Ontario Teacher Job Action in 2019: My First Picket
My First Ever Picket
On Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, I participated in my first picket line.
If you were to add up all the time I’ve spent in a classroom since I graduated with my Bachelor of Education degree in 1994 from the University of Alberta, it translates to around nine or 10 years. The gaps are largely due to my association with the Canadian military where I have had to move or had to find another job as teaching jobs were scarce. I’ve taught kids who stand as tall as just below my waist and I’ve taught adults who could very well have been my parents. I’ve taught kids from a range of cultures and faiths, with a range of physical, cognitive, and developmental challenges. I’ve kept a watchful eye on kids who have reached their breaking point and whose mental health I’ve been seriously concerned about.
If anyone would have told me when I first graduated 25 years ago at the age of around 22 that I would have been met with these kinds of challenges in the classroom, I was so idealistic that I would not have believed them. Learning has been a lifelong endeavour for me, and a lifelong passion. I could not imagine having students in my classroom that would be so disengaged for one reason or another that they would not be successful in any program I set out to teach.
Reality hits you pretty hard once you set foot in a classroom, and the reality is, the dynamics of the many different personalities in a class are in flux from one day to the next. The success criteria and learning goals from one day to the next may or may not be reached depending on whether one student actually ate that morning, or whether another student’s mental health is good or poor, or if there’s a fire or Code Red drill that we suddenly have to respond to. Not everyone walks into a classroom loving school for a range of reasons, and regardless of the sort of student that walks into my classroom, I respond to their learning needs and try my hardest to ensure they leave my classroom feeling some degree of success. This is all while attending meetings, completing paperwork, coaching teams and supervising clubs like the Gay Straight Alliance.
Ford Policy Changes: Classroom Size and E-Learning
When the Ford government announced their changes, I was heartsick. I knew then, as I know now, that these changes, such as the ones to the average class size and the proposed mandatory e-learning, would be catastrophic to many of my students. They want to increase class sizes—and make no mistake, it’s a provincial average they’re proposing changes to, which means from one classroom to the next you could see far more than the 25 students they’re proposing—with more kids who are struggling academically, socially, and from a mental health perspective as well.
This is with one teacher at the helm and no other supports but that teacher. While I have absolute confidence in my capabilities as a teacher to manage these different learning challenges within my classroom, there is little chance I will have to give the kids who are truly struggling extra time and attention with extra students in the room. It’s almost impossible, as between instruction, time to practice the learning and time to correct the learning I also need to keep on the move to ensure the kid in one area is not trying to cheat off his seat mate while at the same time trying to ensure that another student is working on the work I’ve given and not the work from another class.
There are students at my school and at other schools whose families struggle regularly to make ends meet, and the government wants to further hamper these children by making e-learning mandatory when they may not have easy access to a computer. For a few students, they only have access to a smartphone, and even then, that access might be sporadic. The students might not have access to their library to use a computer for free, or when they get there, the computers might all be used. In addition, internet accessibility is a real challenge for some Ontarians, so if the Ontarians in question are living in an area where internet signals are spotty at best, they might as well kiss their ability to complete their e-learning course (that they’ve been forced to take by the Ford government) goodbye.
I Walked the Line for My Students
When I first started teaching in Alberta, I would have been stunned to think I would be pushed into a position by the government of the day to fight for students’ education. However, I’m now the parent of a 15-year-old and an almost 11-year-old. I know without any shadow of a doubt that the proposed changes would mean insanity for their future scholastic careers. My teenager actually took an e-learning course this past summer, and guess what? She hated it, and she was simply not able to successfully navigate how to do a course that absolutely demanded that it be completed without a teacher standing in front of her. My kid, like others, responds far better to a teacher in front of her than to an online message from a teacher, which means that e-learning will at best be a struggle for them.
When over the past few weeks teachers started discussing the prospect of job action, it scared me. Things were serious, and rightfully so, but I didn’t expect that I would actually be in a position where I had to actually fight for my own children and my school kids and their right to a decent public education.
The day of the one-day walkout finally behind me, I’m now able to look at things with a clearer head. I continue to be appalled by the spin put out by Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, as I keep wondering how many times he’ll try to say that this is about wage, or that his team remains ready to negotiate.
I don’t think we would have walked if this was only about wage. While the only person I can safely speak for is me, I can assure you that my colleagues and I were taking a stand for the unjust cuts that students are now paying the price for. Many of us have kids of our own, and we look at our students as our own children in many respects. We want our students to be able to feel as though there are caring adults in the building that will stand up and fight for what’s right for them, because so many of them don’t feel that they have a soft spot to land. We want our students to know that we believe their education is worth fighting for, and not something to be trifled with as the current PC government has done.
Is this a stressful time? For sure it is. I am a non-confrontationalist by nature, so fighting against a government is probably one of the biggest things that’s stressing me out. There are, however, things worth fighting for. My kids’ education and the education of our students is definitely worth fighting for.