Teachers shine amid Novopay crisis

18:24, Nov 21 2012

Let's hear it for New Zealand's teachers. It's time they received a massive pat on the back. If anyone ever needed any confirmation of their collective integrity and sense of duty, of their willingness to put the next generation's future ahead of their own, they should now be under no illusion. When it comes to teacher commitment, we're one of the luckiest countries in the world. Certainly, this government isn't worthy of them.

The ongoing Novopay scandal, the data pay cock-up that's left so many teachers out of pocket, has offered us all a fascinating insight: simple evidence of how much our teachers really care. At a time when most Kiwis (having not been paid for weeks in succession) would be baulking at turning up to work, these good people have had eyes only for higher responsibilities. Wonder if John Key's ever worked for months without pay?

What nonsense the Ministry of Education chief executive Lesley Longstone has been uttering on TV interviews: that any teacher left out of pocket will be recompensed. Clearly, she's only thinking of the weekly groceries; maybe of penalties on a late power bill. No word on what happens to those who miss out on buying a house because of shortfalls; or who can't plan their summer holiday. Oh well, guess they should be thankful they get paid at all.

The other day I took to Twitter, asking why teachers shouldn't just walk out; go on strike until the MoE sorts out its system. Still reckon a snap strike for a day would solve the problem quicker than anything else. The response, though, was humbling. Teachers wanted to keep working, not out of any loyalty to the MoE, but out of loyalty to their pupils. By stopping work, they'd feel they were betraying those depending on them, and at a critical time of the school year.

Or, to put it another way, in the face of extreme and on-going provocation from the Government, and a laissez-faire type response from Longstone (by the way, nice to hear on Campbell Live she wasn't losing any sleep over the botch-up), our teachers have reminded us all what work-ethic and integrity really means. Despite being kicked around for most of the year, they've still found the grace to put other people's needs ahead of their own.

For this, they deserve a standing ovation. If ever they could be forgiven for offering this Government the proverbial middle finger, it's now. From the planned increase in class sizes and the ridiculously simplistic national standards concept, to accusations of incompetence and the deliberately destabilising promise of charter schools, Key and his todgers haven't tried to disguise their antipathy towards teachers. They've put the boot in at every opportunity.

Now? Well, not only have our educators shown the government up for what it is: unenlightened and closed minded; so has a recent international study. The Legatum Prosperity Index ranks national prosperity based on wealth and wellbeing. It's most recent report measured 142 countries (more than 96% of the world's population and 99% of the world's GDP) over a variety of categories. New Zealand was fifth overall. But in terms of education? We were No.1.

That's similar to what most of the other international studies report. Far from letting us down, our teachers remain one of our most valuable resources. That kids might be still falling through the cracks is despite the performance of New Zealand's teachers; certainly, it isn't because of them. Their reaction to the Novopay debacle is testament to that. Now, if we could just persuade the government to stop trying to blame them for its own predictable failings.

Chance would be a fine thing.

» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
» Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardboock.

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