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How do you know when the time is right to call for muster and support from those in your profession to launch a strike? When years have passed with broken promises, no resolutions, few resources and salary stagnation combined with higher expectations and greater stress in the work environment-then is the time to march in public and focus the attention of the general public, the media and the governing bodies, on the urgency of the situation. This is what teachers, students and parents did on Thursday, May 29 in the capital city of New Zealand on a windy, sunny day.
With others in Wellington, I stood on the sidelines listening, nodding as well as cheering support for those in the parade. Though not a teacher in New Zealand for many years now, I also taught in various sectors of the New Zealand education system at one time. I earned a post graduate degree in Education from Massey University in 2003, and I was compelled to adhere to the various new NCEA curriculum requirements and experiments which characterized the 'progressive' movements foisted onto what was once a world class, high standard system of state education in Aotearoa.
Reports confirm that this strike was the largest "industrial action" ever in New Zealand. New Zealand has teacher unions. More than 700,000 children were affected as schools closed for the day. Approximately 60% of all 2,410 public schools have active union members on their staff. Schools which had never closed before for a teacher strike did so this week in solidarity. A few private, religious and charter schools also closed for the day of the strike. time.com/5597383/new-zealand-teachers-strike-education/
Teachers from both the north and south island congregated in Wellington on the day before the start of a major holiday weekend here for the British Queen's Birthday. Yes, New Zealand is still tied to the British Crown legally and culturally.
The issues on the table which have not been negotiated to satisfaction are ones which most countries face:
I have written before about teacher unions in other countries including the USA, in my blog post September 4, 2018: www.jopatti.com/blog/labor-and-lifes-purpose
The teaching profession has been denigrated in the last few decades, especially in "western" countries, while the expectations of teachers have increased. Teacher salaries have remained stagnant while the workload has swelled. Politicians have used "education reform" as part of their platform and a general "feel good-win/win" promise; however few leaders have followed on with funding and legislation once they were elected. People in most countries rely on the "good heartedness" of teachers and educators to continue, no matter what dreadful conditions they must teach in - on a daily basis.
I, personally have been in districts in Italy, Pakistan, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Romania where teachers were not paid for months at a time or were not given the pay they were promised in their contracts. Often communities and politicians will castigate teachers who strike, admonishing them by saying "Think about the children if you stop working!" or "Don't make our children suffer because of your labor/labour disputes". They never mention the children of teachers and their families that suffer. Administrators and journalists will try to emotionally blackmail teachers by using their columns and social media shaming to apply pressure for teachers and principals to "compromise". Teachers are continually in the spotlight though most went into the profession preferring not to be in the media but to truly make a difference in their student's learning and possibly in their pupils lives and career choices.
It is time to strike. When talks reach an impasse, striking has proved the most effective way to focus attention on the serious issues affecting a district, state or nation's education system. New Zealand teachers have thrown down the gauntlet and clearly outlined the issues. They have also warned they will not be "dismissed" and will strike again if satisfactory new contracts and resolutions are not implemented.
From the sidelines here, I wholeheartedly support them. Yes, I am taking a stand and a side on this one in unity with their cause. As the sign below implicitly asks....I answer. I "back" and I stand with teachers, all teachers in their quest for equity, safety, resources and parity of wages with other professions. I back their entreaties to be able to actually teach and not just "teach to the test". I stand with fairness and for teachers to be able to have work/life balance with their own families and children. I stand for teachers to be able to express themselves responsibly and to express themselves creatively within their curriculum, and about their curriculum, in addition to the edicts and requirements heaped on them from those in a higher position of 'authority'. I back teachers demands for support for their teaching environment and conditions. I stand with lowering the number of students per teacher especially at the elementary, middle and high school levels. I back teachers to be protected legally when there is a union issue or parental harassment. I back teachers as those who are teaching and care taking our nation's next generation.
Where do you stand? Who do you back?! We are all connected to these concerns.
While the current prime minster of New Zealand has proposed a budget with millions of dollars in the general category of "mental health" - perhaps a more causal analysis involving and funding education would be more specific and efficacious. Some mental health issues stem from stress, anxiety about low pay and high costs of living, from lowered self esteem, affects of bullying, discrimination and loss of opportunity and ignorance about self care, hauora and basic living skills such as: attention to diet, regular exercise, budgeting, infant and child care, how to detect addictions and how to study 'smartly'. These are all significant issues within the education system and some are endemic but could be extracted and examined within different levels of public education health, PE, science and social studies courses. Pharmaceuticals and therapeutic interventions won't be needed after the fact, if these problems are addressed early and within the framework of New Zealand/Aotearoa/Te Waipounamu society empowering citizens to be more knowledgeable, capable and self disciplined. New Zealand education system, New Zealand teachers could once again teach and work in an innovative, world class education system reaching more children and requiring less medication.
My song this week is a rousing rendition of "Bread and Roses". Inserted in this music video are actual photographs from strikes, especially by women in what is often categorized as "professions suitable for females". That attitude still persists in more of the 187 countries in our world, than not.
"Bread and Roses" Labor/Labour Union Song is based on a poem by James Oppenheim for the Chicago Women's Trade Union (1911) used during the Textile Workers Strike in Massachusetts in 1912, and put to music by Martha Coleman. It is still relevant today. (Click on the link to watch/listen)
On a personal aside, I received my first online review of my non-fiction book which includes many stories about teaching in different situations in different countries. The review is from a literary site here in New Zealand/Aotearoa. This cheered me. I feel encouraged to keep writing. Here is the link: www.nzbooklovers.co.nz/blog/getting-off-the-x-by-jo-patti
Ending my post this evening as I watch the sunset over the Tasman sea. Winter is approaching here in the southern hemisphere and I am thankful to be indoors tonight.
Until next Tuesday, keep the light shining wherever you may be....