'We've reached a crisis point' – teachers ready to 'stand up and be heard' as strike nears

Primary teachers are preparing to walk off the job for the first time in 24 years, in a fight for what they say is about more than just the money. 

About 1,800 primary teachers are set to strike on August 15. 1 NEWS spoke to teachers about why they feel compelled to leave the classrooms and hit the streets. 

Kahli Oliveira of Gladstone Primary School, who has been a teacher for almost 20 years, said New Zealand "has reached a crisis point in education". 

Teacher Kahli Oliveira says it’s not just about the money, it’s about ensuring the best learning environment for the kids. Source: 1 NEWS

"People are leaving the profession in droves. There are huge issues around recruitment and retention."

Read: A day in the life of a New Zealand teacher: 'I don't stop'

She said about four-years-ago schools would have "quite a few applicants for jobs, and now we're just not getting the people applying for jobs". 

Budd De Silva, a teacher at Waterlea School in Auckland, said the issues are "far bigger than pay". 

Budd De Silva loves his job, but says change needs to happen to give Kiwi kids the best education. Source: Budd De Silva

He said it was not a good feeling having to walk off the job and teachers understood it was a disruption, "but we are not taking this action lightly”.

"This is coming from a place of concern for our students… and for the future of this profession."

"Our kids deserve the best. Our kids are our future. What do we want New Zealand’s future to look like?"

Cannons Creek Primary school teacher Hunia Williams told 1 NEWS' Michael Cropp a third of the 30 children in her class are "vulnerable" or have special needs.

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For more on this story, watch 1 NEWS at 6pm. Source: 1 NEWS

"It’s hard," she said. "We need support, our children need support."

The school's acting principal Kirsty Holden said "the workload is huge, the stress levels, the emotional trauma that you suffer".

She said teaching jobs were underpaid, with schools struggling to recruit new teachers and struggling to keep new teachers for more than five years.

So what do the teachers want?

Ms Oliveira said teachers need time to teach and time to lead. 

"We also need resourcing that is going to support our children with higher needs, and we need the skill-set to cope with that."

Mr De Silva said what he loves about his job was the excitement his class of eight-year-olds had for learning, and having the potential to build positive relationship with his students. 

"If you think back to your own education, the teachers that we tried for and we worked harder for were the ones that took the time to build relationships with us," he said. However he worried class sizes could grow if there were not enough teachers for New Zealand’s children.

"Having a larger class will mean I would have less time to give to each and every one of my students. It's about having more of us there, and having time to build those meaningful, positive relationships."

He said more staff and resources were needed "for all our children, especially those children with additional learning needs". 

The future

Mr De Silva said the country could do better for its teachers by raising their professional status and by attracting and retaining quality people.

"I really want to see a future for myself in the profession," he said. "But in some ways I think, if conditions don't improve enough so I feel like I'm giving all of my learners a fair go, then maybe there isn't a future for me."

1 NEWS NOW asked Ms Oliveira what she envisioned the profession to look like in 10 years if there were to be no changes. 

"I would hate to think of me not teaching, but I could see that I would be burnt out," she said.

"It would be the saddest day of my life if that had to happen."

She hoped the Government would listen to them and understand their pleas. 

"It is about our education. It's a big picture. It's not just, 'we want more money'. We need to be valued.

"We are ready to stand up and be heard."

The Government

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday the issues contributing to primary teachers’ upcoming strike "didn't happen over the last eight months" while the current Government was in power. 

"But it falls upon us to resolve them and we’re committed to that. I want to be around the table making sure we negotiate with the teachers as we have been in the process of doing with the nurses, not just pay issues, but workload issues." 

She said it was "about much more" than just pay.


National's Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye said in a statement the situation is "entirely of Labour's own making".

"It is yet another example of Labour setting unrealistic expectations and failing to meet them."

"In order to prevent the strikes, the Government must go back to negotiations with respect for teachers and their expectations," she said. 

“Teachers want better work conditions, and the Government’s offer of 12 minutes extra a week to work individually with kids or plan learning doesn’t cut it.”

The strike

Union members voted in an "overwhelming majority" to increase a scheduled three-hour strike on August 15 into a full-day.

Thousands of teachers are set to walk off the job on August 15. Source: Seven Sharp

New Zealand Education Institute president Lynda Stuart said a ballot of primary teachers and principals on extending strike action came back last night, after it became "clearer and clearer" members were rejecting the last pay offer from the Ministry of Education.

The Ministry of Education said it is disappointed that planned strike action was extended. 

"We value the work principals and teachers do and progressing these negotiations is a priority for us. We are disappointed the union has decided to take strike action while we are still in the negotiating process," deputy secretary of Early Learning and Student Achievement Ellen MacGregor-Reid said. 

"We will continue to negotiate in good faith."

Watch 1 NEWS at 6 for more on this story. 

Primary teachers will strike on August 15, but they say it’s over more than just pay. Source: 1 NEWS