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Schools out for full day

Primary teachers vote to extend August 15 strike

ELISA VORSTER
[email protected]

Parents around the region will be pondering what to do with their children after primary teachers and principals voted on Wednesday for full-day strike action on August 15, instead of the previously planned
three-hour strike.

About 80 per cent of primary teachers around the country are members of the NZEI Te Riu Roa teachers’ union, leaving many schools with no option but to close for the day.

The decision of whether to stay open will come down to individual school boards and depends on how many of its teachers are union members. Non-unionised teachers are not allowed to strike.

The Ministry of Education is offering few solutions.

“We acknowledge that strike action is difficult for parents and their employers,” said Ellen MacGregor-Reid, deputy secretary of early learning and student achievement.

“If your school cannot provide supervision then we suggest you talk to your employer about working from home.”

MacGregor-Reid said the ministry “values the work principals and teachers do and progressing these negotiations is a priority for us”.

“We are disappointed the union has decided to take strike action while we are still in the negotiating process.

“As we announced yesterday [Tuesday] we have entered into mediation.”

Fernridge School principal and head of the principals’ cluster, Janine Devenport, said the decision to strike was not something any teacher would have taken lightly.

“We know it doesn’t win the hearts and minds of parents, but we think it’s necessary to show teachers are overworked,” she said.

She said the initial three-hour strike was a “pretty silly idea” as it would only inconvenience people for about an hour, but would cut into the teachers’ own time, which they typically used for marking and lesson planning.

“If being a teacher was just teaching and learning, it would be amazing,” she said.

“Teachers are pretty lucky to be in this profession, but the government needs to stop taking us for granted.”

Devenport described the stark reality of teachers as being educators, anxiety councillors, sports coaches, speech and language therapists, as well as attending camps, chasing up unreturned permission slips and communicating with parents via social media – most of which is done in the evenings and at weekends.

“If the cleaner calls in sick, I pick up the mop and clean the toilets,” Devenport said.

“Teachers do anything and everything.

“I would really love to encourage young people to become teachers, but I want them to come into it with their eyes open.

“I love this job and I love coming here, but I don’t think right now I could hand-on-heart talk someone into the profession.”

She was aware her staff often spent their own wages on supplying extra resources for their classrooms and doing things far outside of their job description.

“I’ve seen my teachers at the supermarkets, not buying food, but buying stuff for their classrooms.”

She said she didn’t want to take anything away from the children by going on strike but had seen teachers’ workloads increase substantially over the last decade.

“We’re pretty lucky to be in this profession but why should we keep doing it when no one rewards us?”

She said while a pay increase was one aspect of the action, she hoped the strike would result in more time and resources for all teachers and schools.

She called the school’s teacher aides “vital”.

“We’re number eight wiring and putting extra work on teachers.

“We need time and support in our budgets to meet every kid’s needs.”

NZEI lead principal negotiator Louise Green said there needed to be better investment in education so every child could reach their potential.

“It is 24 years since educators have gone on strike and this is not an action we are taking lightly.”

The outcome of mediation will be taken back to NZEI members for consideration.

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