Looking at the issues behind the teachers strike

On 15 August 2018 Primary and Intermediate School teachers and principals went on strike over their pay and work conditions. Whilst there were much support for them getting a pay rise, looking back at them and having a chance to digest the feedback from others, I wonder now how support they got for addressing the conditions of their work.

1) Get a pay rise
2) Get attention focussed on the atrocious amount of other work that teachers have to do, a portion of which I simply do not believe teachers should be doing

The first aim is indisputable, though we might disagree on the pay rise happens.

It is the second one I want to focus on. The expectation that somehow they are also supposed to be part time parents, social workers, bureaucrats and jacks of all trades as well is silly. Lets get real here.

The sum of our expectations does not match the sum of what teachers can realistically expect to do. Teachers are making a 10/10 effort to meet expectations, but New Zealanders are not making a 10/10 effort to be realistic about what they can do. I think it must be soul destroying to a teacher, 100% committed to their profession, their school and their students to walk away at the end of a day and think “I screwed that up didn’t I?”.

Well, no, I doubt you screwed up anything – at least not knowing. What’s screwed up is the idea that you can do better than what you do in a teaching environment where I think there are a number of background problems.

1) Do the assessment regimes as they currently stand, actually work? You can assess a student all you want, but if the metrics that come out are goobledegook, I doubt very much when you have Teacher/Parent nights that is going to help – granted I have no idea what a school report looks like today, my high school reports in the 1990’s had three sections:

A) Curricula – where the teacher grades your performance in that area
B) Person – where the teacher notes your attendance, behaviour and whether you turned up to class in an acceptable standard
C) Commentary – self explanatory

2) Is it time to hit “reset” on our expectations of teachers, and put more responsibility back on the parent, the other social agencies – yes a teacher will see a student five days of the week, most weeks of the year and in that time they will be expected to get to know them a bit and identify behaviours,

3) Is the Education Act due for a review or overhaul – did it mandate or provide for them being all of these other things that we expect them to be? Maybe it did – I honestly have no idea what is in the Education Act 1989, but if it did not, then the time has come.

4) How much of what goes on can be put down to our addiction to social media? Would it really be too much to mandate a requirement for to hand over their phones at the start of class and only get them back a morning break and lunch time?

I think this is a conversation that we need to have as a nation, among our school communities and as parents and teachers. You could give teachers a 50% pay rise, which no doubt they would absolutely love, but if the arse is in the legislation or an aspect of teaching that cannot be sorted out by pay rises, then nothing is solved, except maybe retaining teachers is a bit easier.

The teacher’s strike 2018

This was a long time coming. Prior to this strike Primary School and Intermediate School teachers and principals had not walked off the job since 1993. During the Fifth Labour Government of former Prime Minister Helen Clark, High School teachers had gone on strike in a wave of rolling strikes. The 2018i strike was an opportunity for the rest to catch up with the high schools.

No one should be surprised it has happened. Schools have undergone huge change in the last two decades. The idea that a teacher’s workload is from when the students arrive at the start of the day, through to 1500 hours, is now generally recognized as nonsense and that teachers are only half done with their working day when the students leave at the end of each day.

The workload has also diversified considerably. In 1989 a Primary School teacher was not a de facto social worker, though they were definitely trained to watch for visual or behavioural signals from students that suggest there might be problems in their lives. Statutory paper work required by law has also increased, much to the chagrin of teachers. How much of it they actually need to do and is not already covered under other laws, is questionable.

Without doubt teachers face many challenges in their careers, irrespective of which school  they teach at.

We can be certain that there will always be disciplinary issues among some students, no matter how they are (not) taught discipline at school or at home – complaints about aggressive students with no understanding or respect for other people, their property or the community at large. Will the student be made to stand facing the corner of the room or will they be given a Managing Student Behaviour┬╣ notice, which is what my old high school often did with students who were disrupting classes.

Another big and no completely unavoidable issue is how to make sure that students are able to benefit from social media technology, whilst being safe and learning how to use their devices responsibly. Classes in my opinion should be made to surrender their cellphones at the start of each period and shall be able to collect them again afterwards. Videoing abuse is one thing, but then posting it for others to see quickly sends a message that the abused is vulnerable.

And then there are student fees. Whether it is for text books, or stationery or for activity needs the annual cost of these is considerable. Not all parents can afford to pay and therefore not surprisingly can cause a break down in the relationship between parent and teacher

So, I welcome the strike, which I think was necessary to release pent up anger and frustration with the state of the eduication system. But now that the teachers have had that opportunity to vent, it is time to go back to the negotiations table and work out a deal for all primary and intermediate school teachers and their support staff.



Foreign student rules to change

The Government has announced that new rules will take effect in November concerning the rights of students to work here, whilst studying. The rules, which were announced by the Minister for Immigration, Iain Lees-Galloway today are intended to address the periods in which students can work in New Zealand after completing study.

The rules for foreign students studying in New Zealand have long been the source of controversy. It has ranged from students trying to do engage in paid work whilst in the country encountering exploitative employers to dodgy visas issued by immigration consultants who should have never been in the business in the first place.

Now they are changing. The new plans are a confirmation of the Government’s intention to steer students away from studying in Auckland by using a carrot and stick approach. The stick is that students who study in Auckland will only be permitted to work for a year in New Zealand after they complete their studies. The carrot is that a student who studies somewhere else – say Christchurch – can work for two years in New Zealand after they complete their studies.

Due to Auckland having the largest international airport in New Zealand it tends to be a magnet for students coming to study in New Zealand. This is largely because of the opportunities, perceived or otherwise, a lack of understanding about the rest of New Zealand and what provinces outside of Auckland have to offer.

Original proposals to change the rules were roundly panned by both the Opposition, industry leaders and and analysts. It was estimated that they would have cost New Zealand $1 billion per annum and have resulted in 44,000 fewer students studying in New Zealand each year..

The new rules will include:

  1. Students studying for qualifications outside of Auckland at Levels 4-6 will be permitted to work for 2 years provided study is completed before the end of 2021. After that point, they are permitted to work for one year. These changes are also applicable to non-degree Level 7 courses.
  2. Students in Auckland studying Levels 4-6 and 7 (non degree courses only) will be able to work for one year
  3. Those studying at Level 8 however must be developing a skill that is on the Long Term Skills Shortage list. This is a list of skills where New Zealand anticipates having long term shortages of people with them.


N.C.E.A. row blows up

The edition of the Sunday Star Times newspaper for 01 July 2018 had a full page letter attacking Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins for the manner in which he has conducted the review of the National Certificate for Educational Achievement (N.C.E.A.). The letter comes midway through the consultation period announced for the review.

It is interesting to note that at the time of the one page advertisement being placed in the Sunday Star Times, the schools whose Principal’s had signed the letter were almost exclusively from around Auckland. Very few if any were from the rest of the North Island, and so far as I could make out none at all were from the South Island.

Perhaps it is too early to judge and that the letter has simply not had time to reach the South Island high school principals. It is also possible that the organizers are constrained by a budget and have not yet gotten around to trying to reach out to principals in other parts of New Zealand. If either or both of these are the case then the failure to reach most parts of New Zealand is completely understandable.

The letter raised five points of contention around the letter. Given the size of the advert – a full A1 page – I am surprised so much of it was wasted on impact, and not setting out in depth detail for those who wanted the nitty gritty.

Mr Hipkins however is right to be making it a priority to undertake a comprehensive review of the N.C.E.A. system. That said, 13 separate reviews if one believes the school principals is a few to many and makes me wonder what is the point of them all?

It is no secret that I have no time for N.C.E.A. It never worked for me and the only problem with the system that it replaced in my personal context was that I was a minimalist at high school in that I did the amount of work that was necessary to pass and that was about it. One cannot blame the old system for a students relatively lax work ethic. In terms of going back to something like the old system, there would need to be a couple of changes – but if they go through I think it will be just fine:

  1. Make all courses have an internal assessment component so that those who are not necessarily adept at doing exams still have a good chance of passing
  2. Get rid of the scaling system – if you get 50% you get 50%; if you completely nail a course, you completely nail the course
  3. Have a prize system to encourage excellence – if you get say 75% across a year, your fees for the following year are halved

If N.C.E.A. was replaced, but the old system of School Certificate, Year 12 Certificate and University Bursary was not reintroduced, what would a replacement system look like?

Teachers to march in the streets?

The recent Fiscal Budget by Grant Robertson is one that many consider to have played to the rules set down prior to the election to show Labour is capable of fiscal responsibility. It was even dubbed “National-lite” by one commentator despite the raft of announcements made over the past few months allocating vast sums of money:

  • $28 billion to fix Auckland transport
  • $3 billion for regional development
  • $1 billion for foreign aid and diplomatic relations

And yet one of the major sectors, traditionally aligned with Labour, has dipped out significantly. Teachers, who in their own words had had a gutsful of National in the last nine years were expecting something significant in the Budget handed down last week and were understandably surprised and disappointed when no major sweetener materialized.

I think significant changes need to be made in the New Zealand education system, including:

  • Support for men wanting to teach in Early Childhood Education – the Christchurch creche case that saw David Ellis clock up decades in prison for indecent assault and other sexual abuse of young children in a creche where he worked has caused a prolonged chilling effect on men working in this sector
  • A review of teaching practices – teachers should be teaching and not filing huge wads of paperwork, and being impromptu social workers; parents and so forth
  • An overhaul of disciplinary processes – much of the abuse that happens now is because individual responsibility has failed and the idea that one should own their actions is foreign to some
  • Going back to basics – how many children can read, write and count on paper, because this is something that they should be able to do before they can use electronic media

This is not an exhaustive list and nor is it meant to be. It is only supposed to be an indicator of things that could be improved. These changes and others that I have not thought of are internal practices that, when combined with the overhaul I support of the assessment regimes will hopefully lead to a more stable, productive and happier teaching/learning environment for both teachers and their students.

As a result of the poor treatment they got in the Budget, teachers have signalled that they might consider industrial action in the future. The concerns stem from lack of significant pay rises in the last few years, meaning that teachers are struggling to keep up with the rate of inflation.

This is shown in examples coming out of Auckland where some teachers are paying such high rent that much of their after tax wages simply disappear in rent. This is causing a shortage of teachers to exist in some schools because they cannot find teachers who can afford their living costs.

It just might be as one said, that the time will come soon when teachers simply don’t come to classes that they are supposed because the stress is simply too much to ignore.