Paul Barker has a simple metaphor to describe how he and his fellow tumuaki feel at the moment.
“We’re kind of that stage that if we were a tea towel, we’re completely rung out,” he said.
“We need some extra sustenance and change to rejuvenate to get back to doing the best possible job we can for our kids.”
Kaeo Primary School’s principal is hoping that Tu Meke Tumuaki – this week’s opportunity to recognise the work of principals in their community — will provide the catalyst needed for Te Ao Kei Tua | Creating Our Future to make the Government take notice of long-standing issues facing primary education in New Zealand.
The campaign stemmed from the basic issue identified by principals – that primary schools need more staff. That means more teachers, teacher aides, learning support, administrators and specialist support staff, all of whom will help principals devote more of their time to leading teaching and learning and their school community.
“It will allow me to use the skills and experience I have got in my school to do a great job for the kids in front of me,” he said.
“Our kids are quite different nowadays. They have far more complex needs and we need people of experience and commitment focussed on teaching and learning and improving the basic things — the reason for why the school is there.
“That will only happen with additional resourcing and that will only come if people really get behind principals and our claims– because we really do need to win so that principals can do their job properly.”
Mr Barker spends a lot of time in Te Tai Tokerau talking with other principals and he is hearing similar stories – the increasing demands on their time, while being expected to work at a faster pace are putting tumuaki under more and more stress.
“Each day I hop in my car to go to school, it’s a 14-minute drive and I finish planning my day. I could count on the figures of one hand the number of days that work out in the way I had planned on my drive,” he said.
“The reason they don’t is the same reason everyone principal feels – a great commitment to the kids in front of them.
“When the children have a need, or there is a problem in a classroom, or a teacher has a need or a community situation that needs addressing, a principal’s work generally gets left on the corner of their desk until late at night. That happens day after day.
“I love my job. It’s probably the best job I’ve had and will ever have. I love my school, my community and my kids. It’s what drives you to keep going on this never-ending hamster wheel of planning your day to do the things you’re trained and worked hard to learn about and gained experience in and then having the time to do that to affect positive change for the kids in your care.”
Mr Barker is on the team preparing to go into bargaining with the Ministry on our collective agreement but was adamant this year’s negotiations were not about pay.
“Getting the system right so we can do a great job with our boards and for the kids in front of us,” he said in reference to the recommendations of last year’s Puaotanga report.
“We’re kind of that stage that if we were a tea towel, we’re completely rung out and we need some extra sustenance and change to rejuvenate to get back and doing the best possible job we can for our kids.
“We think it needs some systematic change; we think it needs extra resourcing. Those things don’t come unless we win the support of our community. The most important people in our community when we come to confront this battle are all of the important people that sit and do such an important job on our Board of Trustees.”