MP pay rise indecent; strikes all NZ in middle of face

By   /   November 26, 2013  /   28 Comments

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I call upon all MPs to protest this gross, repulsive slap in the face towards teachers and the underpaid masses struggling through each day in this country.


Teachers are idealists.

Without idealism, it simply wouldn’t be worth the bother, rage, stress, and toil.

We seem to learn this towards the end of our teaching careers, though.

I taught English for a few years overseas before deciding I wanted my very own class. I left the country I loved and was thriving in; I left my partner, my friends, my drumming: I left it all to come back and learn to be a real teacher. I wanted to be part of people’s lives, people’s communities and schools, and have the ability to help make real change in the marvellous country I was born in. I wanted to inspire young people, to see them writhe with delight, gasping at the foot of Great Literature; to watch them debate against their stubborn elders with flair and ferocity. I wanted to see them paint and sculpt and sprint with courage; to see them stare at the surging sky with everything they had. I wanted to see them want and work and get and have and see. I wanted to watch them learn.

I knew it would be hard, being a primary school teacher here in Aotearoa, but I never ever knew how hard. Nobody told me what it would really be like. Teaching is a noble profession, people said carefully.

Aue. I slid into a decile 1a school, where my noble profession punched my face in as I tried to hit the ground running. Bullying and fraudulent principals (I worked with one of each) were close to the least of my worries.

I didn’t know there would be up to 8 meetings a week outside of teaching hours, with no time allocated for all the planning, marking, assessing and obsessing. I didn’t know that I would work a 60-80 hour week, every week. I didn’t know that the fabled school holidaaays yay would be almost completely taken up by meetings, planning, and by sorting out all the projects and tasks I’d had to park until I could finally get around to them. I didn’t know I would lose my cosy home; that it would become just another place to spread my work each evening and on weekends.

I didn’t know I’d get punched, kicked, bitten, infected, infested, and insulted. I didn’t realise so many painfully disillusioned and distrustful children and adults would resent and hate me by default simply because I was an adult, or a Pakeha, or an authority figure, or a woman. I didn’t realise I would spend the next few years running on adrenalin, losing my hair and my sleep over my kids, my class, my job. I didn’t know I would get nightmares about the situations my students lived in. I didn’t know I would have to break up gang fights, 50-student brawls, or cower with my kids in lockdowns while people roamed the school with machetes, looking to chop each other up.

I didn’t realise there is little time left for the arts, and even less for science, my two great loves. I didn’t know it would basically be all literacy and numeracy pressure, all the time. I didn’t realise that nothing would ever be thorough enough, skilled enough, prepared enough, insightful enough, or plain old good enough. I didn’t realise that the job was never ever done.

Boy, I learnt, though. I learnt all sorts of things.

I learnt to keep my head down. I learnt not to try to change things. I learnt not to complain if you get sworn at, assaulted, or ganged up on. I learnt that as well as all the thousands of caring, righteous, gentle, clever, hardworking, passionate souls, the teaching profession attracts occasional frightening control freaks, and vicious, narcissistic bullies.

I learnt of the vast, horrifying divide between the wealthy and the poor in this country. I learnt how to check for and get rid of nits and scabies without my friends and family having to find out. I learnt about the extent of poverty, malnutrition and hunger in New Zealand, and as well as the vast stores of compassion people have for one another, I learnt too much about the unthinking misery and cruelty people inflict on one another in such an upsettingly everyday fashion.

I learnt that everything you could think of can be thought of as a teacher’s responsibility (someone, somewhere is at fault!!), from making sure everybody eats every day, right down to figuring out which of your 30 small and defenceless students may be getting fingered in their beds each night.

I learnt that there comes a moment when you’ve been at school since before 7am and you’ll be there til after 7pm before going home to do more work: the exact moment is normally 8.55am, when the bell rings for class to start, and you desperately think, Oh, no – I don’t have time for class. I have too much work on to do any teaching right now!

There is a phrase that sums it up, though, which gets tossed around by teachers: the shame-cry. This is when you snatch a moment when you don’t have a meeting or a duty and you dodge ten thousand things you should be doing, go and hide in the toilets, and weep quietly and savagely for just a moment. That’s your shame cry. That’s all the time you can spare. You go back to whatever it was you were doing – until the next shame-cry lets some steam off the constantly-near-boiled-over pot, that is.

The unending stress ages and deflates people like no other job I have seen.

For all this, with two university qualifications, we are paid a starting rate of somewhere in the late $40,000 area.

Because I am a human being, and adrenalin doesn’t last forever, I burnt out within a few years of fulltime teaching, and left my profession in my past.

I don’t care if I never teach again.

But I will always side with teachers. I will stick up for their dignity, their hardworking, never-ending, heroic efforts to make a difference, their kindness and self-sacrifice, and their pure dedication.

I will use whatever small voice I can to highlight the difference between the everyday trauma of teaching versus almost any other job in the world.

So when I see MPs, who already earn at least three times a teacher’s pitiful salary, getting yet another pay rise, I become so angry that can do nothing but sit quietly, watching the clouds outside roil and fret, listening to the blood thud in my ears.

I call upon all MPs to protest this gross, repulsive slap in the face towards teachers and the underpaid masses struggling through each day in this country.

I call upon all MPs to reject this unnecessary, excessive expenditure being wasted on those who do not need it.

I call upon all MPs to reject it publicly. Send us your press releases if the mainstream media isn’t interested. We’ll publish them.

We are waiting.

Who among you has decency?

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  1. Allan Alach says:

    You’ve hit many nails on the head. As time passes since my sudden retirement as a principal due to stress induced health issues, I am gaining a clearly perspective on the impossibility of working in the primary education sector (I’m not in a position to comment on secondary education, having never worked there), either as a teacher or as a principal.

    I feel, in the first instance, for the poor overworked classroom teachers who are being required to meet impossible work pressures, imposed in many cases by principals who have lost touch with the realities of classrooms, and, even more so, imposed by politicians and supported by the media who have no idea at all about education and schooling. As you’ve highlighted the workload is unmanageable and ridiculous. Holiday? Yeah, right. I used to tell my staff that the only break they had was four weeks from late December. All other breaks are effectively sick leave to allow them to recover. Because of that I did everything I could to avoid bringing teachers back to school during breaks (and only did so when we had a district commitment that couldn’t be avoided).

    Teachers are overworked beyond any definition of reasonableness, yet we demand that they engage with students in a fresh and enervating way, in order to create a love of learning and to ensure that all children achieve, even if too many of them come from very tragic backgrounds.

    My own experience as a teacher and principal was that I didn’t start to feel human until Tuesday or Wednesday of the second week of term breaks, just in time to start working on the next term’s programme. As for the daily routine, over the years of my teaching the hours got longer and longer and the accountability got madder and madder. At this time of the year, life is impossible. November and early December didn’t exist outside of schools, as reports and other end of year tasks dominated, as well as having to also start working on the plans for the following year. Absolute madness.

    Most principals also are finding themselves in an impossible situation. They are accountable to their Boards of Trustees, most of whom in my experience are equally ignorant of the realities of education (and particularly so in higher socioeconomic areas – my last couple of years being very torrid because of this). On top of that they have to implement government policies that the principled ones find abhorrent. I chose to fight and paid the price. Most others have acquiesced as they can’t afford to lose their jobs. There are a proportion of quislings, of course.

    The job of teaching, once delightful (although to be honest the rot set in when Tomorrows Schools arrived) has become impossible. Not long ago I would have (and did) encourage school leavers to consider teaching as a career. Not now. Under the present ideology you’d have to be mad or desperate to consider teaching as a career. That’s tantamount to painting a target on your chest. Even more so, why would any sane principled teacher want to move on to being a principal who has to impose the unworkable and educationally unsound national standards. That adds a target on your back and on your forehead.

    The old cliche rings true – if any non teachers think its so easy, have a go yourself. I’d suggest that you’d be lucky to last a fortnight before giving up. Poor kids in that time…

  2. Marc says:

    “So when I see MPs, who already earn at least three times a teacher’s pitiful salary, getting yet another pay rise, I become so angry that can do nothing but sit quietly, watching the clouds outside roil and fret, listening to the blood thud in my ears.”

    Some teachers are on poor pay, but others are doing rather fine, I must say, and I know what I am talking about.

    The ones struggling are often young ones starting teaching, being just in support roles and the likes. Others that have been in teaching full time and permanently seem to be doing well financially, certainly better than those in blue collar or service jobs, where they often get just above the minimum wage.

    Yes, it is a highly responsible and demanding job, and has many challenges to deal with, I accept that.

    But in any case, do you dare to doubt, that this pay-rise for the MPs will not “trickle down” to all of us?

    I smell the urine stench already, from fluid being dropped on us, to make us all “better off” in a “brighter future”.

    • Matt says:

      give it a break would you please Marc? You really DON’T know anything about what it’s like to be a teacher. I teach at a low-decile West Auckland secondary school, and while i absolutely love it – it is extremely hard work. Below you talk about a 60-80 hour working week – do you have any idea WHO actually works hours like those? Certainly NOT people on $45-$50 K, that’s for damn sure. 7:30 am – 6:00 pm days are THE NORM for us.

      • Andrea says:

        Who’s your union rep?

        What is your union doing to earn the levy it’s taking from members? What are you demanding of them?

        Who speaks for you in the Ministry? Politicians come and go with their vapid ideologies and policies. Bureaucrats are supposed to last longer – and protect the frontline from the worst politician excesses. It sounds that they’ve been too cosy and sycophantic for too long. Sleepers awake, perhaps?

        How did it get to be this bad without at least one of those tedious weekly meetings being devoted to ‘How do we turn this around?! How do we unite for the sake of ourselves, our own families, and the kids we care for? How do we counter the spin that teachers have it easy?’

        Unless you have this urge for martyrdom – it’s time this conformity ceased. You’ll be dead or near to if you don’t.

        And no, politicians don’t need any pay increase, which flows down to the rest of us as inexorable hikes in the cost of living.

    • Burnt Out Teacher Burnt Out Teacher says:

      I agree – of course young and new teachers struggle the most! But more than half of teachers burn out after 2-5 years, so people normally don’t even reach a time when they are “doing rather fine” financially in the education sector. Personally, I think I started out on a salary of something like $48-49k, and that was with two qualifications, officially-recognised prior experience, and including the “danger money” you get for working in a hard-to-staff school.

      Secondly, if you broke the salary down into an hourly rate for all the hours worked, it would work out to well below minimum wage. Those who suggest primary school teachers are paid fairly either don’t understand the extent of the workload, or aren’t interested in fairness.

  3. Jenny says:

    Wow! what a great statement.

    But it needs to become more than just a cry in the dark read by few.

    In my opinion this statement needs to become a battle cry.

    Everyone who reads this treatise by burnt out teacher and agrees with it needs to circulate it wide and far in every possible online forum and blog, to become so pervasive that that it will have to be picked by the traditional mainstream media.

    If this statement is circulated everywhere, every holdout will become obvious. To stick out like a sore thumb, needs to become the uncomfortable reality for the hold outs who refuse to carry it.

    If we do this every political party who refuses to circulate it through their networks will be become known and identified, and everyone will know where they stand.

    It needs to be on Facebook, and Youtube, it needs to be on it needs to be on the standard it needs, it needs to be on Frogblog and Redalert, to be in every union journal and union website, and in every other website. It needs to go to each of our email lists. I need to be receiving it in my inbox, unsolicited from people I don’t even know.

    In the end our MPs need to stand up and be counted, and state openly where they stand. “I am with Burnt Out Teacher”, they need to say. And further that “I agree with Burnt Out Teacher; This pay rise is a slap in the face to teachers and the mass of the underpaid struggling to survive on low wages. But they need to go further than just words, as an act of solidarity, our MPs need to reject this pay rise., and demand in parliament that it be cancelled.

    No mealy mouthed, “I will donate this pay rise to charity”, cop out.

    Principled MPs need to publicly reject this pay rise wholesale, as an act of solidarity and a political statement made on behalf of every low paid, burnt out teacher, clerk, retail worker, road worker, store person, driver, factory worker, farm worker, fruit picker, packer, and rest home carer and benificiary.

  4. Pete says:

    “Under the present ideology you’d have to be mad or desperate to consider teaching as a career.”

    There are many calls for our ‘best and brightest’ to go teaching.

    In the environment created by those who most often make that call, (including the Minister and her predecessor), the main requirement is the willingness and ability to do what you’re told.

    The best, brightest and most creative are not needed.

  5. Marc says:

    I do not know many teachers that suffer as you describe here, I am afraid to say, and most teachers I have met do not have such degrees of issues and certainly do not work 60 to 80 hours a week. One living near me is home no later than 04:30 pm on most days, and also has time for long weekend outings.

    While I accept that teaching is a demanding and hard job, many working endless hours in supermarkets, cleaning offices or the streets, collecting rubbish, serving in restaurants or clubs, or driving our buses, are also getting little thanks and frequent abuse, but only earning say 14 to 16 or so dollars an hour, they will have a lot to tell also.

    It seems that as you were overseas for so long and perhaps fall into a lower salary category, you may be at entry level, and that is not high, I admit.

    But many would love to have a starting salary of $ 44 k and more, which I suppose most teachers get.

    For all others, some info on salaries and other details are found here:

    • Groucho Marxist says:

      Did you hate your math teacher at school?

      $44k is $841 per week gross. If it was as little as a 40 hour week it would be $21 per hour.

      The “endless” hours at supermarkets etc. are still paid by the hour. Teaching is not.

      It seems a bit petty of you to resent your neighbour’s long outings at the weekend.

      • Marc says:

        Good grief! What is getting on in some people’s head here?

        I responded to a teacher, who is apparently burnt out and on crap working conditions, and perhaps pay not meeting the stress and demands she faces, and I “dared” to compare this to workers struggling in jobs just above the minimum wage!

        When we have a teacher make comparisons with MPs and their salaries and conditions, is that not “petty”? Does anybody know the hours most MPs work and cater for voters and their spokespersons’ and other responsibilities?

        While I agree that they are on a good racket there, and do not deserve an increase, few would volunteer to be an MP, I suppose, as many of them seem to grey, have relationship breakups, develop eating, drinking and other issues very fast, once they are there.

        But back to basics, yes, teachers are on salaries, so are many others. I have myself worked in high pressure jobs that burnt me out, and the stress and poor team work in such jobs, where one has to always prepare for having to cover for those that do not pull their weight, or that get sick or whatever, is something I do not want to go back to.

        Many on low incomes also struggle on a number of jobs, working night shifts, split shifts and whatever, on shit pay, and also under unsavoury conditions.

        Due to illness, with physically and mental health issue, I am stuffed and struggle from week to week to pay even the very basics, having nothing left to even ever leave my suburb, let alone town. Most of the rest of society “shits” on us, so where is the solidarity when there is a picket for beneficiaries? I see very few “professionals” ever join, no matter whether an activity is on a weekend, at lunchtime or in the evening.

        Teachers are supposed to have strong unions, so what are the unions doing about all this, or is there so much division within, they cannot organise action to fight against all this that is described above?

        So while we have groups of professionals and income earners comparing themselves and their lots, and some thinking they deserve more, but are never, or hardly ever seen showing solidarity to others, how is this supposed to solve anything.

        Lamenting and comparing incomes gets us nowhere.

        If this country was truly “egalitarian” we would not have such shocking conditions in certain areas, but we happen to have low and high decile schools, low and higher income suburbs, better off and worse off, and we have endless division, which I see nobody seriously doing anything about.

        Where is the social, collective action, where are the education sector unions to stop this exploitation and the shocking conditions at various schools?

        One would think people can work together, but it seems there is not a shit show of this to happen in New Zealand, as long as we have so much division.

        I do not wish to have this viewed as criticism against the writer above, but to be viewed in a wider sense.

        Thank you and good night!

        • YogiBare says:

          Good for you for responding to some critical comments. Readers musings on the various articles presented on this site would be incredibly dull if we all agreed and just sat around patting each other on the back.

        • SteveSB says:


          I think the reason people may be getting riled by your comment is your continual comparison between teachers and supermarket workers or office cleaners.

          Not a fair comparison, as I think you might already know.

          I’ve worked in supermarkets, shops, several restaurants, a farm, in personal wealth management and in a school as a teacher. So I do know a bit about what I’m talking about.

          Give me my old job back looking after a client and his 135,000,000GBP fortune spread all across the planet (among a few hundred other clients).

          That job was a walk on the beach compared to teaching and my hardest days are easier than Burnt Out Teacher ever had on her best.

          • Marc says:

            While I totally understand that teaching is a challenging job, with much social interaction and so forth, also dealing with all kinds of social ills, I got a bit crossed about this me, oh my, oh, how hard done, kind of approach, when others also have a lot to deal with.

            We will get nowhere by comparing incomes, by some bizarre comparison to MPs, and by going on about issues that can and should be dealt with. I sense behind it a lack of union, of solidarity amongst teachers and others, and that is where we are back to square one here. There are many having expectations, always calling for action, but where is the action, where is the unity, where is the support and solutions?

            Is there an issue with the unions, are there more issues with teachers now often competing amongst themselves for jobs that are scarce, are there other issues?

            Major social issues like inequality are evident, and we have low decile and high decile, low income and high income scenarios, and we know, that low income backgrounds are making it hard to succeed and cope for students, and other issues come in as well.

            this all boils down to larger social questions needing larger answers, and I do not accept that supermarket workers, bus-drivers and cleaners should be treated as lesser types here, as with that we immediately have again a CLASS THINKING coming in. I studied for years, I sacrificed, I did this that and the other, what did YOU do???

            I am getting a bit annoyed with this, as many not so fortunate would perhaps have loved to study and also have become teachers, but for various reasons that was never a real chance to realise.

            So I would like some solutions, some ideas, and I will comment pro or contra, and that is what is the best way to go from here.

            The story above appears to me like a hard done by middle class person not being happy with the lot received, and others have to deliver and pay more. The others are all of us, the lesser and not so lesser well off. So why is anybody surprised about my comments, or is this a middle class feel good wannabe socialist forum, where it is all about feel good stuff, and not much else?

            Get out and join the ones digging the trenches, that sweat, that are dirty, that do clean the pipes to allow your affluent to flow, that clean the street, that collect the rubbish, that repair electricity and phone lines, and more. Or is this just a “fair” excuse to have so many migrants come and do the dirty work for New Zealanders, while some explore nothing more than philosophical wanderings about “social justice”?

  6. Glen says:

    Thank you. You are consistently the best contributor to TDB. Your compassion knows no bounds, and your empathy worth bottling and distributing with all the breakfasts that SHOULD be present in the tummies of our nation’s children, so that they may be prepared for the shitstorm of a future they face due to the mind-numbing arrogance of successive governments.

  7. Kingi says:

    Amen once again, Bot. In my optimistic moments, which are becoming fewer, I would like to think that there are some principled MPs who will reject this pay rise. Aint holding my breath, but.
    Totally agree with Jenny. We who read this post should share it. Email it to your local MP. Copy it and pin it to your office/staff room/cafeteria wall. Don’t just fan the flame, pour on some fucking petrol.

  8. Tim says:

    Just like the Commerce “Commission”, it’s probably time the Higher Salaries “Commission” was given a few ‘guidelines’.
    Especially in MPs case, it’s not as though they can use the excuse that we must compete on an international ‘market’.
    (And in the case of the Commerce Commission – monopoly/duopoly/oligopoly positions even go against the neo-liberal mantra).
    What both these organisations have become is an excuse for MPs to become unaccountable, rather than the now feeble excuse always offered, that these decisions are independent.
    Btw – WHO appoints Higher Salaries Commission members?
    Talk about stacking the deck!
    That HSC should be renamed and broadened to determine HS based on relativity from a living wage, and such that HS increases automatically ‘trickle down’ – it might give them a better perspective

  9. Excellent writing, as always.

    You should do a column about Donna Awatere Huata sometime.

  10. Countryboy says:

    I think the low paid and no paid should send what they can’t spare to their politicians for Christmas .
    It’s the kiwi enigma , that we kiss the feet of our oppressors then back home to hid inside and twitch the curtains .

    Why is there not an outraged mob ransacking the Rat hive as I write ? Why is paula bennett not hanging from her fat ankles ? Why is jonky not cringing in the basement ?
    The reason that they are not is the reason they know they can get away with anything . We should all be very worried .

    • Kingi says:

      “Why is there not an outraged mob ransacking the Rat hive as I write ? Why is paula bennett not hanging from her fat ankles ? Why is jonky not cringing in the basement ?”

      Here’s why:

      You are spot on, Countryboy. They know that they can get away with it. We are too meek, too cowed, too intimidated, too much in awe of “da Man”, too compliant, too uncomplaining, too busy keeping heads above water, frantically dog-paddling to stay afloat while the ship bearing our dreams sails out of sight.
      Repeat after me “Jack is as good as his (or her) master”. Shit. Do you think maybe we have forgotten that one?

    • Kingi says:

      “Why is there not an outraged mob ransacking the Rat hive as I write ? Why is paula bennett not hanging from her fat ankles ?”

      This is why:

      You are spot on, Countryboy. They do it because they know that they will get away with it. We are too meek, too cowed, too compliant, too uncomplaining, too much in awe of “da Man”, too busy trying to keep our heads above water, frantically dog-paddling while the ship bearing our dreams disappears over the horizon.
      Repeat after me: “Jack is as good as his (or her) master”. Shit. D’ya think we might have forgotten that one?

  11. YogiBare says:

    Yes many of us agree that all public service employees should be better paid, but I would like to raise another point which is rarely mentioned.
    When did it become normal for all pay raises to be expressed as a percentage of someone’s present salary/wage? “Groucho Marxist” would soon tell me that a 2% raise on a minister’s salary is much more dosh than a teacher’s 2% on theirs. Naturally this system suits people who are already grossly over paid and probably don’t even need an extra 2% rise. Surely we could devise a fairer system were a sliding scale of lump sum payment could be made, after all we all have to buy some similar items.

    • Groucho Marxist says:

      Percentage increases probably became normalized so that it was easier for the high salary people to figure out if they were keeping ahead of the game compared to inflation and fixed-income people.

    • YogiBare says:

      Great comic and similar arguments could be made for nurses, care givers, and many other public service employees.

  12. Crunchtime says:

    I have friends who are teachers, and friends who are in relationships with teachers… And I’ve reached the conclusion:

    Being a teacher SUCKS.

    Squeezed in both directions:

    1. Stagnant pay – pay that has increased slower than inflation for DECADES. Teachers used to be well paied in this country, as well they should be: we rely on them for our future.

    2. Massively increasing admin overhead – hugely detailed reporting required, made worse by the introduction of National Standards, made worse by the reduction in funding for administrative staff.

    Even worse, parents’ longer work hours and neglect of children makes behavioural problems worse, and teachers are usually blamed for the results of poor parenting.

    Teachers often work well in excess of 12 hour days. For the hours they work it’s quite a lot less than minimum wage.

    • Marc says:

      Time then for their unions to tell the public, to tell the parents, to tell the principals (who will know anyway) and the damned government: Enough is enough, we want solutions! I am totally in support of it, and I expect people to take action.

      I come from a different culture, where we speak up and out, but I see every day, how most people in New Zealand are quiet, docile, apathetic and put up with all this crap, it is unbelievable. What do they put into the water here???

      In Auckland here, the AT has abolished day passes on buses, by the way, and NOBODY complains or takes action, while for many that was the only economical way to get around. All now have to pay cash fares or use HOP cards (not working on some buses), and the latter only save 10 per cent of fares.

      Sorry to get off topic, but it is an example how some admin Nazis here dictate, and the herd follows and does NADA. If you want a damned better country, better learn to bloody stand up and speak up and out, and take bloody action.

      Otherwise nobody will take you serious, teachers or whatever!!!

  13. As a secondary teacher who is in limbo at present, I can relate to all the experiences burnt out teacher describes? they have all happened at some time or another and there are many days when you wonder why you are doing it. Then you have the most amazing day and it makes up for all the crap. The government needs a shake up over pay for all our most valuable and influential jobs. Politicians are not included in that group by the way! Very disappointing again that they give themselves a nice big pay rise.

Authorised by Martyn Bradbury, The Editor, TheDailyBlog, 5 Victoria St East/Queen St, CBD, Auckland, New Zealand.