Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Response to Jerry Agar's “Teachers’ tantrum punishes kids”

“Teachers’ tantrum punishes kids”

Dear Mr Agar,

Your column cries out for response, reaction, and revision. Let’s start with your catchy title. It should not merely trot out tired old accusations, but should also include reference to at least one other side in this complex issue – how about “Government’s Rigid Intransigence Punishes Everyone”?

Your opening paragraph (which comes perilously close to being a run on sentence) presents the premise of a promise which was broken – by the teachers, of course, since no one else connected with this ongoing tragedy of errors ever ever does that sort of thing. We often attach another label to those who break promises: liars.

Then, having led your readers to make a connection between liar and teacher, you get to your real meaning (because, after all, when you look at this ongoing situation honestly, teachers have not lied at all – something which cannot be also said about some of the other parties involved): the sense of promise which usually accompanies the start of a school year.

Teachers made it very clear right from the beginning of the “negotiations”, when the government sent bankruptcy lawyers to present a set of absolute conditions, that despite this despotic and despicable governmental approach, their desire as well as their intention was to be in the classroom for the start of the school year. For that reason, strike related actions were cancelled well before school opening. Teachers made it clear that the threatened legislation was therefore not necessary, but that they could not and would not simply accept the elimination of collective bargaining.

The government chose to ignore this and to move ahead with its threatening agenda. By prematurely committing funding only at the levels consistent with a bill that had not even been passed yet (arrogance, under the banner of sound financial planning - something which the McGuinty government does not have any moral basis to claim), the provincial Liberals laid the groundwork for a major confrontation with OSSTF and ETFO.

This government was determined to bully instead of bargain. Perhaps there was a slight miscalculation concerning the resolve of the teachers, especially in light of the ease with which OECTA not only caved in to provincial pressure but also denied its own members the opportunity to ratify or reject.

The weight of this column’s righteous indignation is staggering. For some reason, teachers are deemed to be “teaching character” only if and when they submit. The argument to support the concept of lawfully standing up for beliefs as a means to oppose a bill so likely to be struck down that its very authors intend to repeal it as also a lesson in character is just as compelling.
And that is what the teachers are doing: opposing legally. The OLRB deemed the planned day of political protest to be strike action (in a ridiculously swift determination) – therefore, it was cancelled. Teachers are being admonished to pursue the legal option only. Many don’t have the 4 or so years such a legal process could take.

The actions of the teachers are in keeping with their legal job descriptions. If certain columnists don’t like that, their next column could be dedicated to suggesting that these laws be changed. Oh, wait a minute, no need: Mr Hudak is already talking up that angle.

Legislating job descriptions to include extra curricular activities will do serious damage to what has been such a wonderful part of the high school experience for so many years. The suggestion to pay teachers extra for extras will open up a can of worms which will make Pandora’s box look like an X-box.

Without a doubt, the withdrawing of extra curricular activities was a decision that was not taken easily, quickly, or lightly. There really were not a lot of other choices. Response options were very limited in the face of governmental intransigence.

Students’ responses have been wide and varied. Of course many of them are angry. And given the restrictions upon teachers regarding discussing the issue in the classroom, it is not surprising that some students feel teachers are taking it out on them. It is at this point that responsible journalists could contribute to the solution rather than fan the flames of the problem by producing fairer and more balanced articles.

Because to suggest that teachers are “mad at the world” is just plain silly. Teachers came to what was supposed to be a bargaining table with ideas and suggestions and options and a willingness to take up to a four year wage freeze. They were frozen alright – right out of the collective bargaining process. Facing a wage cut and slashed benefits, along with the loss of the right to collectively bargain, just does not qualify as being miffed at not getting “100% of what they wanted”.

Regarding the “reports that the teachers who are going back…are being shunned… by other teachers”, the truth is that “there are reports” about a lot of things. Negative press is sexier than the boring old positive stuff. There could just as easily be reference made to “reports” about the large number of teachers who are upset about the unfortunate need at this time to maintain the withdrawl of extra curricular activities. Obviously the reference to “too many teachers” is a tacit recognition of the fact that it is indeed the majority who are standing up to the government and behind the unions’ positions.

And calling teachers a “gaggle of greedy grasping wage earners” is somewhat like referring to certain SUN columnists as a den of dreary duplicitous word mongers.

Jeff Kanter
Secondary teacher

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