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Maddi Garrett, Secondary Arts Teacher 21.03.23

Maddi shares the joys & challenges of working within the New Zealand educational system, along with the hopes and changes she wishes to see for teacher support.

"As a young arts teacher in New Zealand's secondary school system, my experience over the past five years has been both fulfilling and challenging. Although I have enjoyed the rewards of teaching immensely, I must admit that I am currently feeling overwhelmed and burnt out."

During my time as a teacher, I have experienced a range of emotions. There has been a lot of laughter and tears. I have had to adapt to teaching online during a global pandemic, attended the funeral of a student who has passed away, I have flown to Queenstown with 40+ students for a dance competition (they placed first in multiple divisions!!!!), shared many deep and meaningful conversations, provided meals for those who have gone without lunch and have had the privilege of connecting with hundreds of students and their families, forming meaningful relationships that have enriched my life in countless ways.

Schools are a sacred ecosystem that require careful attention and nurturing in order to thrive. Like a garden, schools are made up of a variety of unique individuals who all have different needs and ways of learning. Teachers are the caretakers of this ecosystem, responsible for providing the right conditions for their students to grow and flourish. Just like a garden needs sunlight, water, and nutrients from soil, our learners require many methods to blossom. Each student is like a seed that has the potential to grow into something beautiful and unique. As teachers, it is our responsibility to provide the right environment for each student to thrive. This means creating a safe and inclusive space where students feel comfortable to be themselves and take risks in their learning. It also means adapting our teaching styles to meet the needs of each student, recognising that every student learns differently and at their own pace. We must constantly assess and adjust our teaching methods to meet the needs of our learners. It is important to approach teaching with empathy, flexibility, and understanding, recognising that learners are human beings with emotions, moods, and personal lives that can affect their ability to learn. Schools are also made up of a community of individuals who are all working towards a common goal - the growth and development of their learners. This community includes not just teachers and students, but also parents, administrators, school counsellors, support staff and their wider communities. Each member of this community plays a crucial role in creating a healthy and thriving ecosystem.

As gardeners of knowledge, we don't just plant the seeds of learning and then walk away. We become deeply invested in our learners' growth and well-being. Our dedication to our learners extends beyond the classroom, as we continue to monitor and tend to their growth outside of school hours. We go above and beyond to ensure that our learners have everything they need to thrive. We are willing to spend our own time and money to provide art supplies, treats and other resources to help enrich their learning experience. These extra items, costs and hours that we put in, we are not paid for.

Just as a garden requires proper care and attention to flourish, the same is true for the field of education. It is important to acknowledge the critical changes that are needed now within the constantly evolving education system to support and nurture our teachers. The teaching profession is undervalued, underpaid and increasingly overworked. This has led to a series of strikes. One of which took place on Thursday the 16th of March. Teachers are asking for pay in line with inflation (which will help to attract quality professionals), improve working conditions, and supply schools with quality resources to support their students and their learning success. An increasing and demanding challenge that we face is the unrealistic workload and long hours that come with the job. Teachers are expected to plan and deliver engaging lessons, assess student work, track and monitor each learner, regularly communicate with whānau, write reports, participate in school events and extracurricular activities, attend multiple daily team, staff and parent meetings (before, during and after school); and are additionally required to attend professional development sessions.

One of the key changes that is needed is an increase in starting wages for new teachers entering the profession. This will not only attract more teachers into the field but also ensure that those who do enter the profession are able to support themselves and their families. Additionally, new teachers require more support in their first two years, including a structured program that will help them to transition smoothly into the profession.

Smaller classroom sizes and increased funding for creative subjects are also necessary changes. Research has shown that teachers often leave the profession after their first five years. Addressing these issues can help to prevent burnout and improve retention rates. Many teachers choose to move overseas to continue their careers as they will receive better pay. The government could incentivise teachers to stay in the profession by offering to wipe off a portion of their student loans for every year that they stay teaching in New Zealand.

It is also crucial to acknowledge the need for extra support and funding for Te Reo Māori teachers who are working tirelessly to pave the way for education in New Zealand. Te Reo Māori teachers often go above and beyond their workload to bring about positive changes in their schools and provide professional learning and development for their staff. They deserve recognition and support for their efforts.

Despite these challenges, there are many successes to be a teacher in New Zealand. Teachers continue to be dedicated to their students and committed to their growth and development. They work tirelessly to create learning environments that support and nurture their students, even when they themselves are facing difficult circumstances. It is a testament to their resilience and commitment to education that they continue to inspire and shape the future generations of learners.

Written by Maddi Garrett

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