Tauranga primary and intermediate teachers and principals say they will continue to fight for more time in the classroom and freedom from heavy workloads.

Hundreds of Tauranga educators picketed in Bethlehem, Tauranga and Mount Maunganui yesterday as part of rolling strikes across New Zealand.

The largest gathering of teachers and principals was at Bethlehem Baptist Church, where just shy of 300 people met to vote on how they felt about the Government's latest $700 million pay offer before taking to the streets with their signs.

Dozens of teachers protested in Bethlehem. Photo / George Novak
Dozens of teachers protested in Bethlehem. Photo / George Novak

Those attending the meeting were asked to rank on a piece of paper from one to six how they felt about the new offer, and whether they would accept it or fight it.

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A secret electronic ballot would determine whether teachers voted to reject or accept the offer next week, but the feeling among teachers was that strike action would continue.

Teachers Shirralee Hohaia from Brookfield School and Walter Annear from Greerton Village School said they would continue fighting for better resourcing.

Annear, a teacher for 10 years, said he believed the Government still had room to move, in spite of Ministry of Education representatives saying the $698m offer was as high as the Government would go.

"History tells us there can always be movement when they have a desire to do something and achieve something.

"The Government needs to put themselves in the shoes of teachers rather than political shoes."

Hohaia, teaching for four years, said she had 33 children in her class and encouraged anyone doubting what teachers were saying to come and walk a mile in her shoes, and see how difficult it was to respond to the behavioural, social and learning needs of each child.

"There's 33 of them and only one of me."

Tauranga Primary School teacher Kylie Forlong said she would continue to fight for time - time with the 19 5-year-olds in her classroom, and time with her own children at home, free from the pressures of her workload.

Teachers Shirralee Hohaia from Brookfield School and Walter Annear from Greerton Village School. Photo / George Novak
Teachers Shirralee Hohaia from Brookfield School and Walter Annear from Greerton Village School. Photo / George Novak

First-time teacher Caleb Gell said he became a teacher after growing up with an appreciation for the job teachers do.

"It is like bringing up a family, your classroom is your family and you are raising kids to be good members of the community."

The 21-year-old said the profession needed more male teachers and role models to look up to.

Gell studied teaching at the University of Waikato's Windermere campus and was completing his first term as an employed teacher. He was in charge of 17 children in his classroom at Bethlehem School.

He said seeing teachers from around the city uniting to stand up for what they believed in gave him the strength to continue in the profession.

"It is not about us, it is about the future."

Bethlehem School teachers Tracey Lines, Caleb Gell, Sophie Presland, Zenah Aikman. Photo / Zoe Hunter
Bethlehem School teachers Tracey Lines, Caleb Gell, Sophie Presland, Zenah Aikman. Photo / Zoe Hunter

Tauranga Special School specialist teacher Alice Webb said there used to be one to two children with higher learning needs in the mainstream classroom and now there were five to six.

"I see teachers stretched to their limits with not enough support."

Webb hoped teachers would also be given more release time to be able to help manage the increasing workload.

"We will continue fighting. I want to see the momentum of the fight."

Tauranga Special School specialist teacher Alice Webb, with children Sam Webb, 11, and Rhiannon Webb, 8. Photo / George Novak
Tauranga Special School specialist teacher Alice Webb, with children Sam Webb, 11, and Rhiannon Webb, 8. Photo / George Novak

Retired teacher Dorothy West, 65, said she had been teaching primary pupils since age 21 in Ngaruawahia, Hamilton and as a relief teacher in Tauranga.

"I believe teacher workloads are ridiculous. When I was 21 the bookwork we had to do was what we needed to do, keeping records and parent-teacher interviews. Now they seem to want so much from teachers."

Post Primary Teachers' Association Western Bay of Plenty chair Tania Rae. Photo / George Novak
Post Primary Teachers' Association Western Bay of Plenty chair Tania Rae. Photo / George Novak

Post Primary Teachers' Association Western Bay of Plenty chairwoman Tania Rae told the hundreds of primary educators at the Bethlehem rally she had been teaching since 1989.

Rae, who taught English at Mount Maunganui College, said she came from a family of teachers.

"I love my job. Sadly our kids and our family following us, none of them have chosen teaching as a profession.

"Workload, pay conditions, these are stopping talented people from entering the profession."

New Zealand Education Institute national secretary Paul Goulter said teachers had been fighting hard for sufficient pay to attract and retain teachers, as well as addressing teacher workloads.

"There has been a distinct lack of confidence from the Government in regards to workloads.

"In Auckland, there was a strong feeling that unless the workload issues are addressed this is going to go on."

He hoped if the Government did not listen to NZEI members, it would listen to the parents.

Ministry of Education secretary for education Iona Holsted said primary teachers and principals were encouraged to carefully consider the new offer, which meant most teachers would receive a pay rise between $9500 and $11,000 within 24 months.

Holsted said the Government had addressed workload and teacher supply issues outside the collective bargaining discussions, which included removing National Standards and a $40m investment to increase teacher supply.

She said the Government also committed $217m for 600 new learning support co-ordinator roles and was working on an education workforce strategy.

"This is the first time that teachers have been asked to be part of a conversation about what the future workforce needs to look like in terms of executive, analytical, or other skills needed to lead and manage schools in the 21st century," she said.

"This is about freeing up time for teachers to teach."

Otumoetai Primary School teachers Bernie Mcallister, Annabelle Yeoman and Laura Hill. Photo / Zoe Hunter
Otumoetai Primary School teachers Bernie Mcallister, Annabelle Yeoman and Laura Hill. Photo / Zoe Hunter

'WE'VE COME THIS FAR, WHY STOP NOW?'

Otumoetai Primary School teacher Annabelle Yeoman was among dozens of teachers taking an unpaid day off to go picketing in Bethlehem.

Despite the action, she said she could not stop thinking about having to go home and write reports.

"I still have so many kids to assess."

Yeoman believed teachers should be given more support, better pay and more release time.

"We can't do our jobs properly at the moment. We are not supported enough."

Teachers barely had enough time to spend with their own family, she said.

Yeoman voted to continue strike action. "We have come this far, why stop now?"

The sign-waving picketers received plenty of noisy support in the form of toots from passing cars and trucks, including some well-received honks from Tauranga-based Labour list MP Jan Tinetti, a former principal and teachers' union negotiator.

Bystanders watched the noisy procession.

Youth pastor Ben Devery sympathised with the teachers.

"I wouldn't want to do all those reports."

He said the Government should listen to the teachers and what they were asking for.

"I don't think they are here because they want more money."

Paul Horler said he was not sure how much the strike would achieve in terms of moving the Government, but said it would lift the profile of what teachers were fighting for.

He supported a pay rise but 15 per cent was too much to ask for. He said it was important to improve working conditions and provide more support for teachers who were having to act as social workers and deal with children with mental health issues.

Another Bethlehem bystander, who would not be named, said he supported lifting teachers' pay but was not sure whether the strike was "the right thing to do".

"They're in danger of getting a bit of backlash."

About 500 teachers also gathered for a discussion at the Curate Church in Newton St, Mount Maunganui, before marching down Newton St into Hull Rd, where they formed a picket line on the corner of Hull and Maunganui Rds.

Karen Reed, a Year 2 teacher from Mount Maunganui Primary School. Photo / Sandra Conchie
Karen Reed, a Year 2 teacher from Mount Maunganui Primary School. Photo / Sandra Conchie

Karen Reed, a Year 2 teacher from Mount Maunganui Primary School, drew inspiration from the Spice Girls with her message to Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

Her sign read: "If you want my future, forget your offer. If you wanna keep me, better make it fast. Now don't go wasting my precious time. Get your act together we could be just fine. I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want - a better offer."

Key offer features:
• All teachers will benefit from pay rises of 9.3 per cent by 2020; and
• All teachers have access to a higher step of either $82,992 or $85,481 depending on their qualifications by 2020
• 64 per cent of all teachers (nearly 16,000) will achieve the new maximum in the next 24 months
• All other teachers will progress annually to these new maximum rates
Source: Ministry of Education


Additional reporting - Sandra Conchie