Given the fine job school teachers do, it's a national disgrace that they are not being paid properly - if at all - because of the debacle over their dodgy payroll system.

The Ministry of Education should dump the shoddy Australian lot behind Novopay, which has bungled thousands of teachers and school staff payments since it took up the contract in August. By not paying them correctly they are messing with peoples' livelihoods and the education of our kids.

I haven't been in a school classroom for years - 22 long years in fact. But this week I found myself in a year one classroom at our local primary school with my almost five-year-old, Mia. She was on her first school visit ahead of starting for real on the first day of term in February next year.

She met the principal (a top bloke), wrote her name for him (he was impressed), and then we went into a classroom to see it in action (where you could see that Mia finally clicked what school was going to be all about).


The kids were sitting attentively on the mat with the teacher standing in front of the white board. They were hanging on her every word, putting their hands up when they thought they knew the answer, and with excruciating patience the teacher took them - letter by letter - through a whole sentence. You could almost see the information sinking into those lovely little heads of theirs.

Although, there was one slightly restless young fella sitting up the back who couldn't quite decipher the connection between the letter "u" and the picture of an umbrella - but with the help of the teacher, he got there in the end.

It struck me what a special sort of person it takes to be a good teacher - with emphasis on the good. Because back in my day I had some useless ones. There was one mad tech drawing teacher who got our attention by standing at the front of the classroom pretending to smoke chalk. He got our attention alright, we thought it was a bloody great joke, but do you think we learned anything? Then there was the history teacher who taught us the wrong syllabus. The end of year exam sure was fun.

And even though you'd hope teacher standards have been lifted these days, I bet there are still some chalk smoking crazies and drifters out there.

I admit I used to be one of those who scoffed at teachers for moaning about how hard they work. Because, well, they get a heap of holidays each year after all. But I pulled my head in once Mia started day care and saw the work her carers did day after day. Well, school teachers do that, and more, since they are teaching kids reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as other essential skills from drama and phys ed to manners and respect.

It takes an incredibly unique and dedicated person to be a teacher. Hell, I couldn't do it. And the government should be offering better pay rates to retain good teachers and also entice more people to join the profession. And yes, while that is easier said than done, at the very least it should be able to pay the existing ones at the classroom coalface on time and what they are owed.