by Don Franks
I want to say some things about the present teachers dispute, first admitting to a bias. For the last nine years I’ve regularly taught music classes, for adults. Several times I’ve tried teaching primary and secondary school classes and found it too hard for me. A room full of pre pubescent boys with guitars can be an antechamber of hell. Especially in mobs, kids are sometimes vicious.I recall dithering before giving a bullied wee boy a reassuring hug, fearing accusations of pedophilia. Regular teachers daily and hourly give of themselves in ways never demanded by other occupations.
After years of being in and around schools, flatting with teachers and trying the job myself, I know something of what teaching demands. The profession has high turnover because it takes physical, mental and spiritual toll of a person. Yes, there are also some rewards for teachers, like seeing your hard work help develop educated decent future citizens.
The place where rewards are habitually lacking, however, is in the pay packet.
Tomorrow there will be a mass strike of teachers, it will take place against all their professional instincts. Teaching is built around timetables and time. A day’s disruption to a tight schedule has ongoing consequences, it makes a hard job harder. The fact that the mass of teachers have determined to strike in these circumstances just shows the strength of their grievance.
In their present pay dispute, teachers face enemies from two quarters. From the open right, there are calls for teachers’ pay to be ‘based on excellence’, competitive, with better individual rewards for better teachers. This ideological attempt at dividing teachers is based on ignorance and anti-worker perspectives. A well-run modern school requires high levels of cooperation in all its operations. Within the limits of ordinary human frailties, a school staff is a team, making the best use of its various talents in combined endeavour.
Teachers’ fortunes also face a less obvious enemy. Those who falsely claim to be friends.
Education minister Chris Hipkins made a long speech to the PPTA conference last October. He thanked teachers for their contribution, acknowledged it was an important job and proceeded to talk up his Labour administration as a better option for teachers, a more cooperative relationship.
“We came into government,” said the minister, “with a clear commitment to doing things differently, and a big part of that is about doing things with, rather than to, people.
“For almost a decade those who have devoted their working lives to education have become very accustomed to having things done to them. That needed to change.”
The minister’s solution was ‘partnership’ which he described as “the vital importance of rebuilding trust between government and the teaching profession.”
“On becoming minister one of the first things I wanted to address was the undervaluing and the devaluing of the teaching profession’s thoughts and ideas when it came to education policy and decision-making.
“For some time now the teaching profession have been conditioned to feel that their only real opportunity to have any meaningful input into education policy is once every two or three years when collective agreement negotiations come around.”
The minister’s alternative?
“We need a partnership that is deeper and more meaningful than that. That’s going to require trust, compromise, and good faith on both sides.”
There was much more in the same vein, over seven thousand words, not one of those words speaking plainly about teachers’ pay scales. Today we see why. The collective agreement negotiations have come around again and Chris Hipkins states bluntly that he’s paying no more money.
Despite all the clever two-faced political spin, striking is the only meaningful input teachers have into their personal valuation.
All power to them. May they not be sold out.