Crisis in Teaching

Recent newspaper reports speak of a crisis in teacher supply, especially in Auckland. The high cost of housing was cited with at least one school indicating their interest in building their own houses to attract staff. Teacher unions have spoken of the need for an “Auckland Allowance” to top up salaries similar to the “London Allowance”. However, the same would have to apply to police, nurses and anyone living in Auckland.

There is a crisis in teaching and its reasons are many: increasing class and school sizes, increased compliance and accountability with a low trust model from the government and Ministry, especially under the previous Minister. But, perhaps the biggest cause of the teacher crisis in supply, retention and morale, is the increasing rate of harassment and bullying of our teachers.

Teacher well-being is under attack and it impacts on student learning. Bullying, harassment and violence against teachers and principals is on the rise. It is well documented in Australia but no so much in New Zealand. The favourite tool is via social media and is often anonymous. It should be noted that the NZ Police recently commented about negative attacks on their Facebook in Canterbury and medical organisations report similarly.

The NSW Auditor-General reported a 34% increase in 2015/16, in the number of claims resulting from allegations of bullying, harassment and violence (23.06.2017). The Australian Principals Occupational Health & Safety and Wellbeing survey of 4,000 principals found 41% had experienced threats of violence and 36% had experienced bullying (2016). Chris Presland, president of the NSW Secondary Principals Council says “Schools are very, very soft targets for anxious, stressed and unhappy parents” – far easier targets than other authority agencies. Teachers in Finland, Singapore, South Korea etc., enjoy greater levels of respect and “no one would dare abuse a teacher”. However, in Australasia there is “a feeling that we’ve got a right and capacity to say what we think”, but unfortunately some people take it too far. In the United States funnily enough, such issues are not as high due to the highly litigant nature of their society i.e. teachers sue.

Prof. Donna Cross, University of Western Australia wrote an excellent paper on “Teacher Wellbeing and Its Impact on Student Learning”. In a nutshell, morale drives teacher exodus. She cites some pretty powerful statistics:

  • 41% of Australian teachers report high levels of stress and make more mental stress claims than any other industry.
  • 40% of Australian school principals report feeling stressed or bullied.
  • One third of school principals experience an incident of physical assault.

The New Zealand data is much harder to find in that it doesn’t seem to be collected. However, a staff wellbeing and concerns survey was conducted with the staff at Matipo Primary School (2017). The findings were:

  • 25% of staff felt they didn’t feel safe from parents.
  • In relation to negative Facebook comments:
  • 85% felt hurt.
  • 92% lose enthusiasm or energy to contribute more.
  • In relation to positive parental Facebook comments:
  • 96% reported pride and confidence.
  • 74% felt keen to increase energy and enthusiasm.

Some comments from the survey included:

“We do more than ever for the children at this school, often at the expense of my own family”.

“We do more and it is appreciated less. The school had a glowing ERO report. The situation is depressing and it gets me down. I really don’t know what more we can do”

“We all work above and beyond our job descriptions for the children in our classes – which can often be destroyed by negativity towards us”.

“It would be great to see and hear more positive and supportive feedback from the community”.

Teacher supply is getting harder and quality teacher supply much harder. This school got an outstanding ERO report 12 months ago. The staff of this school do an outstanding job and the school has an outstanding reputation. It needs to be stressed that is just takes a few individuals to create the impression of an undermining of the school and staff. The fact is that the great majority of the school community, probably close to 99% are tremendously supportive of the school.

  • $20,000 of school donations paid to date.
  • $11,000 sales from the Book Fair.
  • $732 for the Child Cancer Society.
  • 80% attendance at the Learning Expo.
  • Wait list for out-of-zone admissions.

In summary, I am saying this is a school of excellence with really committed staff. They are well worthy of your positive support and I respectfully ask that you reflect on the influence that negative comments on Facebook cause.