Striking teachers march down Kerikeri Road. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Thousands of area school, primary school, high school and kindergarten teachers gathered across Te Tai Tokerau in a show of unity yesterday, part of 50,000 teachers striking across the country.
Te Tai Tokerau Principals’ Association president Pat Newman said the aim of the march was to have teachers’ voices, worries and needs heard.
“Wellington only listens to people when they stand up,” said Newman.
Last Friday, Ministry of Education employment relations and pay equity general manager Mark Williamson said the offer that New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) members had rejected so far provided “significant increases”, but Newman disagrees, and called Williamson’s comments “out of touch”.
“I’m furious,” he said. “You’ve never been in a classroom.”
“He’s done nothing, in my view, to help the situation,” he said. “Purely and simply, it’s people like him [who are] why we’re on strike.”
Gatherings occurred across the motu, including in Whangārei, Dargaville, the central Bay of Islands, Kawakawa, Kaikohe and Kerikeri.
In Whangārei, hundreds picketed on road corners in the morning before making their way down to Laurie Hall Park, where they marched for fair pay, better resources and more support.
Kindergarten teacher Shelley Shenan has been in her work for 40 years and called the strike “historic”, as teachers across a range of disciplines came together to speak out.
“It’s that unification we need to get our message across,” she said. “It’s about making sure our needs are met.”
Whangārei Girls’ High School teacher Keri Urbahn said she has been “blown away” by the public support.
“Obviously, we’re really tired, our tanks are empty and we just feel that the Government needs to be held to account,” she said. “I’m striking for our new emerging teachers. I want young people to want to be a teacher, and to stay teaching.”
Totara Grove School junior teacher Olivia Harvey said she is working in a class of 26 kids, some with autism and ADHD.
“One person trying to control all of that is a lot, and you also can’t give them what they need.”
“For me, it’s being able to give them what they need and, actually, what they deserve,” Harvey said.
“Really, for me it’s about making a difference for the kids, because the kids are why we do it, and I want to carry on my career for the rest of my life. But if things don’t change, it’s becoming something that may not be sustainable for the rest of my life.”
“If I don’t feel like I can do what’s best for the kids, then why carry on?” she said.
It’s a similar story for Joseph Lickness, a teacher at Oromahoe School. He said as a beginning teacher, he puts in over 60 hours per week working and planning.
“It’s a struggle,” he said. “I have a class of 29 with an autistic child, and it’s very challenging to meet all the kids’ needs.”
“If we could drop down class sizes it would be a lot easier. I’m not doing this for the money. We just need more support from the Government.”
Phoebe Scrivener is a junior teacher at Onerahi Primary School, and said on her current pay she is “barely scraping by”.
“I spend hundreds of dollars on my classroom out of my own pay,” she said. “I just want to see better working conditions for us and better learning conditions for the kids.”
Leone Cooper, a teacher at Riverview School in Kerikeri, said the number of children needing extra help has increased.
“I’ve had enough of watching teachers burn out because of the amount of work [inherent in] dealing with so many children who need so much help. We don’t have enough time to help everybody. Kids are missing out. Class sizes need to come down so we can give quality education to everybody.”
Portland School principal Shane Nicholas said he attended yesterday’s march to represent first and second-year principals.
“They’re not lasting the distance because they’re expected to be the teacher, the social worker, the caretaker. It’s an incredibly diverse job and in essence, they’re burning out.”
“At the moment, there are teachers that have earned very, very close to what I earn as a principal in my school, and it’s really quite disheartening when you consider the amount that’s put in,” he added.
Oromahoe School principal Tracy Smith said primary principals, primary teachers, early childhood teachers and secondary teachers all wanted the same thing.
“We want to have the funding, the resources, to support all the tamariki [children].”
Newman said the march had a great sense of “community”, and the feeling was “the Government surely has to listen this time”.
Minister of Education and former school principal Jan Tinetti told protestors outside Parliament yesterday that the Government will “do better”.
“I have stood out there right where you are now and I have protested. I have also been a teacher and a principal. And so I absolutely know and value the work that you do.”
She called the strike a “day of action”, with time at the negotiating beginning today.
It’s currently unknown just what those negotiations will look like.