Better pay and support needed to attract primary teachers

If we want to attract graduates with stronger skills in maths and sciences, we also need to pay them as well as or better than the competing STEM careers that will attract them, NZEI says.

NZEI Te Riu Roa, the union for primary teachers, says that the vast majority of New Zealand teachers, whether they have been teaching for two years or 20, are competent, confident and committed to children and their learning – which is why they’re in demand globally.

What is needed is better pay, more support for children with learning challenges and a sharper focus on investing in initial teacher education and ongoing professional learning.

The union says this in response to the NZ Institute of Economic Research report calling for investment and specialist support for new primary teachers.

Mark Potter, president of NZEI Te Riu Roa, says that data shows a need for stronger support to help recent teacher graduates’ understanding in areas such as maths and science.

“We’ve known for at least a decade that some primary teachers lack confidence in teaching maths. The current literacy and numeracy results from schools are based on students who entered primary school long before these teachers began their teaching careers. Research suggests a complex range of factors outside the classroom have had a greater impact on New Zealand’s educational outcomes over the past 20 years than any changes in teacher knowledge.

He says that investment in quality programmes like Developing Mathmatical Inquiry Communities (DMIC) that scaffold current teachers as they teach real-life maths application in culturally responsive ways would hugely help both kaiako and ākonga in the classroom, upskilling both at the same time.

Potter says it’s important that the important skills and dispositions for primary teachers, who by definition are generalist teachers, are not lost in the discussion about specialist knowledge.

“Strong relationship and communication skills, cultural knowledge and expertise, a deep understanding of child development and pedagogy are critical for primary teachers. This is what gives them the ability to respond to the demands of 29 different ākonga in a classroom.

“So while we will always want to attract the brightest graduates into teaching, they also need to be people who understand how to work with children. Primary teacher training, and teaching itself, requires multiple skills that go far beyond just content knowledge.”

Potter also says that renumeration is a factor in all of this.

“If we want to attract graduates with stronger skills in maths and sciences, we also need to pay them as well as or better than the competing STEM careers that will attract them.”

ENDS.