Sunday, 8 October 2017

World Teachers Day - It's Time!

It's time!  Kua tae te wa!!

Last week was World Teachers Day and it is time!!!

It's time that teachers were once again held in high regard and not pushed around by politicians and the neoliberal agenda pushing their GERM policies.  It's time our professionalism, knowledge and experience is respected and we are fully consulted on and collaborated with in regards to education policy and how the New Zealand education system is run.  It's time our workload is reduced and we are renumerated appropriately.

Last Wednesday I came back from a four day conference.  It was the annual conference for the New Zealand Education Institute, NZEI.  People generally know us as the primary teacher's union, but we also cover primary principals (and primary includes intermediate schools), kindergarten teachers, teachers in ECE centres, special education teachers who work directly for the Ministry of Education, and school support staff who work across the kindergarten, primary and secondary sectors in a range of roles.

People usually view NZEI as an industrial union, as they mostly hear about us talking about how much teachers are paid and Collective Agreement negotiations because that is what the media talks about.  But NZEI is more than an industrial union, because the 'I' in NZEI means 'Institute' and that is because NZEI is a professional body.  What you do not see in the media or public eye is the professional and pastoral sides of the Institute, how NZEI aims to develop teachers, principals and support staff as professionals so that children are provided the best education possible.

Because in the end it is all about children.  Children are the ones that benefit from a strong teacher profession promoted by NZEI.  Children are the ones that benefit from having support staff who are focused on supporting the child and their learning and wellbeing.  A teacher's working/teaching conditions are the learning conditions of our students.  When you shortchange and restrict teachers, and fellow staff, the ultimate sufferers are students.  And I think this sign below, drawn at the Annual Conference, sums that up quite nicely.

The last eight and a half years have been difficult for the education sector as a whole.  This list is not an exhaustive list of what has been inflicted on us, but it is representative:
  • revoking the goal to have 100% of ECE teachers fully trained and registered.
  • funding freeze for kindergartens and ECE centres.
  • the destructuring of the kindergarten model into the industrialised day care model.
  • constant slamming of the teaching profession and the focus on the "tail of underachievement" without the explanation of the children who make up the "tail of underachievement".
  • support staff receiving miserable pay rises and not recognised by the government for the integral part they play in the education of children.
  • allowing children to start school before their fifth birthday.
  • National Standards.
  • narrowing of the curriculum, teaching and learning to reading, writing and maths.
  • expecting all children to be assessed against the National Standards, including students on IEPs and receiving ORS funding.
  • league tables in the major newspapers.
  • bullying principals and BOTs into taking National Standards on.
  • advisors sent into schools with little or no experience of the schools or the levels.
  • Commissioners sent into schools and BOTs and/or principals being fired.  These Commissioners are also paid for by the schools, so are financially draining.
  • the killing off of the Teacher Advisory Service and privatisation and corporatisation of professional learning development providers who never knew what they would be doing from year to year.
  • the closing of Learning Media and the consequently lower quality and restricted variety of the resources now supplied to schools for learning.
  • changing the leveling of School Journals with no consultation with classroom teachers to fit in with National Standards.
  • PaCT.
  • Charter Schools.
  • Teach First.
  • allowing people to teach in Charter Schools who are not trained registered teachers.
  • Charter Schools not coming under the requirements for OIA (Official Information Act).
  • continually cutting funding for Reading Recovery.
  • not spending all the money in the Special Education fund despite the desperate need.
  • closing several residential schools for children with special education needs.
  • trying to close Salisbury School and make Halswell a co-educational facility despite the court ordering that housing these girls within the same school as boys would put all the children at risk.
  • IES that devolved into Communities of Schools that became Communities of Learning.
  • freezing the school Operations Grant and giving schools money for children deemed 'at risk' but not naming who those children are.
  • job insecurity for support staff as they are at the mercy of pressures on the Operations Grant.
  • the attempt to reintroduce bulk funding and disguising it by calling it global funding.
  • the decision to go with the Risk Funding model.
  • refusing to fund food in schools programmes.
  • ignoring the effects of poverty and the housing crisis on children.

Many of these things were predicted by the NZEI General Secretary, Paul Goulter, each year in his speech to the NZEI Annual Meeting.  This year Paul put out a call to teachers, principals and support staff that is is time.  It is time to stand up and be paid what we are worth and that we will not be nice about it anymore. 

Below is Paul Goulter's address to the NZEI Annual Meeting 2017.

Teachers are quite fed up.  While we love the job, we don't love the workload.  We don't love the teacher bashing we have endured under National.  We absolutely abhor National Standards.  We don't like PaCT.  We have little time for CoLs being forced upon us.  We absolutely hate that our profession is constantly disrespected for our knowledge and experience we bring and the constant call for accountability, which is out of control and increasing the workload, taking the focus off our core reason to exist: teaching children.

I was surprised by these statistics Paul spoke about in his address:
  • New Zealand teachers have 922 teaching hours on average annually compared to the OECD average of 794 hours.
  • New Zealand has the 11th worst child:teacher ratio in the OECD.
  • New Zealand teachers have the 19th worst buying power for their salary in the OECD.
There are 35 member countries of the OECD.  We are at the wrong end of the statistics.

Add to this that New Zealand has the highest rate of youth suicide in the world and, in one study, the worst rate of homelessness, we really need to wonder if this country is doing the best for the children of New Zealand.

Below is a Storify of tweets illustrating Paul Goulter's address to the Annual Conference and how our members feel about the issues our members face.

The Primary Teachers Convenor, Michelle, stood to read the pledge we are making to all members.

I am a primary school teacher, so most of what I have written above is focused on that.  But NZEI promotes a kaupapa of whole of union.  So below I am going to discuss issues for other sectors within NZEI, because I will support and activate for these members too, because it benefits every other sector and, most of all, children will benefit.

Let's start with ECE, early childhood education outside of the Kindergarten sector.  This is dominated by the industrialised day care chains and peppered by community based day cares (which are often now being squeezed out of the market).  Most teachers in this sector are not unionised.  There are minimal requirements for child:teacher ratios or for the numbers of trained, qualified, registered teachers to be in these centres.

I won't go into my own personal issues in regards to the quality of education and care in these centres, but when I read the statements in these pictures below and hear the stories in person, I wonder how staff subjected to such poor employment practice can consistently deliver quality education and care to the students in these centres.

Anyone reading these statements has to be moved by the fact we have a fair chunk of the ECE sector under stress and working in centres that are not meeting the legislation requirements for workers and for children.

Our Kindergartens have been undermined by this current government, who have lumped them under the same legislation and policies and ECE centres.  The result is that the ethos of Kindergartens is being lost.  They have been turned into the day care model, therefore reducing choice for families looking for the best fit for their preschooler.  Kindergarten teachers have had their professional status undermined and their conditions eroded.

Our support staff are on the lowest wages in education.  Our support staff have been subjected to years and years of job insecurity due to being funded through the Operations Grant.  If a school suddenly needs to cut costs due to financial pressure, the support staff budget is one of the few places they can make cuts to balance the budget.  The result is that students suffer because that teacher aide is gone or there is no longer someone running the library or one of the many other roles support staff take on.

Teachers have a phenomenal workload, but principals really take the cake.  The amount of principals burning out or creating a poor culture within their schools due to the workload is continuing to increase.  The government has tried over and over to pit principals against teachers and principals and BOTs against each other.  The fact is, a principal needs to have a close, quality, collaborative relationship with both their staff and their BOTs.  Without that, the principal will fail, the school will fail, the BOT will fail, the staff will fail, and ultimately the children suffer.

Resource teachers are often the bridesmaids and forgotten in all this.  Resource Teachers of Literacy (RTLits), Resource Teachers of Learning and Behaviour (RTLBs) and Resource Teachers of Maori (RTM) as well as Resource Teachers for the visually impaired and hearing impaired, Health School teachers, Correspondence School teachers, and those who work for Special Education in the Ministry of Education are often forgotten by the mainstream.  They get reorganised, renamed, have staff not replaced and are expected to work wonders with limited resources and time frames.  It's time they were treated with more respect and listened to as well.

Teachers have been nice for too long.  We will not use children as the bargaining chip because children are at the heart of everything we do.  Without children we have no purpose.  If we want to do the best for children we have to fight for the best we can get.  When we have the appropriate staffing, funding and resources we make magic everyday with our students.

So it really is time.  Kua tae te wa!

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