Auckland's teacher shortage is biting hard in Papakura

by Liam Ratana / 21 December, 2017

Staying the course

Rising living costs are making it harder for Auckland schools to attract and retain teachers. At Papakura’s Cosgrove Primary School, these challenges are especially acute.

Auckland is experiencing its worst shortage of teachers since 1995. Many schools are struggling to fill vacancies, some classrooms have no teachers, and a growing number of people appear to be leaving the profession, or leaving Auckland to work as teachers elsewhere. At Papakura’s Cosgrove Primary School, principal Gustaaf Klein has the unenviable task of ensuring every classroom has a teacher in it. With only about three applications for every new vacancy, he is having difficulty competing against higher-decile schools for good-quality teachers. Paperboy went along to talk to the teachers at Cosgrove Primary and find out how they’re coping.

Bruce Wiseman

Teaches Years Five and Six. He has taught for five years at Cosgrove School.

Why did you choose to teach in Auckland?
It was just something I liked the sound of, something I wanted to do. I come from a family of teachers; both of my parents were teachers. My mum taught at Rosehill Intermediate [in Papakura] for a long time – she retired there. My dad was a secondary teacher at Manurewa High. I grew up in Manurewa before the stigma was attached to south Auckland. I hear it on the news and think, “well, I grew up there”.

Did you ever consider going elsewhere?
I like being in Auckland, so there was no desire to ever move out.

Why do you think there’s currently a shortage of teachers in Auckland?
I think some of it is the stigma of decile one. Decile one schools are challenging, yes. But they can also be very rewarding. Decile 10 schools, they can be also very challenging and maybe rewarding, I’m not sure. I know of teachers in decile nine and 10 schools who have to deal with complaints through lawyers because children aren’t achieving. I’ve never had that here, or at any of the other decile one schools I’ve been at. Every school has its challenges; it’s how you meet that challenge.

Are teachers valued enough in New Zealand?
Some are. I’m old enough now that I’m teaching the children of people that I used to teach. I can have more of an impact on a child than an All Black could, yet some of those dudes are earning 10 times more than me.

What would make it easier for you as a teacher?
Class size for me is important. You’re dealing with kids who haven’t been fed, haven’t been clothed properly, or haven’t had enough sleep. To put them in a class of around 30, you will have about seven or eight kids that will need a lot of extra time because of their circumstances. If I only had 22 kids in here, I could do a hell of a lot more for those kids. John Hattie, who is an apparent expert on all of this, says that class sizes don’t really make a difference. If you’re in a school where the parents are paying big money and want their kids to learn, sure, class size might not matter. But when you’re at a school like this, if you put over 30 kids in a classroom, by the time you’ve sorted all of the issues – behavioural, family, health – you’ve got bugger all teaching time left. Whereas, with a smaller class, I can chat one-on-one with kids who have a problem. I can refer them to the appropriate people.

Peter Rout

Associate Principal. 24 years at Cosgrove Primary.

Why did you choose to teach here in Auckland?
My kids have gone through here. I like the community. I like the types of children that come through. The fact that our kids learn to live in a multicultural society is so important. They understand different cultures. To me, Cosgrove itself has changed. It used to be 60-70 percent European, that was only 20 years ago. Now we’ve got 60 percent M¯aori, 20 percent Polynesian, and around 20 percent European. So you can see how the whole community has changed over time, and that is a neat thing. Our kids are brought up learning to be able to relate to a range of different cultures. If you’re not understanding of different cultures and people, there can be all sorts of problems. 

Why do you think there’s a teacher shortage in Auckland?
I think [it’s because of] the cost of housing, the living costs, also some of the kids and the difficulties they have. You also have to look at the training facilities – did they foresee a shortage coming? People talk about the pay. Teachers certainly work very hard, but the pay is only alright – you’re certainly not going to become a millionaire overnight.

Are teachers valued enough in New Zealand?
I don’t know whether we as a country value them much. I say that because when I look at absences, I wonder if people really realise the effects that not attending school can have. Something we’ve noticed is the high number of absences of our five-year-olds. We’ve spoken to some of the parents and they’ve told us that they’re not worried about their child missing school because they’re just starting out. What they don’t realise is that you’re of course trying to build a foundation for learning. We want to try and educate our parents about the importance of being at school every day, even if things are going on outside of the classroom. I believe that every parent wants the best for their child. They perhaps just don’t know how to achieve that.

Luanne Poihipi

Teaches Years One and Two. Has taught for two years at Cosgrove Primary.

Why did you choose to teach here in Auckland?
I live locally and being in a local school was very important for me. I wanted to not have to deal with the motorway. I didn’t really have a preference in terms of what school I taught at, but a lot of the schools out these ways are decile one so that’s where I am. That’s what’s close.

Why do you think there’s a teacher shortage in Auckland?
I think it’s because people are moving out of Auckland, just because things are so expensive. I also wonder if people are leaving the profession, they might be teaching elsewhere – I know a few people teaching overseas, teaching English in Korea or whatever. You get more money and looked after a lot better [overseas] than you get looked after here.

What would make it easier for you as a teacher?
By definition, we’re here to teach – not to babysit and manage behaviour. I understand we have to manage some behaviour, but the level of behaviour in a decile one can be pretty horrendous in terms of some of the stuff you have to deal with.

Are teachers valued enough in New Zealand?
I don’t know. Part of me says no, because I don’t think people actually understand how hard it is and what teachers have to deal with and the workload. I thought it was cruisy as I thought, you get holidays and how hard is it really to teach kids? It seemed like a dream cruisy job. But when you get here, you spend your holidays planning and if you want to go away on holiday, it’s more expensive. If a teacher makes a wrong choice, the media treats it as though all teachers are like that.

Elise Thorpe

Teaches Year One and Two. Has worked for five years at Cosgrove Primary.

Why did you choose to teach in Auckland?
I live locally so I thought I’d give back to my community and the area that I live in. My family’s all here, so I guess there wasn’t much thought of going elsewhere. Fortunately I was able to buy a house before the madness began.

What has it been like being a teacher in Auckland?
 I’ve found it fine. In five to 10 years, I’ll probably move out of Auckland – to be able to save. I can earn the same amount of money teaching wherever I am, so that is definitely something I will look at in the future.

Do you think New Zealanders value teachers enough?
I think there’s a lot of pressure put on teachers to perform and get children to where they need to be. Sometimes I think the powers that be don’t realise that there’s a whole lot of other factors that actually affect our day-to-day job. At a school like this, we’re not just a teacher. We have to be a lot of other things before we can do the teaching. They see National Standards as where kids should be, yet for a lot of our kids, it’s not that they have not progressed, it’s that they started way down the ladder.

Motu Asomua

Teaches Years Three and Four. Has taught for 10 years at Cosgrove Primary.

Why did you choose to teach in Auckland?
I was born here. I went to school down the road from here. My family all lives here. In fact, two of my sons have been through this school.

What has your experience been like teaching here in Auckland?
Good. I like it. My children are always nearby. I’m a local so it’s really convenient for me to travel to work, too.

Do you think that teachers are valued enough by the majority of New Zealanders?
No. People don’t see the amount of work we do. They don’t see the effects of our workload on our families and friends. People think we’re just big babysitters, not realising what we have to do on a daily basis. I was actually figuring it out the other day: on average, any of the children in my class can spend more time with me every week than they would with their own parents. That gives you some insight into what our jobs really entail.

Tamara Thornton-Butler

Relief Teacher. Has worked for seven years at Cosgrove Primary.

Why did you choose to teach in Auckland?
I came here because of my husband’s work.

Why do you think there’s currently a shortage of teachers in Auckland?
Because young teachers don’t realise what the workload is like. They go to university and expect to be able to teach straight away. They haven’t had enough interaction with children, which is vital. They’re ill-prepared and it throws them off teaching. It’s also really difficult to re-enter the profession. As it stands, all teachers wanting to return must jump through numerous hoops as well as paying a lot of money!

Are teachers valued enough in New Zealand?
I’m not sure about teachers, but education is valued in some pockets of society.

What changes need to be made?
 We need more houses. Steps need to be made to reduce the cost of living in Auckland.

Julie Swale

Teaches Year One and Two. Has worked for six years at Cosgrove Primary.

Why did you choose to teach in Auckland?
My children moved and started university here, so I’ve been here ever since.

Have you always taught?
No, this is my second career. I was a nurse before I was a teacher. I’ve been teaching for about 14 or 15 years.

What has it been like being a teacher in Auckland?
It’s not an easy job. It’s always had a certain amount of stress. I’ve always taught in low-decile schools by choice, because that’s where I think I can do the most good. In terms of support, you can always do with more support, always. You end up making up your own strategies to work with the children and get over their behavioural issues. We’ve got to be part social worker, part mum, part dad, part everything in terms of family. We have to teach more than just their ABCs. It’s teaching health. It’s teaching how to get along with one another, how to be a friend. Life skills, lots and lots of life skills.

Do you think New Zealanders value teachers enough?
 It would be kind of nice if we got recognition for the specialist job that we do. I don’t think we’re recognised enough for the hours we have to do. There’s some crazy thought out there that we only work from 9am to 3pm. I will probably take an hour or two worth of work home each night, and I work one day of my weekends.

Gustaaf Klein 

Principal of Papakura’s Cosgrove Primary School for the past 12 years wants honest living allowances for Auckland teachers

Has it been difficult to find good quality teachers?

Impossible.

Why do you think that is?

To start off, it’s the expense of living in Auckland. It’s not an easy task teaching in a school like this. Even though we might find some really great teachers, some of the kids are not exactly easy to teach. We’re not talking about the whole lot of them, but we’re talking about a higher percentage than you would find at, say, Remuera Primary School. [This is] because of their socio-economic backgrounds, and the effects of poverty.

So this school almost requires specialised staff?

We have a number of students coming in below, if I can use the term, National Standards. Their oracy levels are that of a three or four year old. That means we have to accelerate their learning. So they have to learn more than a year’s [worth of knowledge] per year. That requires top-quality teachers.

What changes would you like to see in the education sector?

Lower class [size] ratios for lower socio-economic schools. There should be an index which says that if you are teaching in a low-decile school, you get X number of dollars more. Currently [teachers at] hard to staff schools are given $1500 more a year. That’s a pittance in Auckland. I would say that needs to rise to at least $5000-$10,000 as an honest Auckland living allowance. We’ve also got a number of kids living in poverty. We want them to learn, and education is also a way out of poverty. But we can only get them to learn when they are here. We have a number of kids that are away quite a lot. There’s also the social side of things at home. That’s none of our business, but it still needs to be dealt with by the government.

Do you think New Zealanders value teachers enough?

No. It’s because of politics, plain and simple. It’s a good vote winner to slam teachers, or at least it used to be. In my time as a principal, I have always found it easier to work under a Labour government than under a National government. There is a difference working under those two. I think Labour values teachers more. I’m not saying that there aren’t any holes in what they do too. But when you have Nikki Kaye saying these mobile apps are going to reduce teacher workload, we as teachers laugh. Because it’s not. Because they still have to do everything to get that information. I had a teacher that was here nine years ago after returning from overseas. She walked out after six weeks. She said, “I can’t do this, the workload is horrendous.” We’re here to teach, not here to do paperwork.

Why do teachers seem to prefer to work at higher decile schools?

It’s easier. Any teacher that teaches well there, will teach well anywhere, because you don’t have the behavioural issues to the same degree. Decile ratings are going – they were a determinant of how much money a school had, and unfortunately people began to use them to judge what a school’s like. We’ve got some of the best teachers you could get, but that’s not seen because of the fact that we’re a decile one school. My concern with whatever is going to replace it is, are we going to get that equity still? What sort of funding are we going to get? How is it going to be determined? It’s attracting good quality teachers into south Auckland, that’s the hard bit. Of course, some teachers don’t want to live in south Auckland because it’s got a bit of a name, [but] it’s a false name. We as principals have been aware that there was a shortage coming for a while, and nothing has been done.

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