“Teachers don’t do it for the money”: A note to Minister Hipkins

Kia ora, Minister

I have no doubt at all that you care deeply about the education of our children. I imagine that all Ministers of Education do – even though they might see the world differently and take different approaches as a result; and I look forward to seeing what you are able to bring to education.

However, I was perturbed the other day to hear you say in the middle of an interview, when asked about the pay negotiations for teachers, “Well, teachers don’t do it for the money”.

I waited for the hue and cry from the interviewer. The fall out from teachers all around the country. An article on stuff, perhaps. But all has been relatively quiet from what I can see. I am wondering how you got away with such an error of judgement.

You see, teachers may not be in it for the money. Personally, as a principal, I am reasonably comfortable with what I am getting paid, although with eight children, there have been many times when I could have done with more; and quite possibly, with the skills I have, I may well be worth a great deal more. Further, I have for my entire teaching and leading career in schools willingly worked way beyond what could reasonably be expected of me because I care about kids and I care about education. However, the ethic of care that drives me to give way over and above and to be willing to take less than what might be my just desserts, is MINE to give freely as I wish. It is not for you or anyone else to assume and take. It is a gesture that I make for the children I teach, but it is not anything that you, as Minister of Education, are entitled to expect. You should pay teachers for the job they do. That is the only moral thing to do. If they choose to give more, that is up to them.

That is the first error of judgement. The second is this. The world has changed and you can no longer rely on the goodwill and self-sacrifice of teachers as successive Ministers of Education have done for so long. Your contribution as a Minister has to be to take an unsustainable education system that is currently propped up by the goodwill and self-sacrifice of its employees (teaching and non-teaching) and ensure its sustainability for the future. This will not happen, if deep down, you move forward with the assumption that teachers don’t do it for the money. Let’s be clear, today’s young generation will not do what I have done; and neither should they. This is not because they care less, but because they have different expectations for their lives. They want it all – a family they spend quality time with, leisure time and travel. And they have the confidence to move on if their career choice does not allow this.

From an article I wrote over a year ago now that resonated with many and went viral:

In our desire to serve our students, we have allowed successive governments to put more and more onto us than they have been entitled to do. Education must no longer rely on the goodwill and sacrifice of its employees. It needs to be resourced realistically for the job that is required. In general, teachers should be able to work a 45 hour week, and not feel duty-bound to work all the hours under the sun. (A Sustainable Future for Education).

Minister, I understand that it is going to take time to ensure a sustainable education system. You have a big job in front of you and I realise that we may have to be patient. But please, please do not appropriate a gift that has been freely given to the students we care for, as if it is your own, and then tell us that you will give us less, because we gave that gift. That would be like throwing our gift back in our faces.

It may have been a slip of the tongue. I hope that doesn’t mean it is a way of thinking that is hidden in your heart, because if it is, then all we can expect is more of the same – an education system propped up by the goodwill and sacrifice of its employees. But wait….perhaps not….where have all the teachers gone?

Nga mihi nui

Lesley Murrihy