The greatest obstacle in attracting young people to teaching is the NZEI.
The teachers' union, with its steadfast and inflexible approach to the way teachers are paid, is saying to prospective trainee teachers "come and join us, you'll make about $90,000 a year by the time you're in your early 30s, but if you want to stay a classroom teacher – no matter how good or how bad you are – that's going to be the mark for the rest of your working life".
Joining the NZEI when you become a primary school teacher isn't compulsory. But you don't need much imagination to know how uncomfortable life will be if you decide to opt out. Besides, in the latest pay offer there's a one-off $500 bonus for NZEI members. If that's not coercing teachers to join the union, I don't know what is.
I used to know a fair bit about being a teacher. Both my parents taught at primary and intermediate schools all their working lives, my sister is still a deputy principal at a girls' high school and my late first wife was primary school teacher too.
Oh, and I went to school for 13 years and so did my children. I was constantly around teachers for about the first 45 years of my life.
Talking to friends who are still teachers, it seems the demands of the job of in the 21st century are more stressful than they were. But most of that would appear to be because of either poor parenting or the requirements of modern-day education administration.
I saw my 8-year-old grandson's school report a few months ago. It was a document more comprehensive than what we used to get at high school. If that's the kind of paperwork required, no wonder teachers are frustrated.
But back to the issue of pay. In most industries, if you're good at your job you'll be paid well. If you're a good performer, you'll be paid more than somebody doing the same job who's not as good at it.
For some unfathomable reason, teachers don't agree with that concept, or rather their union doesn't.
The ideological opposition is based on teaching being a collegial profession and it's not good for collegiality if two people who do the same job are paid differently.
That of course is bunkum. I also know a fair bit about an industry called broadcasting.
Even in the old days when we were not much more than a government department and had pay grades for announcers and journalists and technicians and every other job in the NZBC, just like teachers do, you only progressed up the grades if you were deemed to have met certain standards and could perform certain tasks.
The NZEI won't even countenance that sort of system. You move up the teacher pay scale based only on completing another year in the job until eventually you reach the top of the scale.
The system, as imposed and fiercely protected by the NZEI, makes teaching a deeply unattractive profession for school leavers to contemplate. Why would you start a career where your maximum pay grade might be reached after 10 years?
There is a recruitment and retention crisis in teaching. Here's a few random thoughts about how to rekindle major interest in it:
1 Reinstate the studentship scheme. If trainee teachers are paid while they're at university, and all tertiary fees are waived for them, starting out in the career is an attractive proposition, just like it used to be. As the trainee would be bonded to the Ministry of Education for as long as the training took, there will be a guaranteed supply of graduate teachers.
2 Make progression up the pay scale dependent on ability. Have job performance assessed internally and externally, and top performers can be accelerated. In other words, those who do the job well are rewarded. Just like in the real world.
3 Once you reach the top of the pay scale, and you want to remain a classroom teacher instead of going into management, have incentive or bonus payments available to make it worthwhile staying at the coal face.
After all, if some high schools can find ways to pay sports directors more than any classroom teacher, a flexible system to pay good teachers more can be surely be worked out.
The NZEI says the current industrial action is not all about money. We'll take them at their word on that, but if they want more time out of the classroom for administration and professional development, the first issue is to find and keep more teachers.
Making the job attractive and appealing to bright and ambitious young people is step number one. The current NZEI attitude seems to do neither.