Teachers are looking for a "creative solution" to break their deadlock with the Government, saying, "we can't continue like this".
Publicly, neither side budged as tens of thousands of teachers and supporters took to the streets yesterday in the country's first combined strike by primary and secondary teachers, affecting 773,000 children.
NZ Educational Institute (NZEI) president Lynda Stuart told an Auckland crowd, which police estimated at 10,000 to 12,000 people, that the teachers were willing to strike again if necessary to win better pay and conditions.
"We have come too far not to go further," she declared.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins offered little sign of compromise, telling marchers at Parliament: "I acknowledge you want more progress, and you want it to be fast, and I cannot offer you that."
But public support for the teachers, evident in the number of parents who joined the marches and essential to ensure a win for educators, may not last forever.
Auckland University political scientist Dr Lara Greaves told NewstalkZB: "What we know about support for protests, at the start more people are more sympathetic and supportive. But as time goes on, especially [for protests] that affect public services or parents, the level of support may go down.
"Parents may think one or two days off to look after children is okay, but as time goes on people won't be as supportive."
A former NZEI president who helped negotiate three previous pay rounds, Frances Nelson, said both sides would now be looking for a way to break the deadlock even if it meant making progress over several years.
"Teachers need to know that the Government is serious, and that over time they do have an intention and at least the broad idea of a plan, because we just can't continue like this," she said.
Auckland Primary Principals' Association president Craig Holt said the dispute was "not about the pay anymore".
"It looks like the Government doesn't want to put more money into the pockets of teachers, and as long as they start addressing some of the conditions, the members will probably look at that more favourably," he said.
Pay is not quite agreed, because NZEI is not willing to give away "pay parity" with secondary teachers. That has been lost in the Ministry of Education's latest offer because of timing issues, which have seen primary teachers' pay fall about 3 per cent behind secondary teachers with the same qualifications.
That is a fundamental issue, which will need to be renegotiated to reach a settlement.
But in the minds of teachers and the public, the dispute has now become mainly about teachers' workload. NZEI and the Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) are seeking increased classroom release time, but they accept that the Government can't deliver that overnight.
As Hipkins told the crowd at Parliament: "More classroom release time requires more teachers, and at the moment we have a teacher shortage."
Nelson suggested a short-term solution of providing more paid teacher-only days. That would effectively provide more classroom release time without needing more teachers, and it would also provide the time teachers will need to implement reforms such as rewriting the senior school assessment structure.
"There has to be a creative solution," she said.
Teachers were also paying a high price for every strike. Average pay rates suggested that primary teachers had lost about $280 before tax on each of their three strike days so far, secondary teachers lost about $306 each yesterday and primary principals lost about $475 each.
Altogether yesterday's strike cost them about $16 million.