"How long should I give you, five minutes?" Tawhero School teacher Jacki Boyle asks 27 students sitting on red and black chairs.

They all have an answer, ranging from 10 minutes to 24 hours, but Boyle puts her foot down. "You've got five minutes, starting now."

"Can we have six?" Asks a girl from the year 5 and 6 class.

It is one of hundreds of questions Boyle will be asked by her students this week, but the answer to this one is a simple and prompt "no".


The students sit at four groups of blue-topped desks with basic facts worksheets in front of them and are required to complete them in the allotted time.

"Do the easy ones first," Boyle whispers to them as she walks around observing their efforts. The purpose of the quiz is to improve their recall of basic facts.

When she tells the keen workers that they only have two minutes left, many of them gasp and begin scribbling faster.

It is one of many lessons that the children will partake in at the school on Totara St and it is one of many that Boyle plans every morning.

Every day Boyle is eating toast and drinking coffee at her desk by 6.30am while she plans lessons for the day and days to come.

Boyle says that she would be worried if she didn't start the day that early.

"It would mean that I'd have to stay at school until five or six at night planning, but I can't do that because I'm drained by the end of the day," Boyle says.

"The noise in a classroom is all day, every day. The children all want and need your attention and it's actually quite mentally draining. You don't realise it until you go home."

Almost every day when Boyle arrives home, she takes a 10-15 minute "nana nap".

That doesn't mean that she's always home shortly after the 3 o'clock bell to signal the end of the school day.

The students take off, but teachers are left with lessons to plan, marking to do and meetings to attend, among other things.

"Okay, swap with someone," Boyle says and the students erupt into noisy chaos.

"Flat tyre," she raises her voice and the students immediately begin to shhhh each other.

Boyle rattles off the answers and the students all mark each others' work. Upon completion and without instruction, they take the sheets of paper to their teacher.

That work is now required to be photographed as evidence by the New Zealand Teachers Council.

"We have a lot more paperwork to do now, but also, on top of that, we have to have evidence of the work we've done," she says.

"We use e-portfolios to put things in. We have to remember to take photos of good work the kids have done. That's just adding to a teacher's workload."

Teacher workloads are a big focus of the ongoing strike between primary school educators and the Ministry of Education.

A New Zealand Educational Institute Te Riu Roa survey released in January stated that 43 per cent of teachers planning to quit were doing so due to an increased workload.

Those workloads were rising due to increased Government requirements in assessing children and a larger number of children attending with high needs.

Many teachers are also having to deal with children who are lacking sustenance, clothing and care, such as living in poor housing.

Other issues that resulted in striking include poor pay and lack of resourcing - causing teachers to leave the profession and putting others off joining it.

"We don't feel supported. We don't feel respected and it's not a career path that people are going to want to take if they're treated so poorly," Boyle says.

"It's scary when you go to union meetings. We are in crises. Teachers are leaving in droves, they've had enough and they don't want to do it any more."

One student is absent, but the 27 take up a lot of space when they all sit down cross-legged on the carpet.

They're playing place value, a game in which Boyle writes down a five-digit number and the students have to guess what it is with proper pronunciation.

"10,647" one student guesses.

A number in the correct place gets circled, a number that features in the figure, but is in the wrong place gets a tick and a number that doesn't feature gets a dot.

Students put their hands up in the air patiently waiting to be chosen to have their turn, but one boy attempts to sneak behind Boyle's back to read the number.

Boyle tells him he his not allowed a guess, the students work out the figure of 12,345 and are split into groups to learn about time.

Each group rotates after a period of 15 minutes. Boyle reads them a time and they are tasked with accurately displaying it on a clock.

Another group is playing learning-based games on Chromebooks while the final one has that old school approach of writing on worksheets.

Principal of Tawhero School Chris Dibben says that teachers are acting as parents to them for six hours a day.

"You're not only a teacher, but you've got to be a relationship expert. You've got to get along with the kids, know where they come from and understand that.

"You've got to know all the intricacies involved with the family and what makes the kids click and what doesn't to engage them in their learning."

To ease the workload of teaching staff and provide them more time to spend with each student, Tawhero School is employing a new teacher next year.

It is called a bulk-funded teacher position which they are paying for using board of trustees money.

It means Tawhero School is going above and beyond the normal allocation of funds for teachers determined by the Ministry, in an effort to cut their classroom sizes.

Dibben estimates that senior class sizes will be reduced to 20 students per teacher and junior classes will drop to 15.

Boyle says that an extra teacher will make a massive difference.

"The time we can spend with each child will go up massively.

"It's outrageous that schools have to budget for themselves. It should be coming from the government. Classes should be smaller and we should have time to do all our paperwork."

Boyle has been teaching at Tawhero School since 2002 after finishing her training at Massey University in Palmerston North in 2001.

She met Dibben when he was the deputy principal at Keith Street School and she was relieving there following her training.

Now, Boyle is the deputy principal at Tawhero School.

"Support is always available here. We move people around and we all work together because it's a really good school," she says.

"A lot of schools don't have that option because they've got a teacher aide for two hours and that's it."

Although schools have a long Christmas break, many teachers will spend time learning about new students, evaluating and planning units of work.

Despite the extra hours worked, the large class sizes and the ongoing strike action, Boyle doesn't consider her job to be difficult.

In fact, she loves it.

"Yes, the Ministry needs to help us out. Supporting us would be better than piling up the paperwork," Boyle says.

"But I'm passionate about teaching and I love the children."