History shows how far we’ve come
Like a student striving for Excellence I sought an exemplar for my first president’s viewpoint, digging back into the archives of the not-so-distant past to revisit the wise words of those who have come before. Debbie Te Whaiti, Robin Duff, Kate Gainsford, Angela Roberts and Jack Boyle – some big shoes to fill. What struck me reading their first columns was just how far we’ve come. While it can seem like we’ve been battling forever on certain issues, like equity for part-time teachers (judgement coming soon), it’s easy to forget the wins once we’ve achieved them.
I’ve served my time in the dean's corridor where a colleague used to remind me on tough days that it’s all about forward movement. Sure, it’s frustrating anytime a student does something daft, but we must remember that shamefaced year 11 was once a wee year 9, and they’ve come a huge distance. Two steps forward one step back can feel frustrating in the moment, but it will still get you to where you’re wanting to go.
It is important we remember our victories
Education seems to have an awful lot of going round the long way, but equally as a union we’ve had some pretty impressive wins over the years. Robin’s first column back in 2007 describes the success of the first year of Specialist Classroom Teachers and teacher sabbaticals. When Angela wrote her first column in 2013 we were in the midst of our battle against charter schools, a policy now largely confined to the dust heap (though we are forever on guard against its zombie-like return from the neo-liberal ashes). Speaking of zombie policy returns, let us not forget 2016 when our collective action forced the government to back down on further bulk funding of schools.
It is important we remember these victories, because within the yellowing pages of the PPTA News of the past are issues that I can’t believe we’re still talking about. As someone said on the Bring out the Best page in relation to the part-time case “What’s taking so long? Any imbecile can see that’s unjust!” Pay equity, workload, student behaviour issues, and Debbie’s 2005 request “that the government funding our schools receive reflects the costs of the delivery of a high-quality curriculum to their students” are all perennial issues in presidential viewpoints.
Tangible results from all the talking
Many of these problems have been moved into the Accord between the Ministry of Education, PPTA Te Wehengarua and NZEI Te Rui Roa, that stemmed from the settlement of the 2019 Secondary Teachers’ Collective Agreement. This is the year in which we must make certain that we begin to see some real and tangible results from all the talking. There are some positive signs, with the increasing recognition that if you want to know what works in schools and classrooms, asking actual classroom teachers is always a good place to start. Fiscal constraints continue to be an issue though.
While there is some truth in the ministry’s view that spending money in education is like pouring water into sand, it is equally true that it’s impossible to build a sandcastle when your building materials are dry.
Together we are strong
Finally, I must mention the one new issue we are facing – Covid-19, though this does come with the silver lining of parents realising that teaching is actually quite hard. I feel particularly for Tāmaki Makaurau and their cycling lockdowns. Having been through the first two myself as a classroom teacher I know just how difficult it is to maintain momentum with our students when out of the classroom.
2020 was a tricky year in oh so many ways, but the silver lining for me was seeing Aotearoa New Zealand realise the power of collective action and collective responsibility. It’s something we have always known as unionists – when we work together we can achieve change. Together we are strong.