Nadine Higgins: MPs need lesson on teacher pay

Last updated 00:15 08/10/2017

The demands on teachers are relentless, despite the holidays.

We expect more and more from teachers in a complex world but value them less, says Nadine Higgins.

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OPINION: Every year when I'm mourning my summer holiday coming to an end, I feel a little jealous of my friends who are teachers. When I head back off to work, they still have many happy weeks of holiday stretching out in front of them.

Then I remember they must try to stuff knowledge into the brains of snarky, hormonal teenagers for a living. They're charged with moulding intelligent, useful members of society and they're drowning in paperwork trying to prove they're doing that job. Whenever they bring up the paltry pay, people simply say, "but your holidays!" in response.

Yet during these school "holidays", my teacher friends are far too busy to catch up. They're marking assignments, editing the school newspaper, leading a geography trip, oh and attending the PPTA conference fighting for better pay and considering strike action to get it.

A good friend of mine is one of those passionate, x-factor teachers. You know, the kind you remember once you leave school, who "got" you, who made learning fun. You can see it when students call out "Mr McQuillan!" and want to talk to him in the street.

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Daniel is nine years into his teaching career and the only way he can earn any more is if he spends less time being a great teacher and more time doing things which take him out of the classroom. That makes no sense to me.

It's not just about money, of course. Recently, he says, "I've been feeling like I can't wait for the kids to leave, so I can get my work done, which is ludicrous. Data reporting is not why I became a teacher". He'd just like a bit more time to actually teach the kids, rather than just assess them to death.

As the world has got more complex, we've been asking more from the people charged with equipping our kids to face it, but valuing them less. Then we wonder why 40 per cent leave within their first five years and there's a shortage of teachers.

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Bryan Bruce's documentary Who Owns New Zealand Now?, which aired on TV3, had lots of startling figures in it, but none more startling to me than this one.

In 1979 the teacher pay scale topped out at $17,360, while a backbench MP earned roughly the same at $18,000.

In 2017 the top of the teacher pay scale is $78,000, while a backbench MP now earns $163,961, (before perks). For those of you who didn't pay attention to your maths teacher, an MP now earns more than double that of an experienced teacher.

Funny, no one ever seems to worry about MPs' holidays – but what exactly does a backbench list MP do when the House is not sitting? (or, right now for that matter, when we have a caretaker government?).

There's a lesson in those numbers. Perhaps politicians could spend their downtime learning it before school goes back.

- Sunday Star Times

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