Today should be the first day of school in these parts.
Instead, I (and six or seven of my teacher colleagues) was on the picket line at 6:30 this morning, pacing back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the school at which I normally work. I waved at every passing car that honked or gave me a thumbs up, but inside I was thinking, Gee, I wanna go to work too!
Everyone was in pretty good spirits, as most of us hadn’t seen each other all summer. Many of us did our summer picket duty together, yes, and some of us are friends outside of school, but we all had a whole lot to say to each other.
And a whole lot of that was about how ridiculous a strike this is.
The two sides met only a couple of times throughout the entire summer, and even a well-respected mediator who was brought in to “observe”, not to actually mediate yet, left the last meeting abruptly, saying that the two sides are still too far apart to even find some common ground upon which to begin the true mediation process. We teachers have dropped something like 125 million dollars from our original package of salary and benefit demands. The government has offered a salary package that doesn’t even cover a yearly cost-of-living increase (However, I’ve not received a full paycheque since last May, so really, ANY salary package is actually starting to sound okay to me!). We continue to demand that the government respect the two court decisions that have gone against them for illegally stripping class size and composition language from our contract over a decade ago, and to put more money on the table to begin to redress these wrongs, as the court has twice ordered. The government continues to insist that this is not possible, that it is too expensive, and because they have appealed these court decisions, they want to wait till that appeal is heard before even discussing such items. Oh – and they’ve countered our package with one of their own in which there is a clause stating that regardless of that upcoming appeal court decision, class size and composition would stay exactly as they are now (which, though I won’t go into details now, are NOT very conducive to good learning, compared to what we had prior to 2002, believe me!). In other words, the government wants to negate a court decision before it even happens – probably because having lost twice in court already, they are thinking that it’s quite likely that they will lose again and they will once again be ordered to return to things like the firm class size numbers, the firm number of students that non-enrolling teachers can work with, and the firm numbers of special needs students permitted in a single class.
Would you sign such a contract, regardless of what else was in it?!?
Basically, I think the government of this province is playing chicken with the teachers, and by extension, the kids and their parents. I think they are trying to wait us out. We teachers are losing a whole lot of money in this strike. The kids are losing a whole lot of education. The parents are losing a whole lot of money (in terms of increased daycare costs – if they can even find affordable daycare at this point! – or lost wages if they opt to stay home with their kids who should be in school) and a whole lot of patience too.
Yes, there is some suffering now, both for teachers and families (and let’s not forget that lots of teachers have school-aged kids too!). And it will likely get worse in the near future. But the long term outlook on education in this province is truly awful if we don’t stand up to this rule-breaking government now. Kids need smaller classes in order to get more attention from their teachers so that they can learn more effectively. Kids with special needs, be they learning disabilities, giftedness, serious behaviour issues, mental illnesses, physical challenges, autism, inability to speak English, whatever they may be, need more attention from specialized teachers in order to learn more effectively.
We used to have all that in the public schools – why can’t we have it now? This is a no-brainer, as far as I am concerned, and all the government has to do is redirect some of its total budget back towards education. They have taken over 200 million dollars out of the yearly education budget since the early 2000s – where does that money go every year? Why doesn’t the government want to properly and effectively educate all the kids of this province, not just those whose families are wealthy enough to be able to afford private schools?
A salary increase and better benefits? Sure, I’d like that too. Who wouldn’t? But many times in past contracts, teachers gave those up in order to gain that class size and composition stuff that we used to have. But then the government took that away from us – so now we are supposed to be happy with absolutely nothing? No improvement in wages, no improvement in benefits, AND no improvement to our working conditions (which, by the way, happen to be the kids’ learning conditions, which happen to be that pesky class size and composition language again!)?
Anyway, enough ranting.
I just wanna go back to work. But I won’t do it for absolutely nothing.