Teacher pay is not about the classroom

Teaching in New Zealand, I feel I’m in a strong position to talk about links, or the lack of, between teacher pay and quality education. This is because, as a country, we have been ranked as the world overall number one system, while at the same time being listed by the OECD as one of the worst spenders on teacher salary. So, does this prove there’s no link? No, but it proves that providing quality education is a more complicated challenge than money alone can solve. It’s at this point, I need to explain New Zealand’s teaching crisis and why it forms part of a global crisis that reflects short-term planning on behalf of most governments.

Not recognising / rewarding collaboration?

Two key factors result in New Zealand having one of the best education systems and none of them have anything to do with salary. The crisis the country faces, that others have or need to learn from is the challenge around recognising the efforts of educators that are often invisible to society, the type of workload that is so common in public services that the private sector generally commodifies and rewards for. The three key differences in NZ education are:

  1. Self-directed state schools
    Schools are self-governed and make decisions about curriculum details and pedagogical approaches, resulting in most schools having a unique personality that reflects the community they serve. There is a guiding National Curriculum of concepts and values but schools are expected to build their own flexible curriculum that serves the individuals within the local community. This is a perfect solution to the fact that no two communities or individuals are exactly alike but at the same time creates a workload that goes unrecognised as educators work within a culture of service and are often reluctant to complain or expect more remuneration.
  2. A  strong but cheap national public education model
    Teacher salaries in New Zealand might be relatively low but the Ministry of Education has set in place a collaborative model where teachers expect to input and inquire into how teaching practice can improve. Even the high school assessment system is primarily written and moderated by the educators themselves. The upside of this makes for great education but the downside is that it adds workload to teachers.

The good and bad of High level trust

Now New Zealand has a high-trust and collaborative public education model, the educators are generally highly-skilled and our teacher registration process is rigorous enough to stretch beyond simple knowledge and skills to include, for example,  culturally responsive pedagogy. The trust that allows schools to be autonomous allows them to adapt and move forward to reflect the times we live in. Educators sorting their own system out is great but the downside is that there has not been much centrally-coordinated debate or awareness of the long-term challenges. That is until now, where teachers in NZ are now going on strike, as teachers are in other countries, to indicate a 40-year neglect from society in appreciating the role education has in the economy and reflecting this in the status and thus salary of teachers.

A new world war?

So there is no direct link between the teacher salary and what happens in the classroom, primarily because teachers work in a culture of service and do excellently in most situations.  What New Zealand is now suffering is the long-term effects of this global neglect, the shrinking of the teacher population. The 40-year political and economic shift that has benefitted the capital “haves” and neglected the “have-nots” now means people can’t afford to become a teacher as it doesn’t pay the rent or mortgage. New Zealand has just announced it needs 400 more teachers in 2019 than it has and this target is increasing each day as young teachers give up trying to make do and the experienced retire to avoid the increasing demands from a public sector starved of practitioners. There is now a war between countries for the few remaining available teachers. New Zealand has all its recruitment agents working overtime to attract educators from overseas. A difficult task when those educators are able to easily find salary comparisons.

It is time to end the short-term political thinking and realise that 40 years of excuses to not raise salaries has caused a new crisis and possibly a recruitment world war.

Author: Richard Wells
Deputy Principal in a New Zealand High School
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International keynote speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of  The Global Search for Education: Our Top Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers.