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Teachers And The Ontario Strike: What You Need To Know

Updated on February 9, 2020
Christina St-Jean profile image

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, and LGBT advocacy.

Teachers Fighting In Spite Of Personal Financial Loss

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Teachers Are Fighting At A Cost While Still Working

December 4, 2020, marked a really weird day for me.

It was the first time in a career that started in 1994 that I had ever been on strike.

Each educator union voted overwhelmingly in favor of strike action. We understand that the changes that are being proposed are going to hurt our kids - both the ones in our classroom and our own genetic kids - like no other change to education that has happened previously. We need to take a stand against a government that has never really shown much interest in kids or anyone in a vulnerable position and ensure that education - and probably later, healthcare - is protected.

I am a high school teacher. The last time I remember being part of any job action was about six years ago when it was determined that we were going to go full "work to rule," meaning there were no extra-curricular activities at all. That meant no after-school sports, no clubs, no choirs - nothing. It also meant that we had to show up no earlier than 7:45 am and leave no later than 15 minutes after the last bell of the day, which was, strictly speaking, the terms of the most recent collective agreement at that time.

It was stressful. We all wondered when a deal would be reached, if our respective coaching seasons could be saved, or how deeply the kids who absolutely relied on our lunch hour clubs to feel personally safe as far as their mental health was concerned were hurting. We couldn't even run extra help sessions for those kids who needed it, much as we may have wanted to.

When I learned that negotiations had once again stalled back in November, I was still stupidly optimistic that strike action could be avoided, and when we in the OSSTF were told we would be walking the picket lines starting on December 4, I felt sick. I had no idea, really, how much money I'd lose with each day I was out, and now with three days out and school boards being told that they will start staffing for the 2020-2021 school year at the 28:1 ratio at the high school level, there's the very real possibility that I and far too many of my colleagues could find ourselves out of work come September.

There are those who still inexplicably think that this is about a one or two percent pay increase. Let me lay it out for you: every day a teacher is out, they lose pay. ETFO educators will have walked five days by Valentine's Day. There are some teachers across all unions who fear that their mortgages are in jeopardy. There are teachers who were already working a second job before any of this happened and now are scrambling to perhaps find a third. Why? Imagine if you are in a two-teacher family and all of a sudden you become incredibly good at math. Imagine if you're a teacher and your spouse is an educational assistant who makes around the $40,000 a year mark, which is, of course, nowhere near the $92,000 average that Ontario education minister Stephen Lecce thinks all educators make. Imagine if you also have children you're trying to raise in the mix.

"Surely you all knew this was coming," you might say. "Why didn't you save?"

Sorry, but in addition to trying to cover household expenses, growing children and putting food on our own tables, we are purchasing supplies for our classrooms. We are still putting forward our own time and money. Elementary school teachers are working feverishly to ensure all kids have something for Valentines' Day and Family Day to bring home to their parents. Many teachers ensure there's a stock of nut-free snacks on hand for those kids who couldn't afford to eat - or who couldn't eat due to various stresses at home. Many teachers ensure there's an "emergency stash" of feminine hygiene products so the shy girl in their class can quietly grab some without having to ask questions.

Yet, you don't see all that. You don't see the teacher crying in a snowbank after striking for three or four hours, enduring obnoxious comments from those who think she should get a "real job." You don't know that she's crying because she's trying to figure out how to pay her next mortgage payment because she's already lost three days' pay. You don't hear the conversations between teachers as they try and figure out how to best help the kid who's struggling with a learning disability, or an alcoholic parent, or their sexuality. You don't know about the educators who are losing pay striking and who still somehow figure out how to get a proper winter coat for a kid who was seen wearing a fall coat because they know the family can't afford the added expense of a winter coat. You don't know about the teachers and other educators working another job to make ends meet. You don't know that there's been some of us still bending over backward to try and make really cool science experiments, clubs, or other school-related experiences happen in spite of all the upheaval that kids might be feeling under Doug Ford's government.


Education Cuts Will Hurt Us All

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We Are All Hurting Under Doug Ford's Education "Plan"

The late, great educator Rita Pierson said in her 2013 TED talk that educators become great actors and actresses, effectively because we can't let students see us struggle. However, with the proposals currently on the table, students and educators alike are all hurting.

Academic students are seeing courses they need disappear because of increased class sizes and forced e-learning. That can, in turn, mean that these kids will end up trying to do a victory lap in order to get the courses they need, which means enrolments in post-secondary institutions might be lower. Students at the college and workplace levels have already been clear to me and other teachers that there is no way they can deal with increased class sizes and forced e-learning; what about them? These are also the students that are struggling even with an educational assistant in their classes; with the threat of these essential supportive people disappearing from classrooms, how successful are these students going to feel? In many cases, these educational assistants are their biggest cheerleaders next to the classroom teacher.

I've seen the argument time and again that many people grew up with 30 or more in their classes, and that is great. It was slightly different circumstances, however. For starters, children with behavioral challenges - such as those with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, for instance - weren't really integrated into regular classes. Students with physical challenges also had a class of their own, even if they did not experience cognitive issues, and those physical challenges can be catastrophic if they are not successfully mitigated by qualified people. For instance, there's a teaching colleague of mine who has an educational assistant for all of 20 minutes a day, and she has a student who has been termed "medically fragile." If something should go sideways on any given day, the safety of this student could be compromised, as could the safety of my colleague and any other student in the room.

As one might expect, the emotional toll worrying about all of our kids through this exceptionally stressful time is also paying a price. Between the financial strain of being on strike and worrying about whether we will have a job come September 2020, we also worry greatly about our young charges on the daily and whether they are going to be okay with all of this going on.

You see, children are resilient and educators are a tough breed, but there is a human side to this. Many of us are parents worrying about our own children's future in addition to the futures of every student in our classrooms.

We will get through this, but we are tired.

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