Sympathy for teachers at risk

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
While public sympathy has generally been with teachers and their collective agreement demands, that could well change in the face of strikes.

This support for teachers is because most people know how important teaching and good teachers are. That is part of their experience as pupils and/or parents.

Most also know teaching is tough, and becoming more so as society changes. More parents expect schools and teachers to undertake roles they should do themselves. Some are demanding and pushy. Others show too little interest. The range of mental health and other problems among pupils, meanwhile, grows.

While teaching hours appear short and holidays extended, conscientious teachers work long and hard. Sixty to 70-hour weeks are not uncommon for the more dedicated. Contact time in front of class is but one part of the role. Nights and weekends and much of the "holidays'' can be time to catch up, prepare or simply to catch breath.

Some teachers, however, do not put in that effort. They, too, receive the benefits of any increases.

The public knows teachers need to be well rewarded. The vital and worthy profession should not be a second-choice option.

It should be recognised, too, that effective teaching is much more difficult than it might seem. First, is the acute demand of what is euphemistically called classroom management. Having the personality, and skills, to control a classroom of pupils of any age is beyond most adults - no matter their training. It is not uncommon for teachers to find the experience overwhelming.

Teaching is also becoming more sophisticated. Inquiry-based and individual learning in large classrooms with multiple teachers brings a new range of abilities and techniques.

On the other hand, teaching has attractions as a specific and stable job providing an above-average income, especially when pay for extra responsibility units are added on. Teachers, also, are always going to be needed.

Against this background, and with a deficit of teachers at present, the Government has offered a pay deal which will give primary teachers about $10,000 extra after three years of increases.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins puts the case for competing Government spending and points out teachers will be in the top 20% of earners in this country after the rises. He says the other issues - important matters in this dispute - are being addressed over time.

Mr Hipkins says the money offered is all there is. That is, though, what industrial negotiations say in disputes, and teachers do not believe him. They think there is more to be squeezed out. Upping the ante will achieve a larger salary increase plus other movement.

Both sides are in danger of becoming entrenched, and it becomes difficult to back down. The Government has repeated the mantra about no more money so often that it will lose face with any change. It knows, notwithstanding the rapidly rising fiscal surpluses, that the likes of health, mental health, housing and other requirements will prompt short and long-term spending pressures.

The unions argue more money is needed because of the shortage of teachers. But the logical corollary is a pay cut when numbers are plentiful. That is not going to happen. The demand for teachers also reflects full employment and similar needs for staff all over the economy.

Strikes impact significantly on working parents. Much as that is a weapon, sympathy could easily swing to annoyance. Teachers could rapidly lose public backing.

Hopefully, the parties can sort out a resolution. Hopefully, there is a little room for Government movement around the non-salary issues, notably the intention to provide more support for children with "additional learning needs''. Hopefully, teachers can acknowledge what is being offered goes well beyond what almost all the parents of their pupils will receive.



The parents' income, or lack of it, is the reason some schools provide meals.

The most egregious 'spending pressure', for no return, is the hundred million plus going to Auckland's Americas' Cup Challenge.

Teaching careers may be secure. It is an essential service, and it includes Social Work. However, if, as you imply, insecure workforces rarely strike, make the profession Third World standard in NZ.

It is unfortunate that working parents are put out, but they, not teachers, are 'toto parentis'.