Who is supporting the teachers?
Wednesday, May 29th will see primary and secondary school teachers across Aotearoa going on strike asking for better pay. With an estimated 50,000 teachers participating, it is the largest strike Aotearoa has ever seen.
Izzy Holdsworth of the Monday Wire spoke to parent of two, Marnie Wilton about the rapidly growing community support for the teacher’s strike. She’s an admin of the Facebook group “I back the teachers”, which has grown in membership to over 8,000 in less than two weeks. We discussed the necessity of there being a space for non-teachers to show their support for the cause, and that the movement has significant support from the community.
You can find the full interview here and the written transcript below. What follows is a write up from Angus Coker Grant.
Aotearoa’s teachers are seeing community support after planning a nationwide strike, asking for more money, better working conditions and better incentives for those considering the career.
Marnie Wilton, parent of two and admin of ever-growing Facebook group, ‘I back the teachers’, is passionate about non-teachers showing their support for teachers and their upcoming strike. “I really wanted to show that I was supporting teachers but didn’t really know how. I didn’t know how to channel that.”
Wilton draws on her role as a parent and the importance of education for her children. “if I take a step back it’s actually about my kids and education as a whole.”
This community support centres itself around the importance of education for future kids. ‘I back the teachers’, boasting over 8,000 members at the time of writing, encourages simple acts like pinning a poster to a local noticeboard or library window, or writing to your local MP. Wilton understands the strength a group of this size has. “If we’ve got nearly 8,000 of us, if we all do one thing, that will make a big difference’.
Parents’ support for teachers is widespread in Wilton’s experience, saying “I’m yet to come across a single parent who is not supportive because they are feeling the pinch themselves on their kids.”
Falling numbers of fresh teachers mean an increased need for relievers, which sometimes cannot be met, Wilton explains “if they don’t get a reliever is they break the class in half, or into three and they put the children into different classes for the day because they just can’t even get a relieving teacher. That’s just so disruptive for all the kids.”
On the timing of the strike, Wilton believes the teachers and the conditions stacked against them have reached a breaking point. “As a parent...suddenly things are a lot worse, and they're just going to keep getting worse if we don’t do something about it.”
Despite this, just last week, Education Minister Chris Hipkins stood by the government’s $1.2 billion offer over four years and told teachers “there’s not going to be any more money”.
By Angus Coker Grant
Izzy Holdsworth: What is the purpose of the group, and how did you get involved?
Marnie Wilton: Another lady, Esther, started the group. She saw that there was no space for non-teachers. Parents, whānau, aunties, grandmas, y'know all the rest of it, to voice their support for teachers. So she set it up and I saw it and thought “oh my gosh, this is perfect”, because I really wanted to show that I was supporting teachers but didn’t really know how. I didn’t know how to channel that. So I jumped on the group and encouraged friends to join as well. Now I’m an admin with Esther. I wanted to show support, but didn’t know how to show that.
What’s your relation to the teacher movement?
I’m a parent. I’ve got two young boys, a seven-year-old and a five-year-old at Konini School in Glen Eden. So I’m coming at it from a parent angle. Because I’m very supportive of teachers themselves of course, I totally think they should be supported. But if I take a step back it’s actually about my kids and education as a whole. I went to Auckland Uni, I've got a degree. I value education, I think it’s really important. I think if we do, as a New Zealand society value our education, we need to get behind the teachers because this is actually about more than just the teachers themselves. It’s about the future of our kids’ education. So that’s why really I feel strongly about it. I feel strongly that we need to get up there and back our teachers. It’s a mega-strike; it’s the largest strike in New Zealand’s history on Wednesday. We have a real chance to effect some change, some positive change.
You’ve shown this group is for people who aren’t just teachers who want to show their support. So what do members of the group do in sense of mobilising?
We’re now up to almost 8,000 members in two weeks. It’s just gone crazy. On that group we’ve got a pinned post at the top with a list of actions that we’re encouraging everyone to do. And what I’ve said to people is: “just choose one thing”. If we’ve got nearly 8,000 of us, if we all do one thing, that will make a big difference. The people on the group might choose to print off a poster, I’ve made a poster up there myself - I’m no graphic person, but I’ve given it a go. You can print off a poster and you can stick it up at your local library or you can stick it up on a noticeboard somewhere round uni or whatever. You might want to share the group with your Facebook friends or whatever. You might want to write to your MP. There’s a whole lot of little things that you can do that will actually raise awareness. And of course the big one is get out there on Wednesday. Because I think the more non-teachers that join in, the more the government will see this is not about “greedy teachers wanting more for themselves”, it’s actually about the rest of us in New Zealand caring about education. So I think it’s really great if people can get out there on Wednesday.
As a mum with young children at school, what’s the kind of environment you’ve noticed at school with other parents? Has there been dialogue after school, picking kids up, that kind of thing?
It’s amazing. I think some teachers have sort of felt almost like a bit “ooh gosh, we don’t to upset parents with this strike” and all this sort of thing. And actually, my experience has been I’m yet to come across a single parent who is not supportive because they are feeling the pinch themselves on their kids. For example we’re noticing in our school, way more relievers are being used because there’s a shortage of teachers. I think it’s something like 50% of schools throughout New Zealand just don’t have enough teachers now. There’s been a drop in teacher trainees. It’s dropped by 40% the number of students training. There's a huge shortage. And even worse than that, when there’s no teachers in the class. Quite often what were experiencing as parents The classes will get split because they can’t even get a reliever. I think back to my days at school and you sometimes had a reliever. But you never didn’t get a reliever. So what happens then if they don’t get a reliever is they break the class in half, or into three and they put the children into different classes for the day because they just can’t even get a relieving teacher. That’s just so disruptive for all the kids. They’re bunged into another class. And the schools can’t help it. And we’re not pointing the finger at schools, because I think schools are doing the best they can and teachers are doing the best they can.
Is this happening relatively frequently these massive class sizes?
Yes, absolutely. The feedback on our group is people are experiencing relievers, split classes. Also, parents with kids who have special needs - they are not getting the support in the schools. That’s not provided and that’s another thing that the teachers are asking for.
Clearly we’ve had the issue of teacher pay for a long time. Do you have any comment on why this is happening now, as opposed to years ago? This level of mobilising?
Look I don’t know. I’m no politician person or expert or anything like that. I think it’s just kind of getting to breaking point now. And I think that maybe the effect is worse than it’s ever been. I don’t know. It just feels like that, as a parent, that suddenly things are a lot worse, and they're just going to keep getting worse if we don’t do something about it.
Do you feel as though this wider community support will have a big influence over the government’s decision?
I hope so because I really think if enough of us get out there and say “this is not just about teachers, this is about our kids”. Then actually we could probably - I really hope we can - make a big difference. I think we’ve got a lot of a chance now, because it’s not just primary teachers, it’s secondary teachers. And the area teachers from the country schools, they’ve all come on board too, I think yesterday, or the day before. So pretty much every single school in New Zealand is going to be coming out and saying “something needs to change”. I think that if we all join that, it’s a huge movement on Wednesday, a big movement for change. I really encourage all the bFM listeners. I know there’s loads of students that are probably listening. Some of them will be teaching college students. It’s about their future as teachers. Also a lot of the listeners may be parents themselves.
So that’s the 29th of May between 7 and 8:30?
If you join our Facebook group, if I can do a plug [laughs], join the Facebook group and on there you’ll see details of all the - there’s various pickets going in the morning about 7:30, 8am round the entire of New Zealand. Loads and loads at Auckland. Just about every street corner [and] major intersection there’ll be pickets. About, I think, midday, round Aotea Square or Queen Street, gosh I should’ve found out exactly where it’s starting and I haven’t, but have a look! There will be publicity about it everywhere. Join in the big march as well.
Note: The march starts at midday at the bottom of Queen Street, and finishes at Aotea Square.