Wednesday, March 6, 2013
EXTRA CURRICULAR FACTS AND FICTIONS
EXTRA CURRICULAR FACTS AND FICTIONS
by Jeff Kanter, a secondary teacher in Ottawa.
Many people are just now beginning to understand and perhaps even recognize
that the simple truth of the matter is that the public at large has had it pretty good
for pretty long. There has been a significantly uninterrupted period of time in which
extra curricular activities have been freely and widely offered.
And now that there has been a withdrawl of this no cost, overtime-equivalent by
teachers who provide thousands and thousands of hours of their time in order
for these activities to exist and flourish, reactions within the public, fanned by a
consistently unsympathetic media, have been very noticeable.
Perhaps some of those who are most vocal in their attacks on teachers for simply
having all those weeks and weeks off in the summer (never mind that teachers
do not set the instructional schedule) might wish to rethink their invective. If a
summer represents 40 work days, then those 320 hours pale by comparison to the
number of hours many teachers contribute to after school voluntary activities.
Perhaps saner heads could call that one a trade off? That is somewhat optimistic,
I am afraid: someone nursing an anti-teacher grudge could surely manufacture
some form of disagreement. But if that person is you, consider this: what other
professional offers such extensive, daily, year long services (with some pretty damn
fine results, to boot) gratis?
And if you are going to start that nonsense about making extra curriculars a
part of teachers’ job descriptions, hold it right there. To even suggest it is just a
contradiction in terms as well as an affront to logic, reason, and common sense.
It would mean the beginning of the end for any value to be derived from extra
curricular activities. And that suggestion is offered not out of anger or rancor, but
rather with sadness.
It would be a sad situation indeed if it were ever to come to that. The very idea has
nothing to do with ensuring meaningful after school programs and activities, but
is a transparent attempt to simply make sure teachers could never take the kind of
“pause” which is happening right now, ever again. How does creating a scenario in
which teachers are forced to coach or direct plays (never mind the skill set required
for those endeavours) benefit students? Or, better yet, what about an unprincipled
principal who, for whatever set of reasons, ends up requiring a science teacher
without any arts’ background (sorry for the possible stereotype) to do that year’s
The only logical and reasonable scenario is one in which teachers freely –in the
fullest cents of the word – give time that they could otherwise be using for marking
and prep and, damn it, even relaxation, for coaching and supervising teams, and
running art shows and music nights and drama productions and improve teams and
debating clubs and yearbooks and the dozens of other initiatives that get so easily
lumped into the impressive array of things falling under the heading extra curricular
There is too much focus on the teachers’ taking their pause from the voluntary
activities and not nearly enough on their reasons for it.
It is a classic case of putting way too much emphasis on the wrong part of an
issue. For example, in the recent G20 riots in Toronto, there was considerably less
attention paid to the dull drab illegality of vandalism and destruction of private
property in the face of what was more likely to sell: the sexiness of mass arrests and
the hint of police excesses.
Fueled by media, our attention is constantly aimed at unions and the consequences
of union leaders’ actions and decisions – when all they are really doing is fulfilling
their mandate (looking after their members). This in itself is rapidly becoming akin
to criminal activity – part of a thinly veiled government strategy to discredit unions
This hyper focus uses misdirection to muddy the issue unnecessarily, with the
result that the real villain of the piece escapes the full impact of journalistic and
public wrath. The crisis was caused, created, enhanced, perpetuated, sustained, and
then totally misplayed by the provincial government. And then, right on cue, the
provincial Conservatives added to this mess by pursuing its own extreme policies.
Let’s deal with the cause and not just the symptom. Teachers took a pause from
voluntary activities when their bargaining rights were eliminated and “contracts”
were imposed. This cannot be just overlooked, which is the all too often theme
of journalists who, despite the fact that they pay that little fact lip service, want
to just overlook it. Yeah, we know (these journalists seem to be saying) that the
government messed up but hey, let’s all just get past that and move on.
That is more easily said than done. Teachers cannot simply overlook that rather
huge departure from democratically accepted processes – nor should they have to!
As so many teachers have clearly indicated, they will be happy to return to business
as usual on their side when the government is ready to negotiate instead of dictate.
And that does not automatically mean that teachers are after unreasonable raises
and unrealistic benefits. On the other hand, they wish to avoid having to endure pay
CUTS and the slashing of benefits negotiated over years and years.
Bill 115 turned a potentially unpleasant situation into an actual crisis. To suggest
that teachers could have done “something else” to express their sense of outrage
is just plain stupid. The legal recourse favoured by some columnists and MPPs
could easily take, by conservative standards, three or four years. Why not make
the suggestion that, given the significant opportunity provided by Mr McGuinty’s
sudden resignation, Ms Broten could have done something else?
There would have no point in the teachers choosing a reaction strategy that had
no impact. A serious abuse requires a serious response. Anything less would have
been pointless. Anything less would have pretty much ended the crisis with full
blown teacher capitulation.