It is hard to ignore the escalating tension between the various teacher’s unions in Ontario and the Provincial Government.
Inexorably, one of these days it is going to come to a head, and I for one am not looking forward to that. I am somewhat surprised at how polarized the discussions are becoming about who is right and who is wrong. Judging primarily by social media, it seems that one cannot support teachers and their issues without also attacking the government and if one dares to support the government, by definition, they must be against the teachers. I do not see it that way.
I have nothing but the highest respect for people who choose teaching as their profession. It is a tough job, tougher now than it used to be, because populism brings with it so-called political correctness.
Students have “rights” and a teacher must tread ever so lightly in not crossing that threshold, be it teaching methods or discipline. They invite deep doo-doo if they do! Kids can talk back to their teachers, often in vulgar terms, and according to one very dedicated teacher I know, there is little that can be done about it because current discipline options are so restrictive and ineffective.
A good teacher requires the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon. They are educators, arbitrators and social workers. Most are highly dedicated and very good at what they do. Teaching is a high calling and an awesome responsibility. Those who perform to these standards are entitled to be treated well and to stand up for themselves and the principles they believe in.
But government has a job to do as well. They need to act in the best interest of all the people in Ontario and sometimes that means making hard decisions about how taxpayers’ money is spent and recognizing that government cannot be all things to all people. Teachers have very strong unions, some of the strongest in North America, to look out for their interests. I do not begrudge them that, but the counterbalance is the Provincial Government. They should not be vilified for doing their job in balancing the many demands on the public purse and protecting the interests of all Ontarians who, after all, are the ones footing the bill.
It is hard for me to gauge how much sympathy teachers are getting from the general public related to the recent rotating strikes mandated by their unions. The average annual income in Muskoka is $42,900. An entry level job here averages an annual income of $25,399. I imagine it is difficult for many of these people to empathize with teachers who, with experience, average salaries of between eighty and ninety thousand dollars annually, have excellent health and retirement benefits, and are in the classroom about nine months a year. I am not saying they do not deserve it. I am saying it’s a hard sell.
I am also surprised at the criticism the Ford Government is getting for providing up to $60 a day for day-care for those that need it because of the rotating teacher strikes. Some people call it a bribe to parents. I see it as the government doing their job: helping the vulnerable during a difficult situation. I am sure most teachers would welcome parents of their more needy students getting that kind of assistance.
One area of our education sector which, in my view, is terribly neglected in terms of income is educational assistants. In many cases, they make less than half of what teachers make with much poorer benefits and vacation entitlements. Yet, they are very much on the front line. They usually take care of the “hard cases”—students with more difficulties, or who act out, or need more attention. Most teachers who have an EA swear by them because they make their jobs easier. EAs bear much of the emotional brunt of the classroom and much of that they unavoidably take home with them. In their own way, they too are educators and not servants. These people are treated very badly, and it is high time someone did something about it.
I wonder if it is not also time to pass legislation making teaching an essential service like policing and firefighting. That would take away the teachers’ right to strike but would put issues that are important to them in the hands of independent arbitrators and not government or unions. A study of settlements for other essential services would show that teachers would not be at a disadvantage as an essential service.
Strikes are divisive and can become nasty. I know I was disturbed this week seeing pictures on social media of very young children sporting anti-government signs and even here in Huntsville, at one school, seeing youngsters on the picket line. That is not right and actions such as these whether by teachers or government leave a bad taste in people’s mouths for years to come. That does not bode well for the education of our children.
I do not believe there is a villain here. The teachers are doing what they have to do and so is the government. The blame game gets us nowhere. If the escalation continues it will inevitably end in a full-scale strike and back-to-work legislation. There will be no winners, only losers, primarily students and working parents. Surely, we have reached the point where unconditional, binding arbitration is the best route forward. Let’s stop these interruptions in our kids’ education and get everyone back to school where they are needed and belong.
Students deserve no less.
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