In the aftermath of the Roast Busters revelations, voices muttered that our schools aren't teaching sexual morality.

Now we hear that our 15-year-olds have slid down the international rankings in maths, science and reading. Teachers aren't doing their job in that area, either.

I can go further. When I was a 1970s pedagogue, sartorially stunning in walk-shorts, knee-socks and sports jacket, I instructed 15-year-olds in the difference between a gerund and a present participle. Bet you today's profession are failing there, too.

As someone who tries to write for kids, I get asked into schools that have been "doing" me as a project. It's a verb (or maybe a present participle) that makes me picture myself rotating slowly over a low heat.


In classes from Year 1 to Year 13, I'm impressed by how much teachers have taught them. They're responsive and courteous. They read more widely than they used to. They write more adventurously, even if they can't identify a gerund.

Yes, their knowledge and skills are thinner in some areas - historical facts, maths by rote, the Western literary canon. But when you consider the extra problems schools face now, it's commendable they teach pupils as much as they do.

What problems? How about:


Our present Government actively supports charter, independent and private schools. All these have extra elements they want added to the curriculum.


Or how to teach computer skills, online research and cyber safety in a field developing so fast, even experts such as Novopay make the odd tiny blunder. And to do so without compromising time spent on other areas.



When I began teaching, the 5th form history syllabus was English Political Reforms, 1820-1900. The 6th form set novel was C.P. Snow's tale of English university dons, The Masters. School assemblies had prayers urging a male Christian deity to keep an eye on a British queen. Now our syllabuses acknowledge different cultural backgrounds, gender orientations, political and religious beliefs. Great. Just explain to schools how to include these without reducing time spent on something else.


A minister with NATIONAL STANDARDS tattooed on her knuckles. Groups wanting the Bible taught in state schools, or more kids with disabilities mainstreamed, or better ball-handling skills at every level, or compulsory te reo. So many demands. So little space and time.

The paper trail

Ask a teacher about the number of Dept of Ed reports, OSH forms, professional development summaries they have to complete, and the time out from lesson preparation this means. Go on: ask them.


The Government wants to save money by having more assessment done internally. For schools, that's extra time spent testing which could have been spent teaching.

Cash flow/dribble

Don't kid yourself - no state school gets enough funding to cover all its needs. Hence school fees. Hence also time spent organising gala days, work days, et al. And hence a diminished amount of time available in the classroom.


Once, when a child was disciplined at school and parents heard about it, he or she was further disciplined at home. Indeed, this extended to such incantations as, "You get a belting at school, you'll get another when you come home." Ah, the good old brutish days.

Now many parents are instantly into complaint/retribution mode, from indignant phone calls to physical threats against the teacher. Kindly suggest how schools handling such problems are supposed to have time and energy to devote to the gerund.

Booze and pot

Pupils drink more and take drugs more. The odd (I stress the adjective) commentator sees it as schools' responsibility to fix this. Uh-huh. When? And at the expense of what?

So let's try to comprehend that many factors erode a teacher's energy and classroom time. Let's acknowledge the impressive amount of teaching that actually gets done.

Teachers are human and therefore imperfect. They're grossly overworked and modestly paid. The ones I've met are committed, diligent and do admirable things for your kids. As they approach their summer break, how about we give them a break in other ways, too?

David Hill is a Taranaki author.