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What if a politician took a walk in your shoes for the day?

Many of us have said we wish politicians could know what it's really like for support workers. In 2017, some of them actually did it!

In the lead-up to the general election in 2017, we invited sitting MPs and a number of candidates to join a support staff worker for a day and find out what it's really like to be in this role. Check out their stories below.

Michael Wood at Wesley Intermediate School

“This morning I got to walk in the shoes of a school support staff worker by shadowing Mel at Wesley Intermediate School for a couple of hours as she helped to support four students with their learning. This is demanding and important work. Each child needs constant attention and focus to help them learn, and I came away with huge admiration for the work of our teacher aides. Sadly, they are at the very bottom of the pay rung, and have basically no job security. I was happy to sign the NZEI Te Riu Roa pledge to invest in these important staff in our schools.”

—Michael Wood

Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Labour candidate, at Te Papapa Primary School

“Labour candidate Priyanca Radhakrishnan spent time today alongside support staff working with children at Te Papapa Primary School. Great to have another political candidate learning first hand about the vital work done support staff and the difficulties they face.”

— John McRae

Tracey Martin at Warkworth Primary School

Tracey Martin of NZ First joined staff at Warkworth.

Hello, my name is Tracey Martin and I’m the education spokesperson for New Zealand First. Today I’m here at Warkworth Primary School in the middle of Warkworth and I’m spending time with some teacher aides, with some amazing young children who need extra support inside our system.

I’m here because our teacher aides are underfunded, and our children — these children — are not receiving the amount of money that they need to be well supported in an inclusive education environment.

Our Education and Science Select Committee inquiry into dyslexia, dyspraxia, and children on the autism spectrum once again proved that this is the case.

So I’m here talking to these amazing people who spend their time and this school like many schools that take from their operations grant to support these kids. Because we need to make sure that more politicians understand this has got to be funded much much better than it is right now.

Tracey’s visit also got a great writeup on Stuff.

Hayley Holt, Greens candidate, at Waimauku School

“Support staff really enjoyed having Green candidate Hayley Holt visit Waimauku School yesterday. She listened to our concerns and signed on to our #Betterfunding campaign saying that she was enlightened by her experience working alongside us. Thanks Hayley Holt.”

—John McRae

Iain Lees-Galloway at Central Normal School, Palmerston North

“Palmerston North MP, Iain Lees-Galloway, spent time with Support Staff at Central Normal School on Monday learning about the variety of roles support staff have in our school. The Labour MP said support staff had a tough job that required an “astonishing” amount of patience, understanding and empathy. It was great to see him willing to pull his sleeves up and get involved with a junior maths group alongside Teacher Aide, Karen Phillips and her ORS funded student. He took the time to observe and speak with staff and students in most areas of the school before adding his signature to the petition to remove the funding freeze on the Operations Grant. A very productive visit.”

—Andrea Wishnowsky

Phil Twyford at Flanshaw Road School, Te Atatu South

Phil Twyford: Hi, I’m Phil Twyford. I’m the local Member of Parliament here in Te Atatu, in West Auckland, and I’ve spent the last few hours here at Flanshaw Road School hanging out with the learning support staff that are such a vital part of making this wonderful primary school in our community work.

And I’ve spent time with the office staff and also with a whole lot of the teacher aides in classrooms all around the school looking at what they do with kids who are learning English as a Second Language, kids who get ORS funding for special needs, you know, including some kids who are autistic, and need that one-to-one support to make the classroom experience work for them.

And I have to say it’s been utterly inspiring and moving to see the difference these support workers make to the experience for so many of the kids in the school. A lot of these workers start on the minimum wage on 15 bucks an hour, and I’m here today to support the campaign to unfreeze the operations grants, to demand that the government takes seriously the need for these support workers to be paid better. To recognize the value that they bring to the school and to the community.

So I want to lend my voice to NZEI’s campaign to value these workers and to fund our schools properly because without these workers the school simply couldn’t function.

Catherine Delahunty and Marama Davidson at James Cook High

Greens Catherine Delahunty and Marama Davidson joined support staff at James Cook High, Manurewa.

Catherine Delahunty:  Well I’m here today at James Cook High School because it’s really important that we have a focus on school support staff, and that MPs understand what they actually do.

So we’ve had a chance to see what teacher aides do, and we see just what a big job it is.

And we really want to support central funding for them, and better opportunities for learning for them, so that they can support schools.

And right now these schools can’t function without them, but we haven’t got enough and they’re not supported properly.

So the Greens are here to support that kaupapa today.

Chris Hipkins at Upper Hutt Primary School

Chris Hipkins visited Upper Hutt Primary School and shared his thoughts in this video.

Chris Hipkins: This morning I spent a couple of hours with the support staff here at Upper Hutt Primary School, as part of an NZEI campaign to raise awareness of the working conditions for school support staff up and down the country.

I’ve always thought that school support staff do a great job but a few hours this morning certainly reminded me of the interesting and challenging conditions they sometimes work in, the vulnerability of some of the kids that they work with and just how important they are to the effective operating of the school. And it’s not just about the kids that they’re working directly with — it’s also about other kids in the class and making sure that they’re well supported in their learning as well

So NZEI have asked me to present this petition this week to the minister of education this week, which I’ll do. It’s been signed by over 47,000 New Zealanders who are asking the government to lift the freeze on school funding so that school support staff can be paid properly.

It’s really important to remember that school support staff are paid out of the school operations grant, so they’re paid from the same money that pays for the rubbish to be removed, the classrooms to be cleaned, the whiteboard pens that teachers use, the photocopying — all of those things are paid out of the operations grant. So any improvement in the pay and employment conditions for school support staff puts pressure on school finances somewhere else.

So the Labour Party’s made a really clear commitment that we’re going to change that, so that school staff can be properly supported. And we want to fund them centrally, through the government, in the way that we do the teachers, so they can have a proper career framework, proper professional development and support, just like teachers do.

I hope that we’ll be in a position to implement that after September. I think that’s really important and I’d be encouraging people to vote for the Labour Party at the coming election on that basis.

So I’m Chris Hipkins, you can reach me at Parliament and I authorise this video.

A staff member, Vanessa, also shared a great story with us.

“I have been Teacher Aiding for almost 5 years and been studying for almost a year and a half for my Teacher Aide Certificate – just a few more assignments to go now. I hope to continue doing Teacher Aiding but when I’m on contract for limited periods, I can only dream of a future and career in it. Not knowing or being able to plan my life is really difficult.

It was refreshing having Chris Hipkins listen to my personal journey in the field of teacher aiding. I am very committed to encourage all those I teach, to learn regardless of their ability and to give guidance and respect to all. I sure hope Chris can deliver a loud voice and let it be known how difficult being a teacher aide really is. He may have a little more insight now having heard our stories.”

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