During our second teacher strike recently, I met with other kaiako and wrote letters to politicians about our desperation, frustration, and why we are advocating for change. Initially, I wondered whether I was overstating things. Upon second glance, I realised the opposite is true – we are absolutely always understating our workload, day to day and work/life balances. I thought it was worth sharing more widely.
Tēnā koe [—],
I am writing to you as a second year teacher of te reo Māori in Ōtautahi Christchurch. Despite loving my job, I am finding myself increasingly overwhelmed by my teacher workload, balancing the expectations of my school, the needs of my ākonga, and having a life outside of work. On any given week, I work upwards of 50 hours per week and my pay does not reflect these hours. However, my email is about so much more than pay increases. At present, my mental and emotional health is suffering and I cannot offer my students what I know they deserve. I have barely started my second year of teaching, and I am already burnt out. Unfortunately, as teachers this is our normal.
As linked in this Stuff article, I taught a junior te reo Māori class of 37 this term. Of these 37 students, all are from diverse cultural backgrounds, and almost all have trauma (covid19, earthquakes, and mosque attack-related), neurodiversities (e.g. dyslexia, autism, ADHD, dysgraphia etc), mental health issues, learning disabilities, and/or difficult family situations at home.
I am at my wits end. I cannot realistically see myself in this profession for much longer in its present state. As a sought-after te reo Māori teacher, I am not alone in this. Many of my te reo Māori colleagues feel the same level of desperation, if not greater. That is very bad news for you, given the push for greater use of te reo Māori me ōna tikanga, and the introduction of mana ōrite in the NCEA Change Programme.
I vehemently urge you to reconsider your current offer to both the NZEI and PPTA to allow for sustainable working conditions, keep good teachers in the teaching profession, and to incentivise our profession for future generations of teachers. I work at an area school (years 1-13), and I see how hard my primary teacher colleagues work, how many hours they put in, and the complexities of their students’ needs that they deal with as best they can in less than ideal circumstances. They are extremely burnt out.
I worry for my partner, who is currently in primary teacher training with aspirations to become a special education teacher. I know she will be incredible and comes with so much passion. I don’t want to see her suffer under the same circumstances and become as jaded as I and others feel.
Please listen to our pleas. Give us what we need to thrive and have a manageable work/life balance, or you risk losing your most passionate and impactful teachers to more enticing careers – with fewer obligations, higher pay and lower stakes.
While it may not be in your power alone to make change, acknowledge the power you do have and please advocate for us. Do not take no for an answer.
In response, I received a host of automatic responses, and eventually one human response. It was from my local MP’s secretary, saying she had personally read my email, values my work, and was committed to continuing to advocate for educators like me. However brief, it was something, I suppose.
Update 7/4: I have received a second human response (again via a secretary), also written in Politicianese: “acknowledging” and “appreciating”, but also a synopsis of stats, facts and figures that 1. don’t really mean much to me as an individual, and 2. mostly just sidestep my personal appeals.
To my fellow educators, you are doing heck’n amazing, and if you have the energy, please keep fighting for better. I know these are mind-numbing circumstances more often than not, but we have power in numbers. To everyone else, please be vocal in your support for us (or silent in your lack thereof, if that’s the way your boat decidedly floats).
Wishing you all a whimsical and wondrous Term 1 holiday period, kaiako mā. I hope you get to rest these school holidays: don’t mark, plan or email too hard.