4 min read

quite a long way from cairo

If we value a strong and functioning civil society, then as a collective we must decide how to consider the complexity and costs of what it is to be that civil society.
quite a long way from cairo

This Wednesday August 15th, for the first time in over 20 years, primary teachers are scheduled take legal strike action, as part of a campaign to lead, teach and learn.

It's a campaign I support - there is a teacher shortage, there are enormous workloads on teachers and school leaders, and there is a need to align and strengthen the career paths for people in the school sector.

Articles such as this one from Charlee Jobson, a Facebook post picked up by the media has been getting some traction and shares over the weekend

Claire Amos has posted this open letter to the Minister, titled '13 Reasons Why Every Teacher Deserves a Payrise', and it's gotten a number of shares via Twitter.

I can only assume the headline is a reference to the negotiations the core cast of the Netflix show are completing as they head into Season 3.

Regardless, both of these articles feed into that well held bias that teachers are indeed super heros, and mythologises the belief that all teachers are saints, who work tirelessly and endlessly for the greater good of their many small charges.

Which is a fine narrative, if you're wanting to pull at the heart strings and to gain support for your emotional stand/march/barricade mounting.

While this approach has an appeal, and can be useful for short term gain, I have two issues with it.

Firstly, for every teacher that is a superhero, and who conducts themselves in the way that these two teachers do - there are one or two that are not heroic.

That fellow teachers have to carry.
That school leaders have to route around.
That parents have to accept.

There will also be plenty of teachers who are doing enough, and may in fact be making a huge difference to their students, but if they're not doing as much as Charlee or Claire, or as visible as them - are they really the teacher that it's worth taking to the streets for?

This is another aspect that makes this "teacher as a superhero" mythology problematic. It means teachers are often judged if they are not literally heroic and visibly super.

Every single minute.
Every single day.

There's no salary increase available that can deliver or support that level of daily commitment from prospective employees.

Mainly because it's only actual humans that apply to be teachers.

Secondly, I totally get the point of Ms Jobson's video. It taps into some of the inanity, the joy and the bone tiredness that is the daily experience of being a teacher. It's perfect for a social media conversation. It's really well done.

But none of the items that she records and displays are fixable, or would be addressed by a payrise. They are all items that every individual school will need to continually manage based on their leadership and their culture around staff wellbeing.

As such I'd argue they're not a reason to strike at a national level.

The cold tea and inability to go to the toilet?

Those are the conditions that Foxconn workers and Amazon contractors would complain of - and I don't see any teachers rising up to purchase fewer iPhones.

I've been in schools for over a decade, and I get that many teachers work hard, and that worthy teachers are amazing. I appreciate that we can create viral videos and write well worded blogs to capture that.

These are valid parts of the narrative but I think both of these examples miss the bigger points that do surround this industrial action and that we aren't having a conversation about.

This narrative is at the political and social scale as evidenced by the quotes from Minister Chris Hipkins and NZEI President Lynda Stuart in this Stuff article.

Hipkins points out that "The current offer was already double, on average, what the primary school sector received under the National Government"

Stuart states that the government offer was ""not enough to be able to attract and retain people into the profession".

The really bigger conversation is that if a social contract matters, if a public good matters, then it shouldn't matter about the individual claims of a teacher to be worth it, or the summation of a school leader to claim why teachers need to be paid more.

If our nation, values a strong and functioning civil society, then as a collective we must decide how to consider education, alongside immigration, urban housing, regional infrastructure, economic growth and taxation policies.

Our nation must fund those functioning parts accordingly.

In a way that values and recognises the role of the teaching profession and the benefits to society, but also means that society contributes to that role in a meaningful way, because it benefits accordingly.

At a 17 minute read time this piece by Simon Collins is long, but well worth the read. It captures many of the tensions I've hinted at, and is the kind of reporting that really unpacks some of the complexity and the work across the education sector that needs to be done beyond just a pay rise, to improve conditions for teachers and by extension school communities.

Buried in this article is this quote:

An AUT professor of human resource management, Jarrod Haar, says there is no easy way to say what a teacher should be paid compared with everyone else.

"If we said, 'Yes, you're right, everybody is behind the eight-ball, so let's top you up to where you were in 2003,' then we'll all be paying 50c in the dollar tax," he says.

Which is interesting to consider because Finland, which on all sides of the political spectrum consistently hail as the model for education policy and success, currently has a 51% tax rate.

This strike shouldn't just be about demanding more from the taxpayer, but also asking, how and why we as taxpayers may need to contribute more.

That's not a conversation that's as appealing for politicians or the general public as a viral video or Facebook post - but it's a conversation that I believe means more empowered consideration of the place we want Aotearoa to be, and ultimately the place our students will inherit.

You don't have to be teacher to want to consider those possibilities.

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