16 Mar 2023

Schools of hard knocks: Striking teachers struggling within the system

10:45 am on 16 March 2023
Nadia Nawaaz

Striking teacher Nadia Nawaaz Photo: Supplied

Teachers say they have been forced to take on second jobs to make ends meet as the cost of living soars.

It comes as 50,000 teachers and principals across the country are striking on Thursday after last ditch negotiations failed earlier in the week.

First Up spoke to teaching staff in the playground at Western Heights Primary School in Auckland, where at least one teacher also worked three jobs.

Nadia Nawaaz was a year three and four teacher at Western Heights Primary School in Auckland.

She had been teaching for 18 years and her $90,000 salary put her at the top of her pay scale.

But like thousands of teachers across the country, she felt, her work load just kept growing every year.

Nawaaz said average class size for her was up to 29 kids.

"I have three diagnosed ASD kids. I have two diagnosed ADHD kids. I have three kids who have hardly any English, who attend extra ESOL classes in our school. There's so many different groups and so many different needs that we're all trying to meet," she said.

"Plus, trying to teach reading, writing, maths ... the new New Zealand histories curriculum that came out plus PE plus art plus looking after the mental health of all the children in our room."

Sigining off at the end of the day was not easy, Nawaaz said.

She started work as early as 7.30am, and left school at 4.30pm. She often found herself working on the weekends.

For her, Thursday's nationwide teacher's strike was a long time coming.

"It's a cry from teachers. Yes, it is about giving us a decent pay rise to meet inflation, but also that we are struggling, we need help," Nawaaz said.

"We need support for our high-needs kids. We need smaller class numbers. You know, we are drowning in an assessment."

While she understood the country was going through a tough time, Nawaaz believed teachers had stayed quiet for too long.

"If we wait any longer, we're not going to have any more teachers in the job. More and more teachers are leaving the profession," she said.

"We can't retain teachers. It's hard enough just trying to find relievers.

"If we don't act now, it's just going to get harder for us."

Across the playground was Jessie Eyre's classroom.

Jessie Eyre

Jessie Eyre Photo: Supplied

She had been teaching for 13 years and said making ends meet on a teacher's salary was so tough she had been forced to pick up extra work.

Eyre tutored students and was also a marriage celebrant.

While the teachers were striking for better pay and improved working conditions, ultimately it was students who would benefit, she said.

"We want more for our students and we want more support for our students in the schools. I think every classroom ultimately should have two adults in the room," she said.

Nuree Greenhalgh was a year five and six teacher at Western Heights Primary.

Nuree Greenhalgh

Nuree Greenhalgh Photo: Supplied

She had been working for 27 years.

Greenhalgh said by the end of the week she had no capacity to communicate.

"You cannot understand what teaching tired is like. It is exhausting."

Because teaching was a non-stop job, she felt it was time teachers asked for better money, Greenhalgh said.

But they also needed better working conditions and more resources to do their jobs, she said.

Before joining Western Heights, she worked at a low decile school.

She said she was at breaking point while working there.

"You walk in to the classroom after morning tea and kids are throwing furniture around the classroom because they've got into some kind of altercation at morning tea or lunch time," Greenhalgh said.

"You've got kids who are trying to get expelled from school to protect their mother from being beaten up," she said.

"It's real. It's what's happening out there, in our schools, and yeah, it's just really hard."

Western Heights Primary principal Ash Maindonald started teaching 45 years ago and had been a principal for more than three decades.

Ash Maindonald

Ash Maindonald Photo: Supplied

Maindonald believed teaching was much harder than it used to be.

To him, the strike was not just about asking for better pay.

"It's about things like parity with secondary schools. At one point there, they were getting five times the amount of release that we were getting."

A lot went into managing a primary school classroom, he said.

There were five-year-olds who did not know how to play alongside other children and some were not even toilet trained.

"That's hard. That's demanding. That's stressful and teachers need some regular release time to read up on how to care for this diversity of kids."

Education Minister Jan Tinetti said said she could not give specifics of the offer during pay bargaining but was hearing teachers' concerns about feeling under-valued and under-resourced.

"I want them to be feeling valued. It's more than just about the remuneration ... it's about the workload. We know it's been a tough time for them over the last couple of years and they need to feel valued."

The government was looking at ways to ease the workload on teachers, such as the planned changes in support for children with high needs.

Tinetti said the current offer was reasonable, with an emphasis on ensuring rates for new teachers had a differential from the minimum wage, but everything was still on the table as negotiations continued. She said she was committed to getting a deal.

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