Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sun's Future Less Than Sunny - For Teachers

This letter by Jeff Kanter, a secondary teacher in Ottawa, is a response to an Ottawa Sun editorial, dated January 22nd.

Here we go…another OTTAWA SUN editorial that screams out for response. And that is exactly the kind of reaction one is inclined to make after reading articles, columns, and editorials which appear in this publication.

The Jan 23 HUDAK SCHOOLS HIS OPPONENTS one is a hoot. In addition to having one of those oh so cutesy titles (for another example of that kind of trite bon mot, see title above), its main argument seems to be that the Progressive Conservatives are the only ones capable of ‘taking on’ the teachers’ unions.

The Liberals, it seems, will be ‘sucking up’ to the teacher unions because they will be so desperate to make up with these mean evil wicked rotten nasty union folks once a new leader is chosen. The editorial goes on to describe the past several months as a “lovers’ quarrel” (half right, except that only one of the two sides got screwed) and summarizes thusly: “…which imposed contracts, froze salaries and reduced some benefits.” Interesting choice of words. How about ‘which arbitrarily and summarily imposed working conditions (since, to my knowledge, nothing got signed, it cannot be called a contract), forced wage CUTS onto the teachers in the form of unpaid days, and SLASHED benefits’??

Our intrepid SUN editor is essentially claiming that only Mr Hudak’s party will raise itself above the groveling Liberals and NDP, who will both be trying to attract teacher support (insert: election funding). Given recent events, I am really really really trying to imagine what the new provincial Liberal leader could possibly say that would have any positive impact whatsoever on any teacher, other than he/she is going to actually repeal Bill 115 (not the phony grandstanding ploy being presently touted by Ms Broten and Mr McGuinty - you remember him, he used to have a role in the government?) and reinstate genuine collective bargaining; that sort of thing would actually grab the attention of just about every teacher here in the public sector of the province.

He goes on to claim that the Progressive Conservatives are advocating making report card writing and parent-teacher interviews mandatory. Honestly, dude, I cannot think of too many actual teachers who would actually have an actual problem with this. Ideally, it should not have to be legislated; traditionally, it has never gotten to the point where this has been an issue. It is only because of the present government’s unyielding irresponsible approach that what was always freely offered (ie the time for both of those practices) has had to be reconsidered.

But the real issue is, of course, those pesky extra curricular activities. These are completely voluntary; these countless hours, far and away much more time-consuming than report cards or interviews are available to students because of the fundamental good will and interest and commitment of teachers. Up until now, we have managed to avoid the trap of the American system, which has a complex and inconsistent method of compensation for teachers who provide these services.

Giving principals the power to reward teachers who do more in their schools has merit; unfortunately, it also establishes a framework in which to open up a potentially nasty can of worms, in which principals are then encouraged to pressure their teachers to take on all sorts of extras, something which younger teachers might obviously find difficult to refuse.

But I also state here and now that, as a teacher who has dedicated thousands of hours to extra curricular activities, I would never anticipate or expect extra compensation in exchange for this. In fact, I am uncomfortable with the idea. My motivation has always been desire. If any governing body were to suddenly and peremptorily decide that I HAD to do these activities, then it would become a very different matter.

The editorial inevitably returns to the big bad mean old teachers’ unions and especially their nasty rotten scoundrel leaders, who are being taken to task for basically doing their jobs. Union leaders are chosen by union members and are charged with the responsibility of advocating on their behalf. When governments (and their lackeys) enact horrific legislation that attempts to cripple what would otherwise be standard union actions along with eliminating the democratic rights of those unions’ members, there is going to be consequence.

The accusation that unions were going to fine members for non compliance with toeing the line is a murky issue, especially since that practice has not been strictly (or even loosely) applied. Leaders of organizations need SOME recourse to sanction recalcitrant members of their brother/sister hood. Why, it could even be suggested that political leaders have all sorts of little tricks and pressures to aim at individuals within their ranks who do not always toe the party line. And to suggest that the name and shame tactic is going to destroy the career of a teacher who is only “refusing to use his or her students as pawns in a labour dispute” is a moronic oversimplification, but that is an argument for another day.

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