Local primary school teacher Jane Howley. Photo: Charles Anderson.

‘This is why I’m striking’

0
781

Nelson’s Jane Howley has been a primary school teacher for 23 years and joined hundreds of others around the region on 29 May for the New Zealand education industry’s biggest ever strike. Reporter Kate Russell asks her why she voted to close her classroom for the day.

I became a primary school teacher because I enjoy children of this age. I love their instinctive desire for knowledge, their enthusiasm and seeing their joy for learning.

We feel so lucky with the wonderful children we have in our class and their families who are so supportive. We are more than just teachers. We are there to nurture and care for their social and emotional needs.

I love teaching because it’s incredibly rewarding, and you feel you are making a difference to these young lives. Despite this passion for my job and the wonderful school I work in, I feel frustrated by under resourcing, a salary that does not recognise qualifications and hours worked, and the ever-increasing expectations on us. I feel frustrated that we are not funded enough to reduce class numbers at a time when many children in our classes need more support.

I teach in a play-based learning area. The richness in materials for this area invariably comes from the commitment of a team who are constantly foraging in the weekends for natural or recycled materials. We also purchase out of our own purse. I often feel frustrated by budget constraints when there is so much more we would love to achieve for our students.

I am striking because I feel that the kids deserve decent resources and a quality education in classes that are well staffed to cater for their individual needs.

I work in an incredibly supportive school which cares very much for our well-being, but despite this, I see myself and my colleagues feeling burnt out by several weekly meetings, along with extra meetings we have with outside agencies to support our children with additional needs.

All the teachers at our school arrive between 7:30 – 8am and we seldom leave before 5pm.

Many of us have families who deserve our time, but after working a nine-hour day we will usually put in another three or four hours catching up on planning, marking assessments or making resources. On average, my colleagues and I work a 60-hour week, and that’s not including Sundays.

My colleagues deserve to have time with their families without worrying about the huge quantity of paperwork they have to do. Sometimes I feel like I am just keeping my head above water despite the hours I do, and I don’t always feel I have time to be the good mother I want to be.

A reasonable amount of release time for teachers could make such a difference. It would also mean a lot to be recognised for our work. It can be frustrating when payday comes around and you have no money left in your bank account after buying the basics and paying the bills.

It’s not an easy decision to strike as we know it affects our families. But I believe we have to get this right for the children we teach. They deserve the best, energetic teachers, decent resources and enough staff to cater for their individual needs.

STRIKE BACKGROUND:

Primary and secondary teachers across New Zealand (including area schools) voted for an historic first combined strike on 29 May. It’s the largest ever industrial action taken by our teachers, covering around 50,000 members across two unions. Teachers have rejected the Government’s current package to settle their collective agreements and this strike will aim to persuade ministers to spend more on improving conditions for students and boosting teachers’ conditions and pay. The MOE’s current offer is within $698 million. A teacher with 23 years’ experience and a three-year degree earns $71,891 ($23.04 an hour before tax). NZEI and the PPTA want more action on more staffing and more classroom release time to reduce workloads. Primary teachers have already gone on strike twice in this bargaining round, in August and November after continued negotiations.