A career in education - University of Auckland teaching graduates tell their stories

05 September 2017

Teaching is one of the world’s oldest and most trusted professions and one that has transformed significantly for teachers in recent years.

As the population changes in New Zealand and technology embeds itself into the fabric of society, so to do the demands on teaching and learning. The public debate around teachers’ salaries is accelerating, so we ask some of our primary specialisation graduates who are at different points in their career, what it is like to be a University of Auckland teaching graduate in this environment and is salary the only reward?


Justin Hamilton
Justin Hamilton

Justin Hamilton: Getting started

Graduated: 2016

Position: Provisionally Certificated Intermediate School Teacher.

Salary: $45,000+

Justin is currently in her 2nd year as a provisionally certificated teacher working at Papatoetoe Intermediate School, where she had worked as a student teacher on her practicum while she was studying.

She says the experience of being a teacher is something that’s difficult to describe, and it wasn’t until she was in a classroom at the head of a room full of students that she really understood what it was like.

“I think from the onset you can’t really put your finger on how it will feel. Nothing quite prepares you for it when you arrive in your first classroom. It’s about looking at the kids and thinking ‘their future is in my hands, I’m educating the next generation of New Zealanders, my job matters and makes a difference’. I like staring at their faces as they light up when they grasp a new concept, when something clicks and they get it.”

Justin has been talking to experienced teachers and thinking about her future career, and says that while she eventually wanted to teach at a high school level, she is really enjoying her current role at an intermediate school.

“Because it’s a low decile school there’s also an appreciation from the kids when you take time from your day to talk with them, when you give them a pen. I get to class and there’s 30-odd kids sitting there ready to learn.”

Justin is also receiving a management unit (which is usually around $4000) on top of her new-teacher salary for taking on additional duties. She is currently living with her parents to save money, as she plans to return to university in 2018 to undertake post-graduate study.


Yvonne Ualesi
Yvonne Ualesi

Yvonne Ualesi: Stepping into research

Graduated: 2014  with honours.

Current role: PhD student/part-time primary school relief teacher.

Salary: Varies

After graduating from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Education (Honours) First Class in 2014, Yvonne taught full-time for two years at Holy Cross Catholic Primary School, Papatoetoe.

Now three years out from her graduation, she has returned to the University of Auckland to begin her PhD on exploring Culturally Responsive Youth Mentoring in Aotearoa. While pursuing her PhD she also continues to relief teach part-time.

She says the flexibility of teaching as a career is one of the reasons she chose it in the first place, as she can find roles that suit her life and allow her to look after her four young children who all attend different schools. Also, she says that having taught in the field has given her a great grounding in real-world teaching that now informs her research.

“Income that I might earn from relief teaching alongside my University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarship helps me to work on my PhD and look after our four kids,” she says.

“My lived experience growing up and navigating my own learning journey in South Auckland schools complements my teaching experience in the classroom. These rich practical experiences flow through into my research, and my research informs my teaching, it all dovetails into itself.”


Shane Nicholas
Shane Nicholas

Shane Nicholas: Chasing a passion

Graduated: 2013

Current role: Primary School Teacher

Salary: $50,000 (including a management credit)

Teaching was a career change for Shane after he had spent five years helping to establish an aquaculture company. Teaching, he says, represented a new way to pursue his love of environmental projects and learning.

Right from the start Shane wanted to work with a rural school that had an environmental focus. The broad skill base Shane achieved in his previous career, really set him up for success as a teacher.

“Life experiences and time working in a wide range of jobs helps me to think outside the square and provide meaningful lessons to my students,” he says.

He now works with Hurupaki School in Whangarei, where he brings his love of environmental projects into the classroom, through projects that include creating an edible garden, tending a school wetland, and running a native plant nursery. By running these projects he also receives a management unit, raising his salary.

“You have to immerse yourself in whatever you do, it’s about finding the right school. Now we’re all learning together on these projects like establishing edible gardens and an orchard. Teaching gives you the ability to experiment with those different ideas, like this year has involved really getting heavily involved in Matariki and tikanga Māori.”

“It wouldn’t have meant much to my old self, but now it has me constantly thinking and challenging myself as to how I can add value and give my students the best deal I can. I love this because it has me thinking from the moment I wake up about how I can get my students learning, how I can get the community engaged in their learning.”


Lauryn Buchanan
Lauryn Buchanan

Lauryn Buchanan: Moving forward as a teacher

Graduated: 2012

Current role: Primary School Teacher

Salary: $68,000

Lauryn recently completed her fifth year working as a teacher and is currently working at Meadowbank School (where she started her career as a beginning teacher). She says she loves what she does, although she advises young people considering becoming a teacher not to underestimate the challenges involved.

“I absolutely adore my class and pour my heart and soul into it but it’s a bigger job than what you see, even as a student teacher. As a student teacher you have more time and you don’t feel entirely accountable but as a full-time teacher everything is on your shoulders.” 

Her salary progression has advanced quickly since she started, she says, and this year she has taken on the role of being a mentor to a beginning teacher, which provides an additional management unit on top of her salary.

“The increments [teachers get] each year means the salary goes up each year, but in the end it was never my intent to pick a career based on chasing a pay cheque. To me it’s a job that matters, it’s about the kids and having a huge impact on their lives. Even the kids that I taught two to three years ago come by and talk about what we did.”



Anthony Wright
Anthony Wright

Anthony Wright: Finding your niche

Graduated: 2007

Current role: Primary School Teacher

Salary: $74,000

Anthony is currently in his tenth year as a teacher after graduating from the University of Auckland in 2007. He had originally worked in IT, but had decided on a career change when he realised that his favourite part of the job was training other people.

He is currently teaching with Auckland’s Point View School, the same school that he started with after graduating. He has taught at several levels, but is currently teaching a class of year-four students and he is the math and e-learning lead teacher for the middle school.

“It’s a pretty full-on job, I don’t think I could have imagined how busy I’d be when I was a student. But I really enjoy working with the children, that ‘ah-ha moment’ when you help them to grasp something they’d struggled with is really special.”

Anthony’s work with e-learning and mathematics entitles him to a management unit, bumping his salary by $4,000 a year, up to $74,000.



Ruth Price
Ruth Price

Ruth Price: Becoming a mentor to others

Graduated: 1990

Current role: Professional Learning and Development Facilitator

Salary: Facilitators earn $85,000-$90,000

Ruth began teaching at Onehunga High School in 1990 after graduating from a diploma in teaching from the University of Auckland after completing a BA in Art History.

She had chosen to go into teaching after working for four years with a computing company, and even after finishing her diploma in teaching she went on to have a varied career that involved teaching, raising a family and working in project management with her husband’s HR company.

She says her teaching qualification has proven valuable because it gave her “the mental tools to get a better view of things”.

“A teaching qualification has meant I can turn my hand to a lot of things and see the bigger picture rather than getting caught up in the minutiae.”

She is now a professional learning facilitator with Team Solutions, working with teachers and leaders across New Zealand to enhance their practice and help them to improve student outcomes.

“It’s great, I have ongoing opportunities to develop my knowledge and get to share in teachers’ passion for improving outcomes for our tamariki. I have had opportunities to travel New Zealand to work in a range of different types of schools to see what’s working and what isn’t, then share that knowledge with colleagues.”