In Ontario, We Shouldn’t Need to Be Told That Teachers Matter

Ann Hawkins  President of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association Posted: 08/13/2015 5:35 pm EDT Updated: 08/13/2015 5:59 pm EDT

Ask Ontarians how they feel about a teacher in their life, or in their children’s lives, and you will hear a story of a figure who helped them overcome self-doubt or challenge, someone who led them to discover a passion or strength, or who spent time with their child to make sure that they would succeed.

Now ask them how they feel about the current labour negotiations between teachers and the provincial government. Did their face go blank?

Many people in this province have no idea what’s at stake with the current labour dispute between teachers and the Liberal government, although many will tell you they hope it’s over before Back to School begins, to avoid the work to rule strike action that many educators are about to take.

The results of this anecdotal research should surprise us. Why do people care so much about teachers and know so little about what is being asked of them by the Liberal government?

What is being demanded that has caused almost every teacher in this province to say a clear and definitive ‘no’?

The government would like you to think it’s about the money, as austerity has become a convenient cover for any and all government action.

Of course, salary and benefits are a part of any contract negotiations, and no one wants to be treated unfairly or have things taken away from them.

But parents have a right to know what’s really at stake, the issues that could cause a further decline in the teaching profession’s reputation and resources as political leaders attempt to pay off their debts through cuts to education.

These cuts are insidious, coming in the form of reduced prep time, increased workload and a shifting emphasis on data collection over learning.

But they will have a very real impact on the quality of education in Ontario – and that’s something to which we should all pay attention.

This week, OECTA will resume negotiations with the Liberal government. We want to avoid a labour disruption in September, but not at any cost.

These negotiations are about making sure teachers are hired in the proper way, and allowed to use their professional judgment in the classroom — without any and all decisions being dictated by elected trustees and ivory-tower bureaucrats.

These negotiations are about the fact that teachers matter, and the way they’re treated matters too.

For us, it’s unacceptable that the government led by a former education minister would allow conditions for teachers to continue to decline.

We have seen this happen in other parts of the world, and witnessed the results. In the United States, NPR recently chalked up the declining enrollment of teachers program to a growing sense that “K-12 teachers simply have less control over their professional lives in an increasingly bitter, politicized environment.”

In the UK, the education secretary has promised to ease unnecessary bureaucracy for teachers following complaints of an unsustainable workload.

In Ontario, we shouldn’t need to be told that teachers matter.

The Liberal platform in the last election called education “the most important investment government can make.”

Roger Martin, the former dean of the Rotman School of Business, warned us years ago that politically motivated cuts were robbing Canada of its education advantage.

I represent more than 50,000 teachers in Ontario — all of whom understand that Premier Wynne can’t say she supports teachers while proposing these changes to the public education system.

We also know that you can’t keep the public in the dark about what’s really at stake.