Warning: the following is the humble opinion of one Ontario teacher who may not know a whole lot about politics but does know a whole lot about what’s fair and what’s happening to us teachers doesn’t seem fair.
This week, Dalton McGuinty, Tim Hudak, Laurel Broten, and a whole bunch of other Ontario politicians will be cutting their summer vacations short and going back to work early to discuss the “Putting Students First” act.
Excuse me for being totally ignorant, but from what I understand, this act is very, very unfair. Not just for teachers, but for everyone. In fact, I would go beyond not fair to scary. Here’s why:
1. Preventing the strike. The government keeps talking about “saving the school year” and preventing us from going on strike. Hmmmm… really? I had no idea that we were planning on striking. Personally speaking, I’ve spent the last few weeks making new bulletin boards for my classroom, creating new lesson plans, writing welcome letters to parents, and a whole bunch other stuff to get ready for September 4th. I have not been making strike signs or collecting firewood for garbage can bonfires.
2. That 5.5% salary hike. No. Not all teachers are eligible for a 5.5% salary hike as of Sept.1st. Not even half of teachers are eligible for a 5.5% salary hike. In fact, only about 1/3 of teachers are getting a salary increase at all, and of those, they are not all 5.5%.
Oh and by the way, you know that “grid” they keep talking about that us teachers move up? In order to “move up” that grid, I had to take 6 courses, each one costing more that $800. And by taking those 6 courses, I became a specialist in special education and reading. Thus, benefitting not just me, but your child as well.
3. Drastic reduction of sick days and “banked” sick days to be paid out upon retirement. Once again, this does not apply to all teachers. As far as I understand, this is a program that is already being phased out and only applies to teachers who have been working for 8 years or more.
And did I forget to mention that out of those 10 days, I personally will have to use 5 of them for Jewish holy days as my religious holidays are not statutory holidays, like Easter and Christmas. Hmmm….that may explain why it was easier for the Catholic boards to come to an agreement.
Oh, and by the way, did I mention that the reason most teachers have so many sick days banked is that we hate taking any sick days? You see, when we’re sick, we don’t just “call in sick” like you might. When we’re feeling our worst, we have to drag ourselves out of bed and call it in before 6:30am in order to secure a supply teacher, we have to create detailed plans to leave for that teacher so that its not a day wasted, and upon our return, we have to “undo” the time lost do our absence. I know I am not the only teacher who would rather come to school sick (which we often do) instead of endure that inconvenience of all that planning. How is that not putting students first?
Two years ago when my father died, I took a week off for the Jewish week of mourning. Upon my return, I had one mom comment that she was glad that I had chosen to work part-time that year so that her child wasn’t as inconvenienced as the previous year when her other child’s teacher also had a death in the family and the class found the time off “very disruptive.” Nice.
4. Three unpaid professional development days that equate to a 1.5 percent pay cut. This means that for 3 additional days, your kids will not be at school. So I expect my special education class to be larger, I also anticipate not having an Educational Assistant any more, meaning less of an opportunity for me to work one-on-one with the students who need it most. And whose going to get blamed for all this when you feel that your child isn’t getting enough individualized attention? Me. e in school for no reason other than the province saving money. That means three extra days that your child does not have a teacher and you have to find child care or take a day off. That means that for three extra days, the board has to organize some form of “professional development” for us, meaning workshops and/or photocopies and/or other things that cost money. Excuse me for being ignorant, but how is that putting students first?
5. All this is being done to “preserve”the things that you taxpayers hold dear, like smaller class sizes. Really? In my 8 years of teaching, my grade 7 classes have only gotten larger. Sure, the elementary grades are a bit smaller, but if you know anything about kids, then you know that the grade 7 kids need the smaller classes just as much as the little guys, if not more. Unfortunately, that just isn’t part of the government’s plan. And with the recent reduction of the number of Educational Assistants, it means that this fall, not only do I expect my special education class to be larger, I also anticipate not having an Educational Assistant any more, meaning less of an opportunity for me to work one-on-one with the students who need it most. And whose going to get blamed for all this when you feel that your child isn’t getting enough individualized attention? Me.
But before you yell at me, or complain about me, or agree that us teachers have it easy and that these pay cuts are justified because you don’t feel like we’re doing our jobs, you should know that during the school day I don’t eat lunch because I’m too busy helping your child with his homework, I don’t pee because I don’t have time nor can I leave my class unattended for even a few seconds, I answer no less than 500 questions and make 500 decisions and solve 500 problems all which have a direct impact on your child’s life both today and in the future. And if you think those questions, decisions, and problems are “small potatoes” try to remember what it was like when you were 12 and how small your world was and that failing a math test or fighting with your best friend or losing your lunch bag made it feel like your world was ending.
You know how you sometimes drop your kid off super-early for “practice” or pick them up late because they stayed for extra help or play practice or the environmental club? I’m the one running that practice and I’m the one giving her extra help and I’m the one facilitating the club. And when I finally do get to go home I am normally marking essays or tests or planning for the next day for YOUR CHILD, instead of helping my own children with their homework.
Oh, and by the way, while the media is making such a big deal about how the Ontario legislature is making this big sacrifice by “going back early” next week, has anyone even noticed that there have been teachers in their neighbourhood schools for weeks? I’ve already spent two days in my classroom getting ready and plan on spending at least one more day there this coming week…while my children and husband go to Wonderland, by the way. And if I choose not to go into school? Well then on September 4th, when your child comes into my classroom, she will be greeted by bare walls, a pile of desks, and unpacked boxes instead of the colourful bulletin boards, gleaming table groups, organized “publishing centre” of pencils, markers, paper, your child’s name on my front door, and more (most of which I bought with my non-tax deductible money) that you are not only used to, but that you expect.
Ms. Broten, can I use those three days as my three “unpaid professional development”?
If you agree with the above or if what I’ve said makes you at all question what the Ontario Government is doing, please contact your MPP on Monday when discussion on passing this act begins. Because once its passed, its over. And that scares the hell out of me.