Around 50,000 primary and secondary school teachers are ready to down their pens and take to the picket lines this month in protest at their pay and conditions. Teaching unions have locked horns with the Government amid claims teachers' workloads have become untenable and class sizes too large. Simon Collins and Patrice Dougan investigate.
Today's teachers are so stressed and under so much pressure it's not uncommon to see colleagues break down crying, an Auckland teacher says.
Others are waking at 4.30am in a desperate bid to stay on top of their never-ending mountain of reports, homeworks, class preparation and emails. Going without breaks and lunch is a common occurrence, while others crash at the end of a 18-hour day. Some find it difficult to squeeze in time with their own family.
The ongoing teacher shortage has only exacerbated the situation, particularly in hard-to-staff subjects, such as science, maths and te reo Māori.
As many as 50,000 teachers across the country are set to go on strike on Wednesday May 29 in a battle with the Government over pay and conditions. Workload was the key driver for the strike, after unions turned down the Government's latest pay offer, which amounted to $1.2 billion over four years.
But unions said, while the offer addressed salaries, it didn't do anything to address the unmanageable workload and constant juggling teachers face every day.
• A day in the life of a teacher: 'I woke at 4.30am with teaching on my mind'
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• A day in the life of a teacher: '18 hour day, and only 30min with my family'
• Teacher's diary: 'Home early - at 6.30pm - I'm toast!'
"Just to give you an idea, it's week three of term 2 and I'm almost at exhaustion," junior teacher Clare Tiafariu, who works at Fruitvale Rd School in Auckland's New Lynn, told the Herald.
"It's almost like I've got so much stuff to do that I can't prioritise any longer, and every teacher in our school is feeling that too. People are starting to get stressed and getting worried about all the extra things they've got to do, like reporting. We quite often see people crying, it's that hard."
New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) president Lynda Stuart has urged the Government to put an end to the teaching crisis.
"Giving teachers time to teach and to lead, and ensuring teaching is a viable long-term career choice is essential if children are to get the teaching and learning they deserve," she previously said.
That was echoed by Tiafariu, who said the strike was teachers saying, "Enough's enough".
"It is [not just] about money, but there's so many other things. It's time to teach, people just want to give children the education they deserve," she said.
Tiafariu is one of two teachers in a 'modern learning environment' classroom, where they jointly teach 43 students.
But often there's more, she said, as there aren't enough relieving teachers to cover a class if their regular teacher is sick. The students are instead spread out between the rest of the classes, and it's not uncommon to have an extra six to eight children in the classroom, she said.
"It just basically means you're trying to get through the day, and you're babysitting children not teaching them."
A mountain of paperwork meant most teachers were coming in on the weekend, she said.
"There's huge pressure to get lots of reports done, so that's the children's reports and reporting to the Ministry. We have to [meet] a certain set of criteria and we have to reach that throughout the year, so we're constantly having appraisals which is on top of the workload and on top of reporting on the children. So literally you can't get away without coming in on the weekend."
Senior management had been telling teachers at her school not to work at the weekend for their own wellbeing, she said, but "if you don't do that it's very hard to be organised [for the week]".
A lack of teacher aids to help with high needs children in the classroom was also adding extra work and taking time away from teaching, she added.
Science teacher Ahman Osama said he woke at 4.30am unable to sleep because his mind was running through all the work he had to do. So he left for work at 5am, a typically jam-packed day meant he didn't leave until 9pm.
And he's not the only one getting out of bed before the sun comes up. Principal of Newton Central School, Riki Teteina, said he has started getting up at 4.30am so he can get on top of emails. Last Tuesday 150 emails pinged into his inbox, most - if not all - he has to respond to.
A day of school was followed by an evening of meetings - a weekly staff meeting, the school's Māori co-governance group, and then a Board of Trustees meeting - meant he didn't get home until 10pm. He barely had half an hour with his family that night.
But it's not a one-off, he said.
"Although [Tuesday] was a board meeting, there are three days this week that I would not get home till 10pm," he said.
"[On Thursday] I have a Parent Teacher Association meeting at 6.30pm. On Wednesdays I'm learning te reo Māori, to support the cultural context of our school, from 6pm to 9pm.
"It's not atypical for a principal to be involved in multiple things. As principals we are really supporting our teachers in the industrial action, but the principals really are struggling with the workload."
Post Primary Teachers Association president Jack Boyle said a combination of extra year-round assessment since the end of single end-of-year exams, and new initiatives around digital learning that required teachers to learn new systems, meant teachers were under continuous pressure with unmanageable workloads.
This was compounded by the teacher shortage which saw teachers picking up hard to staff subjects they were not specialised in.
"Teachers are professionals and they will absolutely do their best to put on their 'everything is okay face', to leave their own issues at the door and to be totally focused on making sure the kids in their charge do well, that they feel connected and supported in their learning," he said.
"But obviously if you are just hanging [in] then the question has to be asked, 'are you giving 100 per cent to the kids in your class?', and I would say increasingly that's the story that's going to be heard.
"You're not hearing teachers up and down the country who're saying, 'it's the money, it's the money', obviously that's important, but it's the workload. They've got to do something about that so we can give 100 per cent into the teaching and not into administration."
Like Tiafariu, he often saw teachers crying because of the stress.
"It's reflected everywhere, but that doesn't mean we're not going to pick ourselves up and box on, that's what teachers do."