Some of the striking teachers at Masterton Town Square on Wednesday. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

ELISA VORSTER
elisa.vorster@age.co.nz

Wet weather was no dampener on Wednesday as more than 200 primary school principals, teachers and parents rallied in the Masterton Town Square in support of a national one-day strike.

Around the region, 27 schools were closed as teachers took part in a full day strike after negotiations with the government failed to meet the NZEI Te Riu Roa teachers’ union requests.

Passing motorists tooted their support as teachers gathered in the square rallying for higher pay, more resources and extra classroom release time.

The group ranged from teachers fresh into the role to those who had been in the profession for more than 40 years.

Fernridge School principal Janine Devenport took to the stage saying teachers didn’t like to inconvenience parents by striking but saw it as necessary due to being professionally undervalued for too long.

“We’re running out of teachers due to stress, workload and well-being,” she said.

Jo Jaquiery, from Masterton Intermediate School, told her peers, “Enough was enough”, saying she shouldn’t have to put up with the current working conditions just because she loved her job.

Masterton Primary School teacher Sarah Sulzberger said teachers were known for their empathy, but it had reached the stage where there was none left.

Her list of grievances included struggling to find time for toilet breaks, coming to work sick because of a lack of relief teachers, and teaching children with special needs with little to no support.

The rally in Masterton was one of many held around the country, with teachers in Wellington rallying at the Westpac Stadium before moving to the Beehive where they were joined by members of the Public Service Association.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was accompanied by Education Minister Chris Hipkins, told the gathering she wasn’t scheduled to speak but ‘couldn’t stay away’ when she saw the rally streaming on to Parliament grounds.

Radical change took time, she said, before asking teachers to work with the Government.

NZEI lead principal negotiator Louise Green said there needed to be better investment in education so every child could reach their potential. The decision to strike sent a strong message to the Government that it was time to fix the teaching crisis.

“In collective agreement negotiations, principals and teachers had asked for more time to teach and lead, more support for children with additional learning needs, and a pay jolt to stem the growing teacher shortage.

“Instead, the vast majority of teachers – about 86 per cent – are being offered a pay rise ranging from about 2.2-2.6 per cent a year for three years, and just 12 minutes extra a week of time to work individually with children, or plan and assess learning.”

The national strike closed hundreds of schools, affecting 400,000 pupils with around 29,000 primary and intermediate teachers belonging to the NZEI union taking part in what was the first teachers’ strike for 24 years.

WHAT TEACHERS WANT

A 16 per cent pay rise over the next two years. Reducing the teacher to student ratio for year 4-8 students from 1:29 down to 1:25. Significant increases in staffing to support teachers working with students with additional learning needs.

More teacher resourcing for each class to give the regular teacher time to complete professional responsibilities. Replace classroom release time with ‘professional practice time’ equivalent to 20 hours per full time equivalent teacher per term.

WHAT IT WILL COST

A 16 per cent pay rise would cost $296m a year, plus a further $200m when it flows through to secondary school teachers who have also lodged pay claims. The reduced teacher/student ratios would cost $291m per year.