Teachers are warning that unreasonable workloads are forcing too many people to quit their profession, and they are holding out for a pay deal that will make their their job easier.
The Educational Institute announced today that its members had rejected the most recent Education Ministry offer in a week-long ballot.
The offer would have increased most teachers' pay by between $9500 and $11,000 a year after 24 months.
At South Wellington Intermediate School, teacher Jamie Hoare said he had given up waiting for a better deal.
Mr Hoare said he resigned recently so he could spend more time with his infant son by working in his bicycle courier business and doing some relief teaching.
"Often I've been staying until 7, 8 o'clock writing reports or trying to get home and spend time with my son but also having to write reports, plan lessons, write transition notes for kids, etc, etc all of the hundred things that need to be done outside of the classroom."
He said he might well have stayed in his job if the pay dispute had been resolved with a settlement that eased the load.
"I think that would have definitely been a factor in my decision. I've been teaching for eight years now and it took me two or three years to realise how enormous and unreasonable the workload is."
In the school's staff room, Ella Kilpatrick is coming to the end of her first year as a full-time teacher.
She said she expected her colleagues would reject the latest offer and she wanted a settlement that would make teaching a more attractive career.
"A lot of beginning teachers like me are becoming that statistic of the 40 percent of beginning teachers that are leaving in the first five years of teaching because they've just had a gutsful and they're sick of having to fight every day in class," she said.
"A lot of the older teachers in the profession are leaving as well so we need to really kick things up a notch and save teaching and make it appealing for people to get into the teaching profession."
Ms Kilpatrick said if her pay and workload did not improve, it was likely she would look for better paid, less stressful work in Australia in a few years time.
But the prospect for a better offer was unclear.
The Education Ministry said it wanted to keep bargaining, but the deal needed to stay within the current envelope of $698 million over four years.
Meanwhile, the Post Primary Teachers Association today announced its bargaining team had rejected a third offer from the Education Ministry and the two parties would begin mediated bargaining on 13 December.
Industrial relations expert Stephen Blumenfeld from Victoria University said public support would be important for the teacher unions, but only if the dispute ran into next year.
"With regard to public sector workers, public support is crucial, but likely there will be a settlement sometime in the next few months both for primary and secondary teachers," he said.
Dr Blumenfeld said he was surprised the negotiations had not been settled already because the unions had no leverage over the government during the holiday period when schools were shut.