Birchville School teacher Teresa Salter is looking forward to next week’s online paid union meetings for a couple of reasons.

First, she says, it will give her and her colleagues from across the motu the opportunity to discuss in greater depth not only what they want from their collective employment agreement negotiations when they begin later this term.

But more crucially it will give them the opportunity to discuss in depth what changes they would like to see to the system into the future – changes that have stemmed from recommendations in the Pūaotanga report and which form the basis for the Wāwāhi Tahā | Time 4 Tamariki campaign.

“They’re really important,” she says. “Everyone is just heads down at the moment and working hard to catch up from dealing with COVID-19 last term.

“But I think these paid union meetings will give us the chance to sit down and discuss how we can be the best teachers we can for our kids.

“We need to give them time to get that thrill of learning – and the Wāwāhi Tahā |Time 4 Tamariki campaign will help us start along the path to get the Pūaotanga recommendations implemented.”

Teresa’s school north of Upper Hutt has more than 130 students from a wide range of backgrounds, including some from families farming the upper reaches of the Hutt Valley in Wellington.

She teaches Years 1-3 in a collaborative space with another teacher and is lucky enough to have support from two teacher aides.

Even then, however, she says they’re all stretched.

“You can’t enagage every child when you’re dealing with more than 30 children in a single class,” she says.

“You need to spend time with them and you need time with every child.

“We really do need to reduce the teacher-student ratios to build a deep and genuine connection with all of the tamariki in the class.”

Teresa was also particularly passionate about the need for greater support for children with high needs. She says the pressure of COVID-19 and alienation some tamariki have felt by isolation and lockdowns during the pandemic have exacerbated exisiting problems.

They also may have faced stress at home, with some families struggling financially as they lost their jobs over the last two years.

“We are stretched to meet their needs,” she says. “The pandemic has been really hard on tamariki, especially those who need the most help.

“I know it’s not an easy fix, but they do need to take a better look at the funding model for children with high needs because having more staffing for these children means they will be better served.”

Changes to the current funding for teacher aides would also be welcomed, she says, with their salaries paid from the school’s operations grants and not centrally funded like other professions.

“Teacher aides are valuable resources in a classroom and a massive help to reducing the work demands on teachers,” she says.

“At the end of the year when there’s not enough money left in the kete, schools really shouldn’t be forced to choose between toilet paper or teacher aides.”

While Teresa says she is hoping the paid union meetings will thrash out the issues the primary sector is facing, she has one further hope for this term – she’d like Education Minister Chris Hipkins (who is also the local MP) to drop by her school.

“I’d really just like him to sit in my class for a morning and see the reality of what it’s like nowadays,” she says. “You can’t experience that by reading a book or a report.

“You need to be there to see how the decisions he makes affect real life.”

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