I am a New Zealand primary school teacher. I am passionate about my profession and I love my students. Passion and love are why I stay, but it is becoming increasingly harder to do so. So, for the third time in less than a year, I have chosen to strike. Again.  

Our education system is in crisis.

Our government do not appear to intrinsically value teachers. We play a vital role in society, yet  the education sector is not deemed worthy of adequate funding.

Does this then mean that our children are not worth investing in? Despite this cavalier attitude towards teachers, the government demands excellence from us. They expect us to maintain a high level of integrity and professionalism, but without the respect usually accorded to a degreed professional.

They demand more and more from us as a sector, and they expect us to deliver the world inside of the classroom, but will not compensate us fairly for our skills. They demand a first class education system, but are not willing to pay for it.  

This is why I am striking. 

I chose a degreed profession. It took me six years to become a fully registered teacher. I took out a large student loan and spent ten years paying it back. I commit hours of time on top of the standard 40 hours a week, because this is what is necessary to teach effectively. 

I maintain a detailed teaching portfolio as evidence of classroom success, in addition to the multitude of administrative tasks and assessments required for each working week. I undergo yearly attestations and have regular observations to affirm my effectiveness. I engage in weekly and ongoing professional development to ensure I am up-to-date with the most effective teaching strategies.

I do all of this outside of direct classroom contact time and alongside regular staff meetings, syndicate meetings, parent interactions and extracurricular activities. I do this because it is simply what is required to be a successful teacher in a profession that demands excellence. I do this because I know that our children deserve a quality education. 

Teacher pay caps and the rising cost of living mean that my colleagues and I are taking a yearly pay cut as we continue to deliver our children that quality education. Our profession is only becoming more multi-faceted and requires skills more diverse than ever before.

Unfortunately, misunderstanding the realities and complexities of our profession means that, even though we are skilled graduate professionals, we are so undervalued, so under respected and so significantly underpaid, that teaching can no longer compete as a viable career option. 

This is why I am striking. 

On top of this, the pressures we are facing in schools are growing every day. Today’s children come armed with broad, complex learning needs and increased social, emotional and mental health needs. We are no longer able to focus solely on teaching, assessment and academic progress. We are required to exercise skills that cross a range of careers in order to cater to our students.

The pastoral care of our students has become paramount. We are having to navigate a new, complex world of learners and parents who require, demand and expect individualised learning programmes. We have become much more than educators! 

So we have asked for help. 

We have asked for a Special Needs Coordinator, a teacher experienced in diverse learning needs, inside each and every school across New Zealand. 

We have asked to be given more classroom release time in order to effectively plan successful lessons because the need for personalised programmes is at an all time high.  

We have asked for a significant pay increase to raise the status of the profession so that we are in line with other degreed professions.

This will directly address our critical recruitment and retention issues. It will ensure that teaching is a viable career option looking into the future. We need to make sure that ours is a profession held in high regard, just as other degreed professions such as doctors, lawyers, engineers and architects are.

We have asked for pay parity with our secondary colleagues, something we fought for and won in the 1990s, and which the government refuse to honour. 

Sadly, our government will not budge. They have said ‘no’ repeatedly to our teachers. They have said ‘no’ repeatedly to our children. 

This is why I am striking.

Being a teacher today comes at a personal cost. The growing needs of our children along with the increasing demands on staff mean that we never clock out. All too often, we neglect our families, our health and our wellbeing.

We inject our personal salaries into our underfunded classrooms. After all, we teach for ‘love’, right? Our students come first. This is what it takes to commit ourselves to other people’s children professionally. Teachers can no longer afford to prop up the sector. We cannot continue to give so much of our time. We can no longer inject our own incomes back into the classroom because our salaries have not kept up with the cost of living. We can no longer sustain our careers based on ‘love’. 

This is why I am striking. 

Our sector cannot afford to lose young, passionate teachers such as the one who was told by a Minister of Parliament earlier in the week that “teachers should find another job if they are unhappy.”

That statement demonstrates a complete disregard for the profession, the crisis we are facing and the vital role teachers play in society. We are not expendable. But we are leaving. Ultimately, it is our children that will pay the price for an attitude such as this.  

On  May 29, primary and secondary educators across New Zealand will unite in what will be the largest strike action in our nation’s history. We will stand united as one voice to fight to raise the status of the teaching profession itself.

We will stand united as one voice for our children.