Teacher aides and principals are being interviewed at the moment about the roles of teacher aides in order to inform the pay equity campaign about the jobs that they do.

In ECE, NZEI is still building a campaign by engaging ECE leaders and supporters to take a pay equity claim forward.

We have also started working on a claim for admin workers – starting with a survey of school administration workers.

Any claims need to follow the pay equity principles. This is a process for Pay Equity claims – produced by unions, businesses and the government.

Pay equity claims begin with showing the work is historically and presently undervalued because it’s seen as “women’s work” then there is the examination of the work and potential male dominated comparator roles; and finally, negotiations for a pay increase based on the information gathered.

The cost of the pay increases need to be government funded, with no negative outcomes for school and early childhood centre budgets.

An ECE teacher and a teacher aide talk about their work:

 

Mel’s story

Tena koutou katoa, I’m Mel and I am an early childhood teacher. I qualified about three years ago, but I’ve actually had two stints working in ECE, the first was 30 years ago, when I was 17 to my early twenties.

I feel like my two stints 30 years apart bookend some really big changes for the sector. I started in 1986, the year the Department of Education took over responsibility for ECE from Social Welfare. After being a ‘child care worker’ for a number of years I travelled, worked other jobs and had a family. Then I got involved in Playcentre and my love for working with young children was reawakened. I connected with them. Watching them evolve fascinated me and I wanted to know more about what was going on for them. I signed up to university to get modern-day qualified.

Getting my contemporary qualification made me realise how much had changed in the sector while I had been busy doing other things.

For a start, the qualification had progressed, from none originally required when I started, to a 1 year certificate, which I got way back then; to becoming in line with Kindergarten’s 2 year diploma; and finally to the Bachelor’s degree level it is currently.

There had also been big shifts in the understanding of child development. Sociocultural theory now emphasised how children’s social environments influenced their development. Research had also highlighted the early years as being a critical period for brain development. We know now that offering enriching experiences can maximise children’s potential.

Our world renowned EC curriculum had been developed and the sector had become increasingly professionalised.

The need for quality ECE was now recognised. In fact it would be very difficult for many families to live the way they do without us these days.

These are just some of the changes that the sector went through in my years away from it.

You would think that all this progress and acknowledgement of the importance of ECE would translate into better pay for ECE teachers. But it hasn’t. We are still one of the lowest paid professions. Why? Because in spite of all the changes it is still seen as women’s work and therefore undervalued.

I think people see us as just performing our natural womanly instinct to care and nurture. There is a common perception that ECE is not ‘proper teaching’; that it’s just glorified child minding. I get that reaction all the time to my job and it drives me crazy. I worked my butt off to educate myself on all that theory and pedagogy. But after four years and two degrees in a BA/BTeach I graduated into a marketplace that deemed me worth the same as a data entry operator or a mail room clerk.

I’ve got a family, a mortgage and a massive student loan I seriously fear I will retire with. At times I have considered being a weekend Uber driver just to get ahead. And I would do it if I knew it wouldn’t impact my family or my work.

In spite of the sacrifices I and my family have made because I chose this profession, I love my job. I know I make a difference to children and their families.

We had a kid leave last week who had been with us from the day he turned two to the day he turned 5. He was one of those kids who are first in the door and last out at the end of the day. His parents knew and trusted that for that massive chunk of his young life that he was with us, we understood, respected and loved him.

They knew we drew on our professional expertise to try give him the tools to navigate through life, and that we accepted and appreciated him for who he is. They knew when they couldn’t be there, that he had a team of people who really had his back. And it was emotional for everyone when it was time to move on.

We impacted his life. And that’s a big responsibility. Being able to have a positive impact like that is what drew me to this game. I have passion, because you have to have that in this job. But I think society takes advantage of ECE teachers’ passion. I think when you value teachers, you also demonstrate that you value kids.

I want to see women in my profession paid fairly for the work we do. I want to see us get the respect that we deserve, considering the impact that we have on people’s lives. I want it to be easier for good teachers to stick with this profession and not be driven out for financial reasons.

This is an exciting time to be involved in this cause. We’ve got commitments of support from the new government; and public support and attention is growing. I think if we keep making noise and standing up for each other we can really change hard working women’s lives for the better. Thanks everyone for coming and thanks to all involved in driving this campaign.

 

Mel Burgess is an early childhood teacher in Wellington.

Maryann’s story

 

I have been a Teacher Aide for 13 years. I work in a full primary school in Lower Hutt.

I usually arrive at school at 8.30 in the morning, although I get paid from 9am. It is a chance to have a quick word to the teachers or the Deputy Principal about how the day may look.

At 9am I work with a child with very high behavioural needs. He has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to family violence. He started school earlier this year and has a Teacher Aide with him for the time he is at school which is currently 4 hours a day, up from the one and a half hours he started on. I have spent a lot of time building a relationship with him so he is able to trust me and know I will keep him safe at school. It’s a work in progress. At the moment there is very little academic learning happening as he just learns to be in a classroom. I am always looking out for signs he is stressed or anxious. He is learning how to interact with adults and other children and part of my job is to socialise him so he is able to build healthy relationships with other children.

After morning tea I work with an 11 year old with a brain injury which has left him with a very poor working memory so he is unable to read or write. I have spent a lot of time building his self-esteem as he is very aware of his disability.  I work with his teachers, ACC providers and a psychologist to deliver a curriculum that meets his needs. I am teaching him to read a digital clock and follow a timetable so he can be as independent as possible. I am working with an agency called Talk Link that is looking at technical solutions to his problems. We are about to trial a Smart Watch to see if it would help him gain more independence and allow him to access the internet for information rather than relying on another person to do it for him.

At lunchtime, I spend half an hour in the playground watching the children with behavioural problems and pre-empting issues (hopefully) keeping them safe and showing them how to play with others. I build their social skills, so they are able to join in games and take turns with equipment.

After lunch I run a programme for small groups of children.  I have been trained in the Feuerstein method. This programme enables people to analyse, organise and improve their thinking skills. It teaches not just what to think, but how to think, by identifying cognitive functions and strategies for using them.    We target children who are not progressing as well as they should.

I really enjoy this programme, we see many benefits from it and as the children become more confident they flourish. I do a lot of planning and gathering resources for the programme in my own time as there is no paid planning time for teacher aides.

Some days are harder than others, some days I get sworn at, have things thrown at me and have been bitten and hit a few times, as have many teacher aides dealing with multiple behaviours.

So as you will now be aware I do not mix paint, staple things together or clean the whiteboards!

I earn $20.44 an hour and I’m not paid  through the school holidays although I am paid for statutory holidays and  for five weeks holiday a year.

For me pay equity means I will have value within the school system, our society judges people on what they earn, not the value of the job they do. I will be paid fairly for the skills I have and continue to develop. I have a teacher aide certificate for which I earn 19 cents an hour extra. The Feuerstein training I have done has no monetary amount added, it is not recognised on the pay framework.

Pay equity would mean I could give my youngest child more money – she is a student and money is tight. I would also like to be able to save money to visit my other children who live overseas. Currently my husband saves his income which allows us to do this, but it is demoralising and very sexist to rely on his income especially as I work as hard as he does.

Pay equity would mean support staff would be seen as professionals within the school system. Schools can no longer function without support staff so it is time to recognise the work we do and pay us what we deserve, it is 2017 and time people got over seeing jobs as women’s work. It is just work.

I love my job.  I love seeing the children I work with achieve their goals and develop and grow. My goal is to see Support Staff and particularly TA’s paid a fair wage for the work they do.

Maryann Hainsworth is a teacher aide in Lower Hutt