How did it go in Carol’s story? …”The time has come,” the Walrus said “to speak of many things- of shoes and ships [or is that ships and shoes?] and ceiling wax, of cabbages and kings!”
Well that’s not the sort of thing the time has come for in this instance, in fact it’s practically quite the reverse.
I have been a member of the New Zealand primary teachers’ ‘Union’, the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) for well over45 years and in that time I have always been actively involved. I say actively because for many (too many, it could be argued) teachers ‘union stuff’ doesn’t float their boat. That’s sort of, kind of OK inasmuch as the work has always got done, and when push actually came to shove the ‘rank and file’ (or the passive Institute members) did participate in action.
I have always been a member of the branch executive wherever I have been during my teaching career, and this has been quite extensive in area given that in my day movement between positions wasn’t unusual given it wasn’t too likely that a career path could be followed through a single school and so if you had any ambitions to move up in school positions of responsibility leading ultimately to principalship, and then bigger and bigger schools you needed to be prepared to move reasonably regularly. Of course when I first started in the business there was also a requirement to complete ‘country service’ before you could pass a ‘salary bar’. This I did despite the fact that I had dodged the salary bar by teaching in a number of positions that served the same purpose- intermediates negated the country service requirement as did ‘special’ positions, and I taught in intermediates for the first seven years then a two-class special unit for two years before another seven years in intermediates. During these early years I was also able to rise in the seniority stakes and had I wanted to I could probably stayed in the intermediate sector for a few more years but my own school beckoned so I went ‘country’ after all.
I had moved through four different union branches in this time and was on the executive in each.
There were four more branches in the moves from one country school principal position to the next getting a larger school each time, before I became a ‘walking principal’, but I continued to be active (I have always hesitated to use ‘activist’ to describe myself) in branch affairs. Of course there were the national Annual Meetings which I was a branch representative at many times at various times during my teaching career and I also served on District Councils at various times.
When I retired I figured that that would be the end of my involvement but I found myself in a part of the country that was struggling for active members so I continued to participate on the branch executive and then found I had also assumed the role of branch rep on the District (soon to become ‘Area’) Council.
The experience of this branch is not unique and it was/is a small group of active members or ‘activists’ who keep the interests of the many firmly in their view and continue to spend many of their leisure hours attending meetings, participating in teleconferences, running publicity meetings and generally making the feelings of their membership known to those who need to know.
I am not trying to blow my own trumpet here, in fact I feel very humble to have worked with the really passionate people I have over the years, so I close my time in The Union (it was named ‘Institute’ I suspect because unionism was counter to the ‘professional’ tag that teaching always claimed) by giving praise to the few who represent the interests of the many. We have one of the best education systems in the world and despite the best efforts of conservative governments over the years to change the standing of teachers and the rich environment for learning they provide for children, NZEI Te Riu Roa continues to fulfill both a gatekeeper role to preserve and further promote standards of education and the advocacy role to at least maintain but hopefully to enhance the working conditions and rewards for all teachers.
I attend my last Area Council meeting this weekend and it will quite an emotional parting, I suspect because the Institute has been such a large part of my teaching life. However, The Time Has Come.