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'For the future of this country'

Around 10,000 students in the district were affected by the nationwide teachers’ strike today.

Add to that number the many parents, whanau and caregivers who had to find alternative care for their children, or take the day off work.

The largest strike in New Zealand’s education history affected all students from primary to high school, including area schools and kura kaupapa (Maori immersion schools).

Speaking this morning on the corner of Customhouse Street as part of a group of protesting teachers, Awapuni School principal Nik House said they were striking for the future of this country.

An 80 percent toot rate from passing motorists showed the teachers they had the support of the community.

Now they just needed the Government to “get in the same waka”, said Mr House.

Gisborne teachers held demonstrations around five different locations in the city before joining for one big rally at Kelvin Park.

Mr House said they wanted Education Minister Chris Hipkins to know that if the Government did not invest in the future of education now, the country would be in big trouble.

“The strike is about the last 30 years, it’s not just about right now. The profession does not feel listened to. We have significant needs across New Zealand.”

Teachers worked 60-hour weeks and funded resources from their own incomes, but that goodwill needed to be recognised by the Government, he said.Bringing in teachers from overseas would not solve the problem.

“We need children in our country who want to grow up to be teachers.”

Mr House, who recently moved from Tauranga, recalled a group of 300 high school students being asked who of them wanted to be a teacher.

“Not one hand went up. There needs to be a big change otherwise in the not-too-distant future we’re going to have big problems.”

Mr House said Awapuni School had a teacher off sick recently, and staff spent one hour and made 15 phone calls trying to find a relief teacher.

“We finally found someone but that’s just the situation in our school, and it’s all over town . . . imagine Auckland.”

Mr House said they had come from 10 years under a National Government who did not want to engage in a conversation about the issues facing teachers in this country.

Minister’s claim of extra $10k a year ‘not true'“Unfortunately it’s fallen in Labour’s hands but it needs to be dealt with.”

Mr House said the rhetoric in the media from the Ministry of Education was not accurate when it said the Government’s offer would result in an extra $10,000 a year pay increase.

“That’s not the truth. It would work out to $25 to $29 in the hand a pay period,” he said.

“The big thing is we just can’t let this go on now. There are more children in classrooms with high needs. It’s not special needs, it’s behavioural needs and they need additional support.”

This sentiment was echoed by other teachers in the region at this morning’s rally.

Teachers wore many hats these days and were dealing with more social problems in the classroom than ever before.

“We are teachers because of the love of the job, we love the tamariki, our students. But social problems are more prevalent and as teachers we are more than educators, we are social workers dealing with many problems,” said one of the teachers.

New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI) executive member Raniera Koia opened the rally with a karakia.

Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) regional chairman and Lytton High School teacher Jason Devery said they were all there because there was a disconnect between the educators and the Government.

“The message is simple,” he said. “Education is key if we want to develop into the changing world. Why am I here? I’m here because out of every five teachers who train, two are leaving our profession.

“We are here because we want to retrain teachers for our tamariki, for the future.”

NZEI Poverty Bay branch president Jonathan Poole said they were stronger because they now had their secondary school colleagues and area schools on board.

Last year on August 15, primary school teachers went on strike for the first time in 24 years.

Mr Poole said he was overwhelmed by the number of people at the rally.

“Our community is behind us, we can make the change.

“As educators we are pretty frustrated and need the Government to listen.”

Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Kawakawa Mai Tawhiti principal Campbell Dewes, of Hicks Bay, said they would not be in Gisborne but were protesting up the Coast.

“An investment in us is an investment in the future.

“No investment in the present will come back and bite us in the bum in the future.

“Quite simple really.”


INDUSTRIAL ACTION: NZEI Poverty Bay branch president and Ormond School principal Jonathan Poole addresses the large crowd of teachers, principals and the wider community of supporters who gathered at Kelvin Park this morning as part of nationwide industrial action. Pictures by Paul Rickard
SIMON SAYS: Protestors use famous words from TV talent show celebrity Simon Cowell to get their message across.
OUT ON THE STREETS: Educators gathered at an intersection in Gisborne’s city centre get toots from passing motorists to indicate support for today’s teachers’ strike action.