Hundreds of primary school teachers, principals and their supporters lined a main Rotorua street today, and they may do so again if better pay and work conditions aren't offered.

Members of the primary teachers' union, the NZ Educational Institute were on strike for only the fourth time in its 135-year history.

NZEI Rotorua branch president Aimee Goldsmith said teachers were striking and marching because "it is time".

"Our children with special needs can't wait until it's fiscally convenient to fund their education.


"Our workloads are not sustainable and it's compromising our kids."

Local teacher Glen Law said the industry would only get what it wanted if "we stand up and fight for it".

Speaking to the crowd, Law asked if they would support a nationwide two-day strike if teachers did not get the settlement they wanted and everyone cheered.

"So that could be next, two days is what we'll be recommending to the executive down in Wellington.

"We want the ministry to come back with a better offer that addresses our issues ... Our negotiating teams have already set dates to go back to the table."

Law said the teachers were "serious about what we need" and if that meant more strike action so be it.

Goldsmith said she had children in her class last year with no bag or shoes in winter.

"You buy them food, you celebrate their birthday, you get little gifts, you're so much more than a teacher, you're a social worker, you're a doctor, you're a nurse, you're a friend, you're a referee, a coach.

"I would get to school at 7.30am and would leave around 6.30pm. All of Sunday would be planning. It doesn't leave time for your own family.

Teachers strike in Rotorua. Photo/Ben Fraser
Teachers strike in Rotorua. Photo/Ben Fraser

"It's hard balancing between school time and family. Your students get more time with you than your own children do."


Whangamarino School teacher Teina Mear told the Rotorua Daily Post she had been a teacher for 13 years.

"I always wanted to work for my people and teaching is a way I can give back to my iwi.

"I'm striking because we need to entice more people into teaching, especially young Māori."

Mear, who taught a Māori immersion class, said it was often difficult to find relievers who could speak te reo Māori and there needed to be better incentives to make people pursue teaching.

"I love it but I work late into the night. Your teaching day is spent working with kids. There is so much more that needs to be done outside the 9am to 3pm," she said.

Teachers and supporters marching down Tutanekai St. Photo/Ben Fraser
Teachers and supporters marching down Tutanekai St. Photo/Ben Fraser

"We're doing a lot of parenting and things that a mum does for her kids at home. I'm doing it for 24 kids in my own class."

Lynmore Primary School principal Lorraine Taylor told the crowd of marchers that things had to change.

"It's a case of making sure we target our money in places that really make a difference. We need teachers in front of students in classrooms every single day.

"We need teachers, not just any teachers, not just someone with a pulse, we need well qualified, committed, passionate teachers."

Crowds gathering as teachers prepare to march. Photo/Ben Fraser
Crowds gathering as teachers prepare to march. Photo/Ben Fraser

NZEI members previously went on strike after a protest against the Employment Contracts Act in 1991. Two strikes in 1994 and 1995 won pay parity with secondary teachers.

The Ministry of Education's deputy secretary, early learning and student achievement Ellen MacGregor-Reid said the ministry was disappointed in the decision to strike.

"Teachers and principals do a really important job and reaching an agreement remains a priority for us.

"We are listening to their concerns which is why our offer, alongside a number of announcements that have already been made by the Government, aims to address those concerns."

MacGregor-Reid said the 2018 Budget included additional funding for learning, support, teacher aides, and new schools and classrooms.

"We know that teacher numbers are tight in some regions and in some areas, like technology and te reo Māori. That's why we have offered to increase salaries for new teachers in the current bargaining round.

"We know strike action is difficult for parents and their employers. We look forward to negotiations continuing in good faith."

Education Minister Chris Hipkins told a group of teachers outside Parliament the Government was listening.

"We are here to show you that we are listening, and we are here to work with you for hopefully longer than the next nine years, so that you get the support you need to thrive and children need to thrive."