Gaye O'Connor

The second one-day strike held by primary school teachers and principals two weeks ago was historic for the education sector in New Zealand.

We have never gone on strike twice in the same decade let alone twice in the same year.
This should be a clear message to the Government that teachers are not fighting for a few dollars more in their own pockets, but for the integrity and strength of the profession itself.

It's not a future possibility, it's a now reality that we are hundreds of teachers short; that we cannot retain 40 per cent of teachers beyond five years' service; that the relief teacher pool has dwindled away to where classes are regularly split when teachers are absent; that the right of children to an education that responds to their individual needs has been ignored by successive governments.


Teachers have always been subjected to a barrage of derisory comments — "You only work 9am to 3pm"; "You get 12 weeks holiday every year"; "It's just glorified babysitting, it's not a real job".

I gave up many, many years ago trying to explain the unique demands of teaching ... after all everyone's been to school right, and it looked so easy when you were 5, 6 or 10. Certainly not a job anyone should suffer any stress in, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

If teaching is, indeed, the way our detractors have maintained (short days, long holidays), why is the profession in crisis?

Why aren't there queues of people lining up to enrol in teacher education degrees? Why isn't there a flood of applicants for every vacancy? Why is the Government now frantically running recruitment drives in foreign countries in a vain attempt to plug not just the holes, but the chasms in the workforce?

I can't, in this public domain, provide examples of the kinds of incidents that I, and the wider staff of the school, deal with on an almost daily basis, without individuals being able to identify themselves.

But I can tell you this:

We don't have a guard at the school gate or classroom door to prevent an angry adult intent on verbal abuse and physical intimidation from accosting staff.


We can't respond to, retaliate or even reason with people who have no regard for what they are doing and saying in front of children.

We don't have a counsellor to listen to the stories of frightened or abused children, to respond to threats of suicide or to help them manage their explosive anger that rages at everything and everyone around them.

We don't have a psychologist to analyse a child's thought processing and brain chemistry in order to find out why they just can't read, or retain anything they're taught.

We don't have a lawyer to interpret the intricacies of protection orders, non-contact orders, limited access orders, legal guardianship, etc.

We don't have a financial adviser to help parents struggling to make limited resources stretch to provide their children with every opportunity presented at school (sports, shows, camps, etc).

We don't have a nurse to treat sores, wounds and other health issues children arrive at school with.

We don't have a nutritionist to guide healthy eating practices and provide adequate lunches to feed growing minds and bodies.

We have us — just us — the "well-paid, well-holidayed" teachers.

What's listed here is the absolute reality of being a teacher in 2018. We're fighting for time and resources to meet the comprehensive demands of being that teacher.

Gaye O'Connor is principal of Carlton School, Whanganui.