Sick and tired

Guest columnist Karl Goddard outlines his concerns for the teaching profession.

I’m sick and tired of the ignorant comments attached to news items about the negotiations for our new contract; knowledge may be a candle in the darkness but ignorance is a black hole that literally sucks in the light. I’m not a great teacher and I’m not the greatest spokesperson for our profession, but I’ve got some superb colleagues who are much better teachers than I will ever be, and I’d like them to stick around and get properly compensated for what they do.

I’m sick and tired of losing great colleagues who are forced to leave Auckland because they want to own a house, or who are forced out of the profession by economic and workload pressures. Too many good people are leaving their jobs because it’s just not worth it any more.

I’m sick and tired of the difficulty schools have in attracting quality applicants to fill positions. There are a lot of bright, enthusiastic, passionate, motivated new teachers joining us, but I wonder how many of the best and brightest we’re not getting. Surely it’s better for management to have sleepless nights wondering which of dozens of applicants can progress to an interview, rather than how many of the few applicants are worth being interviewed.

I’m sick and tired of schools having to collapse yet another class, or having to combine students into multi-level NCEA courses, simply because the number of kids we need to select that option has gone up again in order to spread our teaching staff just a little further.

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"Too many good people are leaving their jobs because it’s just not worth it any more..."

I’m sick and tired of contemplating the ticking time-bomb of impending teacher retirements that is about to hit our sector within the next decade, and wondering how much worse things are going to be by then. How much harder will the job get? How many more kids can be crammed into my classroom because we can’t provide a wide enough range of options for them? Will the government actually ever fund our deans, guidance counsellors, and school leaders properly so that they don’t have to be counted as full-time teachers in our staffing ratios?

I’m sick and tired of being stuck on the same step of the pay scale – one I'll be on for the rest of my career. I’m 41 years old and have been teaching since 2002; I’ve still got about 25 years to go before retirement, yet there are no more steps to climb other than those that take me outside the classroom.

I’m sick and tired of worrying about who is going to be at the front of the classroom when today’s five-year-olds reach high school. I’m single and don’t have kids of my own, but my siblings, some of my cousins, and many of my friends do, so I really worry about who is going to be teaching those kids in 10 years’ time.

And I’m sick and tired of people who aren’t teachers – and who have no idea what it’s like – telling us what we should or shouldn’t be doing. Telling us we’re selfish for considering strike action; saying it’s just about money and we don’t care about the kids; suggesting we consider "performance pay"; saying we need to "suck it up" and that if we don’t like it, we should just leave. Now that would be an interesting piece of industrial action – all of us quit, all at once, on the first of February next year,  primary and secondary. Pigeons, meet cat.  

The truth is, we actually don’t want to strike unless we have to. Strikes are annoying. I appreciate the PPTA negotiation team for giving the Ministry another month to come back with a better offer, because the current one WILL have us on strike and I’m sure most of us would like to avoid that. Ensuring that a vote on industrial action will only take place once senior students have left to begin their NCEA examinations helps us avoid any disruption to their learning. That gives us precious little time to launch effective action this year, but it really does show how much we care and put the kids first.

I listen to my more experienced colleagues, and to the leaving speeches of those retiring, and the common thread is: teaching isn't what it used to be. It used to be more fun. It was always hard work, sure, but the hard work used to be much more reasonable, and the pay used to be more commensurate to the work expected.

In the past, apparently many chose teaching because of the work/life balance, giving up a slightly higher pay rate in other sectors. Many of those retiring now – great teachers who taught me the tricks of the trade and for whom I have so much respect – are saying that if they were starting over today, they wouldn’t become teachers. Where would I be if they’d not been here when I started? Would I still be teaching if it were not Henry Kaniuk and Trish Price giving me advice, a shoulder to cry on, a back room to compose myself while they ‘dealt with’ my Year 9 class of horrors? The fact I am still teaching today is because those two wonderful human beings on separate occasions kept me from quitting in my first year. As more experienced staff leave, how many new teachers will leave because they don’t have that guidance and support?

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The truth is, I think many of us are scared.

I’m scared that if we don’t actually fight for the future of our career, more of us will leave, and those who are left will have even more challenges to face, making it even less likely that they’ll stick around. Then it gets even harder for those who are left, and the cycle continues.

I’m scared that quality graduates are looking at the returns from teaching and realising that they’d be idiots to consider it as a career – especially if they want to own a house and raise a family. Minister Hipkins said at the PPTA conference that he was concerned about teachers advising people not to come into the profession, but love don’t pay no bills. When my Year 10 Social Studies class begins their career quest, what is the first thing almost all of them look up? How much they’d get paid. Your move, Hipkins.

I’m scared that the increasingly complex needs we’re facing in the classroom are not being addressed or resolved, to the detriment of everyone involved. RTLB funding needs serious adjustment, and the entire support network around challenging and challenged students needs an overhaul. All of our support staff deserve significant pay rises too. I’m ashamed to see how much some of the most supportive and important people in schools get paid to do all those things we teachers can’t, so we can get on with teaching.

And I’m scared that if we just continue to "suck it up" and put everyone else first, the entire country will suffer. Yes, other people need pay rises too, and maybe they should join a union to help negotiate for a better deal, as we have done. But if we don’t advocate for ourselves, who else will? How bad is it when most of your best Year 13 students won’t even consider teaching as a career? I have been fortunate enough to have worked with some really fantastic pre-service teachers, many of whom are doing great things in their own schools now, but how many more quality graduates are we missing out on? 

"I’m scared that if we just continue to 'suck it up' and put everyone else first, the entire country will suffer..."

A lot of these issues are similar or identical to those our primary colleagues are facing, and I would hope that our executive is in close contact with that of the NZEI regarding coordinated industrial action next year should a resolution not be forthcoming. Our cooperation with NZEI to defeat the government’s attempts to reintroduce bulk funding (in all but name) showed the power that we have if we work in solidarity on issues that affect us both.

I don’t want to have to strike. But it’s time to save the future of our profession.

It’s time to stop accepting stop-gap measures while waiting for yet another working group to present yet another report that goes on yet another shelf to attract yet another coating of dust.

It’s time to stand up for ourselves, for our friends and colleagues, for the students in our classes and the students to come.

It’s time to bring out the best.

It’s time.

 

  • Karl Goddard is in his seventeenth year of teaching. He teaches history, classical studies, and social studies at Massey High School in West Auckland.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 9 October 2018 15:00