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An Ontario teacher’s response to those thinking they have it made

I read a piece in The Post Millennial that completely misunderstood the situation for many teachers in Ontario and why we are on strike.
Jenna Hutchison Montreal, QC

I saw an opinion piece posted a few days ago on The Post Millennial titled “Ontario teachers need to realize how great they have it” and it started to really bug me.

I am a secondary teacher in Ontario and am proudly walking the picket line to fight for my students. I am used to seeing all the misinformation posted online when it comes to our recent job action with the province and I have gotten pretty good at brushing it off. I was unable to with this particular opinion piece because of the amount of stereotyping and general misinformation that the author chose to write about. I want to provide some key context for what was said and what is actually happening in our schools.

First, I would like to point out that teaching is not a part-time job. I am at my school from 7:30 a.m. until at least 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon. I often work through my “lunch” break as I am spending time with students, in meetings, marking, or preparing lessons. I worked it out once and between the time that I am actually at school, preparing, marking at home, and supervising extra curricular activities, I work approximately 50 hours a week. I am only paid for the classes I teach.

While I am on the subject of pay, in order to reach the top end of the pay scale, you have to be 10-plus years in, a department head or some other administrative type role, have taken a number of of additional qualification courses at your own cost, and more often than not, have a master’s degree.  Those that the author  cite as making over $100,000 are principals, vice-principals and superintendents who do not fall into our union. I’m four years in and have yet to make more than $40,000.

This leads me to my next point regarding “vacation”.  It’s true there are 11 weeks of the year where we are not in school, but they are not vacation days. We are unemployed during those times.  We have our 10-month salary distributed over 12 months.  The money that we receive during the summer is for hours we have already worked. Most of us spend our summers taking upgrading courses or seminars to improve our practice. We also spend time preparing for the next year. I spend at least two unpaid weeks in August in my school getting prepared for the year ahead.

When you look at what we are asking for in our negotiation in terms of pay, it is to keep up with the cost of inflation. Inflation is around 2-2.5 percent a year. That is all we are asking for. As one of my students said, “So you’re asking to make the same amount of money that you already do?”

Yes, we want to keep the salary that we have so we can keep up with the rising cost of everything around us.

That cushy pension and benefits you mention, I pay for it.  I put about as much into my pension each pay as I do to income tax.  So yes, some of us can afford to retire early, but that is because we have paid into it. As for benefits, I pay into those as well. I am not ETFO so I cannot comment on what the author listed there but I will tell you that if you are not full-time, the benefits cost outweigh what you are given. In my four years, I have only had a full benefit package for one semester (5 months).

I also want to mention that the reason I voted in favour of strike action was not about pay. Class size matters. Those that say, “Well  I had 35-plus students in class when I was in high school so what does it matter?” were not living during a time of full integration. This means that I have students with a variety of learning needs in my classes that would not have been in a mainstream class 20 years ago. The higher the student to teacher ratio is, the less time I have to support each of my students. Mandatory e-learning won’t work for every student.

How can you expect a 13 year-old with dyslexia to be responsible for a full course online with no direct supervision? You can’t.  Yes some students will thrive in that situation but it will hurt more than it will help. There is also the issue of where these students are expected to take these mandatory online course. What if they don’t have access at home? What if they simply cannot learn in that environment, are there exceptions for students who simply can’t do it? These questions have not been answered by the government nearly a year after they announced this proposed change. All we are asking for is more data to ensure that this plan is actually in the best interest of students.

In the final point of the article the author mentioned a pattern of teachers going on strike. That is not true. The last time there was a full withdrawal of services (a walk out/ strike) by any and all of the four unions was in 1997.  Since then contracts have been able to be negotiated with only limited withdrawal of service. I work with teachers who are 21 years in and this is the only time it has escalated to this level.

The government and the minister of education have been negotiating in bad faith since the beginning of this process, which got underway last May.  They have failed to show up to the table to even talk about meaningful issues that will have lasting impacts on generations of students to come. In three days of negations, the government was present for less than an hour. We have been open and transparent about where we stand from the beginning. Readers can take a look for themselves to learn more about these issues.

We are still dealing with the ramifications of some of the implications from the 1997 strike. What we want is to ensure that what this government wants to implement will not cause lasting damage to one of the top rated education systems.

So next time the author of that article drives by a picket line maybe instead of shouting at us to “quit complaining” and we “have part-time jobs”, engage us in a conversation about what this is actually about and what the conditions are in our classroom that have led us here. There are real issues at play here that the government has yet to address. We are looking out for generations of students.

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