In a perfect world, teacher Thomas Henderson would do his job for nothing.
He is driven by passion to make a difference in the lives of his students, not by money.
But money makes the world go around and struggling to support his young family is the reason why he is leaving the job he loves and his island home of Rarotonga.
Henderson has handed in his resignation at Tereora College where he has been a Physical Education teacher for nearly four years.
There’s no sugar coating the reason why he decided to leave, he said.
“The decision to leave is purely financial,” he said.
“My salary is not enough for us and with another child due in a month I’ve got to think about my wife and kids.”
Danielle Cochrane, secretary for Ministry of Education, yesterday acknowledged that recognition through pay parity, especially for local teachers, is a continuing concern for those leaving the profession or the country in search of new jobs.
Cochrane assured teachers that discussions are being held to look into their concerns.
But this assurance is too little, too late for Henderson.
Henderson’s mother is a Cook Islander and his father a New Zealander - he was three when they moved to Rarotonga and he’s proud of his roots.
At 20, he moved to New Zealand to get his qualifications at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.
There was no doubt in his mind, that once he completed his degree, he would return home to utilise his skills.
When he got offered the job at Tereora, he said he jumped at the chance. To be able to teach at the school he went to and credits for moulding him into who he is today, was an exciting opportunity.
Because he was classed as a local teacher, his pay package was significantly lower than expat teachers – most of whom had the same qualifications and experience as him.
He and his partner Jaimie didn’t have children at that stage so they made it work and lived the “simple island life” Henderson knew and loved.
But with the arrival of their son came financial pressure, once essential living costs were paid, there was no money left.
On an annual salary of $30,000, they simply couldn’t survive.
“You can’t plan a future when you have no money,” he said.
Henderson has chosen to speak out on the pay parity issue because he believes in local teachers and feels strongly about the pay gap between locals and expats.
“No one wants to say it, but it’s discrimination,” he said.
He said a lot of people assume the hours are from 8.30am until 4pm, but any teacher knows this is far from the truth.
“You take your work home with you, it doesn’t stop, you have marking, and lesson plans,” he said.
Henderson’s wife has returned to New Zealand and he has been offered a job at a smaller school there on a salary which is twice as much as what he is earning in Rarotonga.
It saddens him to leave Tereora College and the students he has taught and watched grow, but he has to put his family first.
“Like any parent, I’ve made this decision for my family,” Henderson said.
“But I’m speaking up because our local teachers need to be acknowledged for the amazing work they do and salaries need to reflect that.”
Ministry of Education secretary Danielle Cochrane acknowledged the recent resignations, which she said came at the beginning of the academic year “once our previous recruitment round was already well underway”.
Cochrane said they have complete confidence in the current recruitment process to have these positions filled.
However, where their continued frustrations remain is with the disparities between those employed from overseas, who receive additional allowances as part of their recruitment package for living away from home, she said.
“On average the differences in salary and allowances are closer to two thirds rather than the 50 percent reported in the media recently.”
Salary adjustments are scheduled across government agencies and the Minister of Education will be adjusted in 2021/2022 - this is to manage the impact on the national budget, she said.
“We acknowledge that the salary adjustment will not address the issue of parity and we continue to engage with key agencies to support us through this conversation, as they have done so throughout all.”
The Ministry of Education, together with the Office of the Public Service Commissioner and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management, have been working on the concerns of teachers and principals throughout 2019 and take this opportunity to reassure valued teachers, staff and school communities that the discussions to follow will be for all teachers collectively.
“We would have liked to have been able to move faster but these important steps and valuable conversations can’t be done too quickly,” she said.
“Together with the principal of Tereora College and all other principals, we have a collaborative way forward. We cannot have these conversations without our teachers and principals, and we are encouraged by their valued input.
“Our teachers are doing amazing things in the classroom, their dedication to the profession means that our learners are well supported. Respectfully, we ask that the Ministry and schools are given the space and opportunity to support this ongoing process.”