Ruth Malone's a tireless teacher aide, helping special needs students with complex issues get through school.
But she is trying to get by while competing for a pay rise out of the budget set aside for the likes of toilet paper.
Malone has been a teacher aide for nine years and she wants the public and the Ministry of Education to know that school support staff, including teacher aides, are more than just hired help and deserve to be valued and paid better.
Malone, who works at Havelock North Primary, is 55 and gets paid $20.69 an hour. She needs to work two jobs to make ends meet.
"During school holidays I help a girl with special needs just so I can do a job I love."
She believes support staff on the NZEI Te Riu Roa pay equity negotiation team this week have "hit a wall" with the ministry and feel "deflated".
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More than 10,000 school support staff around the country have begun two weeks of paid union meetings to discuss progress on pay equity, and next steps after the ministry's failure to present a collective agreement offer.
"I work with two ORS-funded students.
"If teacher aides are not working with students who are ORS-funded, they have to compete with money set aside by the school for the likes of toilet paper and building maintenance. Any extra money, new money, needs to come from the Ministry of Education."
The Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) has nine criteria covering five areas of student need for learning support - learning, hearing, vision, physical, or language use and social communication.
To meet ORS criteria, students must have ongoing extreme or severe difficulty with any of the need areas, or moderate to high difficulty with learning, combined with very high or high needs in any two need areas.
Malone loves her job and the difference she can make, but to be so "undervalued and underpaid" is disheartening, she said.
"We are seen as glorified hired help who just help kids mix glue and glitter, but we are not that.
"We deal with students with complex behavioural issues regularly and we are qualified.
"I look around at my colleagues and all of them have qualifications and are highly experienced, but all my colleagues have second jobs."
Malone finds her job tremendously rewarding and knows the expectation of the level of care she provides, because of her own experience with special needs children.
"I do my best to uphold that for the students I support. I work in a lovely school that supports and values their support staff.
"The school is very compassionate and flexible for my needs. They are very supportive regarding the pay increase."
Malone, along with her husband, has raised two young men with autism aged 23 and 26 who are now in assisted care at Hohepa.
"I attended a lot of workshops and conferences over the years to better understand and help my own boys.
"Once the boys were older it wasn't too close to home to work with similar challenged students who could benefit from what I've learned.
"But it is a poorly paid job with a lack of job security especially for those who work with ORS-funded students.
"The wee man I work mainly with leaves our school next year and needs a well planned transition. Every suggested transition which works for the child and gives the school the ability to be a good employer, and offer me some form of job security, doesn't suit how the ministry funds.
"We work with some of the most vulnerable people in the community and this is how we are regarded. We are supporting the children of New Zealand but can't support our own families."
Ellen MacGregor-Reid, ministry deputy secretary early learning and student achievement, said the collective agreement covered a wide range of roles.
"There are around 33,000 support staff employed by boards. We will continue to work with NZEI to understand the claims across this diverse workforce in order to make an offer."