When schools open their doors to the pupils for the new year next week principals will breathe with relief if every class has a teacher in front of it. Many of them have been scrambling to find enough of them. The teacher shortage has been with us for years and it is well past time creative solutions were found.
Today we report that one in five Auckland schools, and one in 10 in the rest of the country, were still trying to fill staff vacancies this week. If they have not found them by opening day they will have to reorganise classes and some classes will be larger than they should be. It is not ideal and should not be necessary.
Just about everyone agrees teachers should be better paid. The argument from National governments and the Treasury is that union bargaining keeps salaries lower by allowing too little room for variations on pay to reflect areas of shortage and rewards for better performance. Labour governments are more in line with the unions' view that teaching is a collegial effort and all teachers should be on the same scale reflecting years of service. Both sides need to be more flexible.
In desperation some schools are already finding ways to use higher pay to fill shortages. Glendowie College, we report, is using some of its operations grant to pay an extra salary unit. Whangaparaoa College offered an "extra incentive" to a music teacher last week because another school was in a position to offer the teacher more than the state rate. This is how pay is bid up in other occupations with a shortage of skills but national wage bargaining makes it difficult for state schools. All teachers are paid by the Ministry of Education and schools are supposed to spend their operations grant on other needs of the curriculum.
This year their unions are looking for a 14.5 per cent across the board pay rise from the new Government but reporter Simon Collins suggests its Budget will not afford it. The claim also seeks special allowances for regions where house prices exceed seven times the top of the teachers' scale. That would be a welcome relief. Many are put off moving to Auckland by the price of housing while some move to smaller centres just to buy a house or buy a better house than they can afford in Auckland.
New Education Minister Chris Hipkins has promised a "comprehensive programme to alleviate teacher shortages and build a strong and engaged workforce". That sounds like he has more than money in mind. Teachers do not go into the job for money and never will. While their work deserves to be better paid, it will never be on a par with other professions. It requires dedication and a love of education to go into a classroom and try to stimulate young people to study and learn.
They may always be earning less than they could earn putting their knowledge to work for themselves but they prefer the different satisfaction of sharing their knowledge with growing minds. Without them, the next generation would be short of more than teachers and everyone would be poorer for it. So we ought to raise the status of teachers as well as their pay. Graduates in subjects such as sciences, maths and technology where the shortages are acute, should find teaching their subject in schools an attractive and respected option.
Until that happens, our schools are going to be shopping overseas for teachers to plug gaps and struggling to keep them in our classrooms. We need to be nurturing our own.