The country's secondary school teachers, many of whom went on strike on Wednesday in support of their contract claims, have an inflated idea of the level of support they enjoy from the community at large.

The teachers, members of the Post-Primary Teachers' Association, traditionally dress up their claims by disclaiming self-interest: the quality of public education, runs their mantra, should be a priority issue for any government.

The problem is that the Government is not short of priority issues right now: recovering from the biggest economic meltdown in living memory and funding recovery from an earthquake that has upended life for about half the people in the South Island are two that spring to mind.

This is not to say that the teachers' claims are without merit. And plainly the Ministry of Education recognises that, since many of them have been conceded, in whole or in part.

Others, including an increase in the employer contribution to members' Kiwisaver funds and a 4 per cent wage claim while other wage settlements (and the inflation rate) are running at less than 2 per cent, look remarkably like the demands of a sector out of touch with reality.

The past decade has been one of turbulent change in secondary education. The introduction of a nationally standardised qualifications framework has unquestionably imposed higher demands on teachers. But they have not gone unrecompensed.

The plain fact is that the average secondary teacher salary is now more than $71,000 or $1365 a week. It has risen since 2000 by more than 45 per cent - almost twice as fast as wages in the public sector as a whole (24 per cent) and the private sector (25.3 per cent).

It is provocative but misleading for teachers to compare pay rates with colleagues internationally: salaries have to be reckoned against GDP per capita for international comparisons to be meaningful - that's why our teachers earn 82 per cent less than their Luxembourg counterparts. And our spending on non-tertiary education is the same as or higher than the OECD average in terms of GDP.

To put it bluntly, teachers need to stop disrupting the lives of students so close to end-of-year exams, prioritise their demands and get back to the bargaining table. They got 4 per cent last year and 4 per cent the year before. Parents and everyone else may take the view that teachers aren't doing too badly.