vast range of needs within New Zealand classrooms. In order to service these needs, the education system must have been spending the last decade and a half aiming for the stars and fill the teaching profession with the most highly skilled teachers. Um… no.

Led by the privatised dreams of the ACT Party, and garnished with large doses of teacher-bashing by far right troll blogs and Mouth Hosking, the National Party did very little to promote teaching as a vocation worthy of consideration. Whether it was David Seymour massaging the figures released by charter schools, Hekia Parata’s patronising tone whenever she opened her mouth, Hosking launching into another 3-hour long “Mike’s Minute” on ZB, or National inviting most of South East Asia to attend polytech in Auckland without the necessary infrastructure planning and spend, it’s little wonder we now find ourselves in our current position.

People just aren’t that keen on being teachers. If you are coming to the end of your secondary schooling and you’re on the hunt for a profession, you might briefly consider teaching. However, if you lived in Auckland and realised the average cost of a house is 20 times your starting salary, would that be enticing a career option? Sure, we could all do what those far-right trolls want us to do and live somewhere on the outskirts of Auckland and travel an hour and a half to work each day. If people wanted to spend that much time in cars they would hook into some of that sweet Uber meat, surely?

I trained during the last Labour government. We were all dismayed (actually, we were DISMAYED) when John Key’s government won and started to dismantle our public education system. Had I waited just a couple of years, maybe I wouldn’t be a teacher. Maybe I’d have stuck with the comedy / acting thing. Or maybe I’d be miserable in an office somewhere. Who knows?

What I do know is today primary teachers and principals are striking for the first time in 24 years. That strike is over pay parity with secondary teachers. The reasons for our current strike are many and varied. After a wide consultation with teachers, the New Zealand Educational Institute submitted their claim to the government. You can read it here, but here is the gist:

These are all pretty technical sounding things in there about our pay scales. Ultimately it comes down to this: more money, more release time out of the classroom for studies and other (required) work, smaller class sizes and reduced workloads, and making teaching a more enticing option as a career.

I am not striking for the money. I am striking so I don’t have to work at the weekend. So I don’t have to say “no” when my son asks me to do something with him. I am striking so I can be a better father and a better teacher. If my workload reduces because I’m allowed to have more release time from classroom duties to study or observe other teachers or just catch up on a shit-load of work on my to-do list, then that will make me a better teacher. Having more time to do the job that is required of me during the usual hours of work means I am going to be a better father. It really is that simple.

Anyone who still maintains teachers are somehow lazy or get plenty of “holidays” each year are being disingenuous at best. To the unordained, “holidays” as they are often referred to, are actually used by teachers to catch up on a lot of stuff we can’t get done during term time. More often than not, however (and this happened to three of my team during the last “holidays,” myself included), our bodies collapse and we spend the first week sick after our bodies collapse.

If any of the kiwiblog/hosking fanboys have got this far without closing their window in disgust at my sound arguments will probably be telling me to harden up. “Life is hard. You need to suck it up Boon and get on with it. You’ve been hired to do a job, so just do it. Enjoy your 12 weeks holiday a year you lazy teacher.”

My response? It doesn’t have to be that way. Teaching, indeed life, doesn’t have to be hard. Having spent a decade in the clutches of the research-ignoring ideologues from NACTional, the New Zealand education system could do with a decade of evidence-based policy and decision-making.

I truly hope this strike will bring about that change in direction and put be on the path to being a better dad and teacher.

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