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  • Our Words Matter

Let's stand by our teachers

Updated: May 29, 2019

Contributed by Stacey Shortall

We all need to pay attention to the teacher strike, it’s not just a day off school for thousands of school children, but a day that will cut to the core of New Zealand's future, writes Stacey Shortall.

As thousands of teachers plan to walk out of their classrooms on Wednesday to demand better pay and working conditions, we all need to pay attention.

While certainly many of us are facing additional childcare challenges this week, that is the least of our country’s worries. For the planned joint strike action is not just important to parents of primary and secondary school-aged children. Rather it matters for all of us because this strike cuts

to the core of New Zealand’s future.

International research is clear that teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling. We can improve our school facilities, advance the curriculum and invest in better education equipment around New Zealand, but it will be our teachers who most determine the success of our students.

Sure what we do as parents matters too. Yet we all know that being taught by an effective teacher has important consequences for students. Many of us can probably still name the teacher who most profoundly impacted on our younger selves. The teacher who encouraged us, supported us and, at times, called us out for under-performance. The teacher who made a difference. Some of us might even be fortunate enough to remember a couple of them.

I went to Colyton School in the rural Manawatu for my primary and intermediate education. Not unlike today, it was a small country school in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The heart of our community and a place of many fond memories all these years later. It was a teacher I respected at Colyton School who first asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I told him that I wanted to be a teacher, because I wanted to be like him. That simple answer said so much. In that teacher, I had found a role model and something to aspire towards. When he told me that perhaps I should consider being a lawyer, I had found someone who had more self-belief in me than I had in myself.

I then went to St Peters College in Palmerston North for my secondary school years. It was the big smoke for me at the time and the possibilities presented by teachers there seemed almost endless. Yet again, it was one particular teacher who left her mark. A female teacher, who presented to me as a fearless (even if at times feared) leader in the school and its community. A tough operator, with a depth of empathy and compassion, who to this day continues to support me. A teacher who loved to learn and who taught the gift of being open to life-long learning. A woman who not only helped me to figure out where to study law but also to learn how the law could help others.

My experiences are far from extraordinary. According to offshore findings, a well-trained teacher is likely to send more students to university and can boost a class’ lifetime income by hundreds of thousands of dollars. A 2015 study found that teachers promoting students’ social and emotional wellbeing resulted in significant long-term economic gains – a return of USD$11 for every USD$1 invested – largely from better outcomes in students’ long-term health, education, and employment, not to mention a decreased likelihood of youth and adult crimes.

Poor health, lowered employment potential and criminal offending undeniably are costly. In New Zealand, those costs are borne by all of us who pay tax. We meet those expenses. Not only do we carry the load, but we can also reap the benefit when the positive work of teachers results in economic gain in our country.

Wednesday’s unfolding strike is huge. It will be the largest ever by New Zealand teachers, reportedly involving around 50,000 union members nationally who feel undervalued. While it will be for our government to address the demands for better pay, I believe all of us can help our teachers know that we value the contribution they make to our collective future.

While some teachers may be more effective than others, all teachers like to know they make a difference. This is something we can all do.

For those of us with children at school, we can speak with our child’s teacher. Or we can email or text them.

For those of us without children at school, we can speak positively and appreciatively about teachers. We can acknowledge them.

Every one of us in New Zealand - whether we support their demands for better pay or not - can thank the teachers of our country’s children. We can support them. We can offer to help them, just as they are helping to create our future.


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