So Lynda, there’s a very big year ahead of you with collective agreement negotiations on the table. Are you optimistic about the chances of teachers getting what they’re asking for this year?
We’ve done things very differently this year; we’ve really surveyed our membership and had the conversation with them around what it will take to actually shift the situation that we’ve got in our country at the moment. So at present, we’re having a real difficulty in attracting people into the profession, and if we do attract them into the profession, then we have real difficulty in keeping them there after five years. And that’s for a number of reasons. One is around workload, so people getting the time to actually do the job that they came in to do, which is working with children and focusing on teaching and learning... Another thing is around the pay, the level of pay that they get, so we’ve identified the fact that we need a significant pay jolt. And also we want to have a career framework that really reflects people’s growth within the profession. So there [are] three key areas that people have identified as needing to be addressed. Are we optimistic around it? We’ve been really transparent, as I said before. What we’ve said is that we’ve put that out there so that the Ministry of Education know what our members think, the Government knows what our members think, and they also have the statistics around the issues that we have currently within the country around attracting and retaining teachers. So it’s around a level of commitment that we require from the Government and the Ministry to be able to address these issues. We move into this with really strong member support and we move into it knowing that we’ve got to make these changes so that we’ve got teachers in front of our children.
Do you think teachers are undervalued these days?
I totally think that teachers are undervalued these days. I think that the role of a teacher has changed exponentially over the last few years, the demands on our teachers are huge, it’s not just the role of teaching and learning, but there’s also a whole lot of pressures that our society puts on our teachers... We’ve got teachers needing to feed children and ensure that children who are really struggling are supported in ways that maybe [have] to do with trauma or special education needs, learning support. I think the demands on our teachers are absolutely huge and I don’t think it gets recognised as it should by society at large.
You’ve been involved with NZEI for a long time now – how did you get to that point from being a teacher, a principal?
I’ve been involved with NZEI since I started teaching. In fact, when I was actually training to be a teacher – and I started my training when I was 16, so I’ve been involved for a very long time. I think, for me, it’s been around ensuring the power of the collective, so, really, one person can achieve so much but together, in a large group, we can achieve so much more. That whole concept of working with others for the best interests of all I think has been really strong for me, and so over the years I’ve done all sorts of roles within NZEI: I’ve been a branch president, I’ve been an activist member, I’ve been a regional chairperson and I’ve been the principals’ liaison to the national executive, been on national executive, and now I’m the national president. It’s been a long journey for me, but it’s been highly rewarding and I think along the way it’s around those relationships that you develop with others, with other like-minded people who want to support their colleagues. It’s also around the fact that actually together we can achieve more, we are stronger when we work together, and that we have the ability to actually stand up and speak out and get change to happen. I think that’s been borne out over the last little while with the fact that over the last nine years many of us stood up and spoke out around the consequences of National Standards. A number of the really flawed policies that were there, we’ve stood up and spoken out about it, and with the change of government we’ve seen some change happening in that area, which gives us cause for hope. That change wouldn’t have happened [had we not] continued as a collective to actually speak out against those policies and I think that really highlights the fact that it’s important to actually let your voice be heard in these situations, because we are the people who are closest to children and closest to our colleagues. We know about teaching and learning and we know what works for kids. So I think our voice needs to be heard and that’s always been really important to me.
Is that the belief that drives you in this role as president – that belief in the collective and the belief in everybody working together to achieve what’s best for them?
Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s so important, and I think often people feel like they’re powerless – you know, ‘I’m just one person and I can’t make a difference’ – and I guess that’s been a big part of my belief, is to encourage people to know that they are powerful and that when we do stand together we become even more powerful. And that everybody’s view, whether it is a view that you agree with or not, everybody’s view should and can be valued.
What was your own experience at school like? Did you have any stand-out teachers?
I didn’t particularly enjoy school, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t actually really enjoy school that much myself. I knew that I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was about three or four. My mother used to tell me stories about how I used to corral all the local kids together and have them as my class and do all sorts of wonderful things! So I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but actually for me I think school was a little bit disappointing in itself... If you have the ability to encourage and work with other teachers, then you want every teacher to be the best teacher that they possibly can be, so that every year children have wonderful experiences at school or in early childhood... That’s a bit of a dream or an aspiration [for me], that we get an environment where that can be enabled to happen. In many cases our teachers have been confined by some of the policies that we’ve had of late, and so it’s really liberating teachers to be able to be creative and to really be able to come in and do that job that they really wanted to do right at the very beginning. I went into teaching with a real passion for making a difference for kids, and for a positive difference so that children could actually believe that they could be anyone and do anything that they wanted to be and to do. So that’s been a real driver for me over the years and I think that having teachers who actually enable that for children, then that’s really positive for our society and there’s nothing more powerful than a great teacher-child relationship that actually brings out the very best in children.
So you’ve got roughly six months left in the president’s role?
I’ve got the rest of this year, and then we’ll make decisions around what happens next.
What do you want to achieve by the end of this year?
By the end of this year I’d really like to see the negotiations settled if possible. I came into this role with some really clear objectives, and I’d like to see some of those ticked off. One of them was actually around us being able to work on a 30-year vision in education, and with the change of government, that is one of the things that we are going to be focusing in on. We’ve had a situation like many countries where when you get a change of government it’s almost like education is used like a political football, so you have the swings from one political ideology to another, and that just shouldn’t happen. So one of the conversations that we’re going to be having in New Zealand – and it’s starting in May – is around what do people want to see within the education system, what does success look like for our children and this country, and how do we actually get it to happen. The 30-year model that we’ve had of Tomorrow’s Schools is also going to be under scrutiny, so what changes do we need to make from what’s become quite a competitive system into possibly a system that’s far more collaborative. So these are parts of the conversation that’s going to happen, and I’m really looking forward to being a part of that work.
What do you want to be remembered for after your tenure as president is finished?
I’d really like to be remembered as a president who involved the membership and empowered the membership and enabled people to be able to stand up and speak out around those things that are in the best interests of children, and that also supported and enabled change that was in the best interests of my fellow teachers and support staff.
The teaching profession is very visible, it impacts everybody. Is it difficult to be the face of such a visible and powerful organisation?
Well, you have your highs and your lows, I suppose! But I’m loving it, and I’m loving it because you do get to work with so many people, you do get to meet so many people to have so many different conversations. It’s been wonderful for me to be talking to members across the country, to be able to go into global situations and talk and meet with members from other countries and to look at ways that we can, not just talk, but that we can act in a way that actually moves things forward.
Three people I’d like to have dinner with are... Helen Kelly, who was from our CTU [and] who died a couple of years ago; Nelson Mandela; and my father.
My most treasured possession is... My children, and they’re not really my possessions but they are my taonga, so I just loan them for a little while! If we can take away the word 'possession' and we can use 'taonga', then that’s who they would be.
A person I admire from outside the education industry is... again, Helen Kelly, and I’d say her because she actually really stood up for people in all sorts of walks of life in our country, and tried to make better...safer working conditions for people.
The first CD, vinyl or cassette I bought was... think it might have been Led Zeppelin, and I can’t remember the name of it, but that was the group. I was so proud that I could actually buy it!