Emily Jones can’t wait to teach and live in New Zealand. The outdoorsy culture has immense appeal for Emily and her family, who live in a small town in Nebraska. But that’s not the only thing that appeals about New Zealand.

“The pay for teachers is quite amazing there as well,” she says.

Emily’s words will no doubt come as a shock to Kiwi teachers who are in the throes of campaigning for better pay and conditions. Primary teachers and principals have just rejected a second Ministry of Education pay offer, indicating that more strikes could be on the cards.

But in the United States, things are typically much worse for some teachers.

Underpaid and undervalued

After completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Masters in Arts Education Emily started her job hunt.

“The first position I was offered was for a Montessori school over an hour away from our home.  That commute would have been absolutely ridiculous, but I thought if the pay was right, as we were struggling financially, I would take it.

“They offered me my own classroom, plus required duties such as morning and after school care.  My day would have started at 6:30am and ended around 7.  I loved the school and really wanted to teach there.

“Then they told me their pay: [USD]$24,000. Non-negotiable. My husband and I were absolutely shocked.  A person with no high school diploma could easily make more money than that at a fast-food restaurant or grocery store. I am paying over $1,000 a month in student loans alone and it’s really quite heart-breaking to know it may have been for nothing.”

Emily interviewed in several other districts. She was offered another position for $30,000 per year, but turned it down as it was over an hour away from home.

Her circumstances echo a recent Time magazine feature about the dire pay and conditions for teachers in many – but not all – states of the US. A Time Money report revealed that teachers typically spend between $500 and $1000 a year of their own money on school supplies.

It is also common for educators in the US to work a second or third job to help make ends meet. One in ten AirBNB hosts in America are teachers, according to the report.

“Every single full-time teacher I know has at least one other job.  They work in restaurants at night, retail stores, private tutoring, etc.  Teacher pay in America is just really awful.  Teachers are completely underappreciated,” says Emily.

After a year and a half of relief teaching and interviewing, the financial strain became too much and Emily sought work elsewhere. She is currently working at Habitat for Humanity which she loves but the student loan repayments continue to take their toll.

Emily is excited about her family’s upcoming move to New Zealand. They have sold their house and are working with a migration agent to make it possible.

“We looked into many other countries to move to, but New Zealand really just fits us.  Or so we think!”

How easy is it for an overseas or returning teacher to gain work in New Zealand?

In theory, Emily’s chances of finding work in New Zealand are good. The Ministry of Education is looking to recruit at least 400 teachers from overseas to fill desperate shortages in schools at the beginning of next year.

The feeling among Education Central readers was that while looking abroad might be a necessary step, more needed to be done to help overseas teachers get registered.

“They’re going to have to fix the registration system for overseas teachers, with the number that have come here in the past few years but gone home again because it’s just too hard to get registered. Education Council is going to have to make it very easy for them to get into the classroom once they get here,” comments one reader on Education Central’s Facebook page Teaching and Learning NZ.

There is also strong feeling that more needs to be done to encourage returning Kiwi teachers back into the classroom. Both returning Kiwi teachers and overseas teachers trained in hard-to-staff subjects such as science, technology, maths and Te Reo Māori are particularly sought after.

The Teaching Council’s (formerly Education Council) Teacher Education Refresh (TER) programme was launched for this purpose – to help teachers get back into the classroom. A case study describes how Sarah, a UK-trained teacher who hadn’t taught for 18 years, found the programme “a lot of work” but beneficial in terms of finding work.

“It’s definitely something you need to plan for –in terms of costs and time commitments,” says Sarah. “Did the TER help? Yes. Was it a lot of work? Yes. But am I learning a lot? Definitely.”

The Government has extended its commitment to covering the cost of teachers completing TER programmes beyond June 2018 and will subsidise a limited number of TER courses for the next four years.

However, the Education Central chat revealed some disparaging views about the TER programme, with one correspondent describing it as “ridiculous”.

“One of the topics was on the HISTORY of teaching in NZ – I think in the middle of a worsening shortage they need to focus more on the present and future!”

Another pondered what problem the course was meant to be fixing.

“I am active in education and run professional development for teachers. I’m told I have to do the entire course as I might not be up to date on Waitangi and assessment.”

Former Education Minister Nikki Kaye introduced a fund to pay relocation grants of up to $5000 for immigrants and $7000 for returning Kiwis to up to 100 teachers relocating between December 2017 and June 2018, and a further 100 in the year to June 2019, which has now been bumped up to 160 teachers.

Yet, despite the teacher shortages, and despite the Ministry’s recruitment campaigns and the TER programme, anecdotal evidence suggests many overseas teachers or returning teachers are still finding it difficult to get registered and employed.

Teachers on Education Central’s facebook page weighed in on the topic, agreeing that there needed to be more emphasis on making it easier – in terms of both the process and the cost – for overseas and returning teachers to get back into the classroom.

“I’m a secondary science teacher with years of experience but after taking time out to have kids, have to do an 8 month course to re-register with no student loan available for costs, just to relief teach more than 10 days a year. And I can get part-time jobs [and] better paid jobs in other fields like HR, but I enjoy teaching,” shared one correspondent.

Another is frustrated that his Australian degree doesn’t translate well in New Zealand.

“It’s super annoying here [in New Zealand] how teacher preference and pay comes down to how technical your degree was. Because I did a 4 year double degree in Australia I’m not seen as specialised, despite doing more educational units than most people. I had Novopay claim my 4 years teaching experience in Australia as 2 years and I’m barely off minimum teacher wage ($52K).”

Despite the apparent shortage, he has not had any luck with his job hunt here.

“I’ve applied for 15 jobs, all of them I didn’t even get shortlisted. I’ve pretty much given up, and accepted that it’s either relief teaching for the rest of my career here, or find something more fulfilling.

“It’s infuriating, because I love teaching – but this constant rejection is making me get over it as a career in New Zealand. I love New Zealand, but it’s definitely hard to make a living here.”

Understanding the Kiwi context

Why are teachers like these struggling to find work when we have a shortage on our hands? While it is important not to attribute too much weight to anecdotal evidence, such stories are still relevant. Is the process too arduous and costly? Is the chasm too wide between the qualifications and experience of overseas teachers and what is required in Kiwi classrooms?

President of the Secondary Principals’ Association, Michael Williams says it might come down to whether teachers are suited to teaching in New Zealand.

“For some overseas trained teachers on paper they have the quals but their ability to ‘fit’ into the New Zealand educational style is difficult.

“Overseas teachers who work through the recruitment companies get a lot of support and guidance and we hope that if they don’t have the skills, experience and right pedagogical approach the agents will tell them and not take them on.”

Managing director of teacher recruitment company Education Personnel Stu Birch agrees it is important to get the “fit” right for teachers, having experience with recruiting overseas teachers for Kiwi schools since 1997.

“We work really hard to put the best teachers available in front of principals. Two of our team are in the UK right now recruiting and interviewing teachers who we know can win a teaching role here and confidently make the move to New Zealand.”

New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF) president Whetu Cormick says overseas teachers do need to come to New Zealand with a willingness to understand the cultural context, schooling context and the curriculum of New Zealand schools.

“But even then, they may not be prepared for the realities of teaching our beautiful children in South Auckland,” says Whetu.

He says it’s up to schools to manage the transition and orientation process into this context; there’s no funding or programmes available to help with this.

Valuing our current workforce will solve the problem

Both Whetu and Michael insist that in spite of anecdotal stories of teachers struggling to get work, the teacher shortage is a very real concern for New Zealand schools, with very few applicants for positions and in some cases none.

The overwhelming sentiment among Education Central readers is that the best course of action for the Government is to look after New Zealand’s existing teacher workforce. Improving pay and conditions will lift the status of the teaching profession, making it a more attractive career option for future teachers. Then it won’t be necessary to look overseas to fill our vacancies.

As this reader states, “Maybe it would be more sustainable to make the job more attractive for the Kiwi-teacher with the aim that well-trained teacher who left the profession come back and young Kiwis are more attracted to become a teacher in the future.”

Read Teaching Council’s response article here. Do you have a view on this topic? Please get in touch in our comments section, or email editor@educationreview.co.nz.

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