Hawke's Bay teachers say they're at the end of their tether and close to breaking point.

Some live paycheque-to-paycheque, or are overworked. Some have even decided to either leave the profession or the country for good.

That's why so many are striking today, those in the profession say.

Hawke's Bay Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) branch chairman Bevan King says the profession he loves, is in an "absolute mess".

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"I think the big thing is recruitment and retention. Any industry that is losing 40 to 50 per cent of its new staff within five years would call that a crisis, and that's exactly what's happening. It is a lot about workload and it is a lot about stress."

He is among the 50,000 teachers expected on the picket lines around the country today.

The historic strike, the day before Budget Day, is the largest - and first ever combined - teachers' strike, for those in the PPTA and NZ Educational Institute (NZEI).

In the Hawke's Bay/Tairawhiti region alone, 161 schools out of 169 are closed for the day, impacting 38,973 students.

Twelve schools in Hawke's Bay are closed, but providing supervision, and seven in the region are open.

Napier teacher Heather, who asked for her surname not to be used, has taught for more than 25 years in multiple countries, but now, lives paycheck-to-paycheck.

The solo mother is at the top of her pay scale and earns $70,000 a year.

"It is a huge struggle. Two weeks ago, I had $20 left in my banking account on Saturday and pay day was on a Tuesday night," she said.

And while some say it is not about the money, Heather says, for her it "fundamentally" is.

"I can fit in the work, but I have to do it at night, and I work every Saturday for five to seven hours on my school work. I absolutely don't mind that, but what I do mind is now when I do the sums, I am earning between $12-15 an hour."

She hopes teachers, through the industrial action, will get a minimum increase of 15 per cent. Although now it is more like 18 to 20 per cent, she says.

She constantly thinks of leaving, but can't for factors outside of her control.

A woman who did not wish to be named said the stresses of the job forced her out of her Hawke's Bay job at the end of her first year.

Now, in her third year, and as a teacher in Darwin, she has found her love for the job again and is earning the equivalent to a NZ teacher at the top of their pay grade.

The teacher, who is now 25, started out at a lower-decile school in Hawke's Bay.

"When you start as a first-year teacher, you have a pre-conceived idea of the realities. In my training, I was told you were entitled to a day a week release which I didn't receive," she said.

"More often or not I wouldn't get that release because we couldn't find relievers."

Her mentor teacher started out as being "really supportive", but towards the end of the year, when things started getting more stressful the support "wasn't really there".

She was told, with six weeks to go before the end of the school year, that her contract would not be renewed.

Within four days of moving to Darwin to be with her family, and after only applying for one job, she was hired at another school.

"The working conditions here are laughable compared to New Zealand. Every teacher in the school is given four hours a week release guaranteed ... my workload is pretty much a quarter if not less of what it was in NZ and much more manageable."

She went from NZ$47,900 to A$68,900 instantly and now earns just over $80,000.

"In New Zealand, I was living week-to-week, I couldn't afford to move out of home because I couldn't afford to pay rent with a student loan."

Since moving, she has been back to New Zealand twice, visited Bali and will travel to Europe in a couple of weeks.

It is something which she says was "unimaginable" in Hawke's Bay.

"When you've lived and breathed it and worked in those conditions and then you've moved overseas and have an absolutely contrasting experience, it is really heartbreaking to know that your friends are still experiencing what they are.

"I have it so much better here."

Ministry of Education deputy secretary early learning and student achievement, Ellen MacGregor-Reid said striking over $1.2 billion in pay offers does not offer a solution.

"Instead it will cause disruption to the learning of many thousands of children and young people, as well as causing significant inconvenience for families and employers."

Industrial action: when and where
Napier:
7.30am to 8.30am: demonstrations in high visibility areas in school communities.
9am - rally at Napier Soundshell.
10am march to Civic Square

Hastings:
7.30am to 8.30am - demonstrations in high visibility areas in designated high visibility areas.
9.30am: Rally at the Town Clock. There will be a kapa haka performance and speeches.