I protested Hekia Parata as she addressed the largest annual education conference in New Zealand, ULearn16 held at the Rotorua Energy Event Centre.
In the previous week the two education unions, NZEI and PPTA held their annual conferences. They have always been held in the first week of the third term break (except 2011 due to the Rugby World Cup), and prior to Minister Parata, every single Minister of Education has attended NZEI's annual conference. The Minister has always been invited.
Minister Parata attended her first NZEI conference in 2012. This event came up in my Facebook memories the other week. She thanked us for our work as teachers and then smacked us - she told us we were doing a poor job at teaching reading and writing and science. What she had failed to notice was that we no longer had science advisors to support teachers after her predecessor, Anne Tolley, killed off the Advisory Service at the end of 2009.
In 2013, Minister Parata was invited again. She declined as she was going to an education conference in Istanbul. That conference started on the Thursday, the day after our conference finished that week. She had plenty of opportunity to visit our conference before leaving on a jet plane (to quote an old song). Instead she sent us a video address. I'll let you imagine how well that was received.
In 2014, no Minister.
In 2015, we were told the Minister had declined the invitation. At the President's Dinner on the first night, a number of former NZEI presidents were in attendance. One noted the absence of the Minister from the programme in his speech and said this was the first Minister to treat NZEI with in such a manner. The attending invited senior Ministry of Education official was seen texting someone in the following minutes.
The next day, in the early afternoon, NZEI received a phone call from the Minister's office advising that the Minister would be attending the conference the following afternoon at 4:00pm.
After her introductions and greeting it was then that I knew she had seen my tweets about her coming. Dianne Kahn had made similar tweets. She also pointed referred to these tweets a few days later when she spoke at the PPTA conference. Below is the Storify of tweets of that day:
In the days after the conference, I called Minister Parata out on her Facebook page for lying to the NZEI Conference when she said she was never invited. For my efforts, I was blocked from commenting on her page. This is a common tactic that Minister Parata uses with people who challenge her on her Facebook page. We teachers and the parents of special education students call it our badge of honour. Below are screen shots from the interactions before I was blocked from commenting on Hekia Parata's Facebook page:
Please note that I have tried to be very cordial in my posts. I was not abusive in anyway, I was merely pointing out the facts of the events.
And this, circled in red, was when I figured out I had been blocked from commenting on the Minister's Facebook page.
The Minister conveniently scheduled a trip to look at the education systems of Massachusetts and Israel during the 2016 NZEI and PPTA annual conferences. Apparently the fact that both these education systems rank well below New Zealand in the OECD rankings is of no consequence to Minister Parata as long as it is a valid excuse to avoid speaking to teachers, principals and support staff who are affected by her actions and policies.
I have attended every ULearn since 2011, and since 2012, despite not being on the programme, either Minister Parata or Associate Minister of Education Nikki Kaye, have turned up and taken some of the time of an invited Keynote speaker. I was particularly annoyed in 2013 that Nikki Kaye was allowed to speak before Dr Anne Salmond at Dr Salmond's scheduled time, and therefore I missed a large chunk of Dr Salmond's address due to having to go to a very important appointment.
So when I found out that Hekia Parata was yet again disrupting the programme, I made a decision to make a protest, make a stand for teachers, students and our quality public education system, where she could see me.
When Hekia was introduced and walked up onto the stage, I picked up my chair, placed it so I would have my back to her and I sat down and held up my #betterfunding disc from our Paid Union Meetings last month. I did not stand to waiata, against every fibre of my body because I 'get' tikanga and respect it. I did not clap.
I am usually very anal about protocol, tikanga and respect. My body that day was very unhappy not to stand and waiata - but I was not the only person in the room to not waiata in protest on Thursday. I found out from people who came up to speak with me later.
My protest was silent because I recognised the right of Hekia to speak as the Minister of Education and the right of my fellow attendees to hear the Minister speak, as well as the fact that we have paid a thousand dollars to attend this conference as professionals and we need to show decorum.
However, this does not negate my rights as a citizen in a democracy to send a pointed message to the Minister about her actions and policies in this role. I decided that picking up my chair and placing my back to her and holding up my #betterfunding disc was the most effective polite form of protest I could do in this setting with a Minister with plastic ears and "one eye" (in her words - referring to wearing only one contact lens during her speech).
I think we have to take every opportunity to show Hekia what we think since she does not listen. Hekia is quite fond of calling teachers hysterical (during the speech on the day) and premature (in reaction to the #betterfunding bus launch on Monday 10th October), but I think NZEI and PPTA are actually being proactive. There is no point protesting after the decision is made and announced - we have to be heard while the process is still (supposedly) happening and building support from the other most affected group: whanau and their children we teach.
But everyone noticed me.
The odd person on Facebook did not like my protest and were bold enough to say so - respect to them. One person accused me of politicising ULearn with my protest. I contend that Core Education politicised their own event by having the Minister speak. Others have called me disrespectful and that I was disruptive. I'll own that to the regard it did cause a stir - but I conducted my protest in a manner to allow proceedings to continue.
Maybe one person taking a silent but visual action was more effective than many people making a big noisy fuss, which would really have reflected poorly on the context of the event. I would certainly risk it again to drive home the point.
Below is the Storify from the morning Hekia Parata disrupted my professional learning: