Elementary teachers expect parity.

Toronto Star  Sept 1, 2008  Louise Brown  EDUCATION REPORTER

Why do Ontario high schools get more money than elementary schools? Are our children's first schoolteachers second-class citizens?

The gap between funding for high schools versus grade schools – which the elementary teachers' union pegs at about $711 per student – could spark the first labour strife in Ontario schools since the McGuinty government took office in 2003.

The mighty Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has hinted it could start taking action as early as the new year unless Queen's Park promises nearly $1 billion worth of catch-ups in everything from prep time to class size.

Suddenly, a sort of schoolyard rivalry is brewing between teachers.

The unions are still playing nice; they understand high schools originally got more money because their teachers needed more credentials for the subjects they would teach, and because high schools were bigger and had big-ticket labs and football fields and machine shops.

But the McGuinty government has cut that gap almost 50 per cent by giving more money for smaller primary classes and pumping money into grade schools for literacy, although ministry sources admit elementary funding still falls short by almost $500 per student.

Now, as this gap hits the political spotlight, many teachers privately admit to a textbook case of classroom envy – on both sides.

Elementary teachers point out high school teachers get a whole 75-minute period off each day, compared to their 40 minutes of "prep time." The elementary union even posts a provocative stopwatch on its website clocking its members as having worked 115 hours and 19 minutes more last year than their high school colleagues.

Oh yeah? High school teachers point out they have to teach up to 200 kids per year, not the same cozy class of 25 all day from September to June. And Queen's Park has capped classes from kindergarten to Grade 3 at 20 students.

Big deal, counter elementary teachers – you get to teach the same two subjects over and over; we often teach everything from math to music. And the average for high school classes is only 22.

Besides, you high school teachers get all the exam weeks off to mark.

Yes, say high school teachers, but we need that time to mark. Our students' assignments are longer and more complex and the stakes are huge, with a single percentage point determining whether a student has to repeat the course or gets into a particular college program – a pressure you don't face in elementary school, where kids rarely fail.

Besides, you try teaching teenagers. Have you ever had a full-grown student push you?

Don't talk to us about pressure, say elementary teachers; we deal with parents more often and that can be a mixed blessing.

Besides, try teaching kindergarten. Ever had a student pee on you?

This sort of whispered mudslinging is made worse by a new poll showing elementary teachers feel they have poorer working conditions, less communication with their principals, worse relations with parents, fuzzier responsibilities and a weaker sense of community than high school teachers.

"Teachers in secondary have no idea how good they have it. They have a way more relaxed day – elementary teachers are running around like hamsters on a wheel," begins a provocative new ETFO survey of more than 3,000 members that reveals simmering resentment about their high school cousins. Written by education professor Ken Leithwood of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, the 20-page report concludes: "Working conditions are more favourable for secondary teachers."

"One of the big differences may be that it's harder for elementary teachers to feel like professionals when they can't even take a bathroom break because the children they supervise are so young," muses Dean Alice Pitt of York University's faculty of education.

"There's much less privacy, much less independence and … that can translate into huge resentment."

Still today, if you want to teach high school, you'll need a four-year degree to get into York's faculty of education because you have to be a specialist in at least two subjects, while elementary applicants need only a three-year degree. This is just because high school teachers need a deeper knowledge of their subject of specialty, notes Pitt.

"An elementary teacher in some ways has to be a Renaissance person, able to teach a range of subjects in the integrated way, the way the young learner thinks – not fragmented into distinct subjects," said Pitt.

People need to understand that although elementary students are small, the job of teaching them is not, says veteran teacher Johanne Blake, who has taught primary children in Pickering for 43 years.

"You're giving the basics to little ones who have different stages of readiness – some don't know the alphabet, while others are already reading," said Blake. "Sure, high school kids can be defiant – but do they bite the teacher if they don't like what they're told?" she asked.

The Ontario government is holding labour discussions with provincial unions and has offered a 3 per cent raise over each of four years for any union that agrees to a basic deal by Nov. 30, which Catholic and French-language teachers' unions already have done. But ETFO has so far rejected the offer, which also would reduce class size for Grades 4 through 8 by half a student by 2012 (the union wants at least three fewer students per class, like in high school) and would provide eight more minutes per day in preparation time by 2012 (the union is looking for 35 more minutes.)

Ken Coran, president of the Ontario high school teachers' union, is married to an elementary teacher and has concluded that while the two jobs are "different beasts," there are some similarities.

"Like in elementary, secondary teachers also often teach children with multiple levels of ability, and sometimes even multiple grades in one classroom," he said.

"I don't want to say we have a harder job in elementary," said Blake, "but really, the elementary years are the most important.

"If we start them off badly, they won't succeed in high school."

Toronto Star    Comments on this story
Again, To Sofa King
Teachers did not initiate a 10 month school year, not now and not ever; that was government doing. The number of instructional days in that period is legislated by government. You are barking up the wrong tree (quite enviously, I might add). Nor do they get 'paid for the whole year,' this is another common falsehood – their pay for 10 months on the job is spread out over 12 months; they only get paid for 10; the 10 they work. You won't get with your arguments by spreading falsehoods, such as your baseless, groundless 'more money for less work' claim. Funny, those that always profess to 'know the most' about teaching and teachers jobs -aren't teachers and probably haven't even set foot in a school for 20 years. Elementary teachers are looking for pay parity with secondary teachers; very reasonable, I think.

Posted by Wazz at 1:58 PM Wednesday, September 03 2008

It is so tiresome

Please bring back Mike Harris and get rid of McQuinty so we can have some sanity.I am tired of seeing our children being used as hostages.

Posted by krait at 10:49 AM Wednesday, September 03 2008