The pen is mightier than the sword…

Yesterday I received a comment on my blog encouraging me to rethink my idea that no one is listening to the voices of the many frustrated and demoralized education workers in Ontario (or anywhere else in this country). The gentlemen said something I believe in strongly – we all need to talk. We all need to tell our stories, we all need to explain to the public and the government both through and without the media. We need people to understand who we are and what we do and how, in fact, we actually are not fighting for selfish and individualistic ideals. We are fighting for the greater good, the good of education.

So, I encourage you to take up a pen, or get your fingers busily typing, or make calls. Talk to people on playgrounds and standing in line at the bank. Open up the dialogue. Defend your work even against arguments you’ve heard a hundred times. Explain the value of what you do.

And maybe, most importantly, talk about your students and how your work matters. My dad used to say to talk about my life’s work as if he were the one doing the talking – by that he meant, brag a little. You will find you are bragging about your student, but you are explaining your valuable part in the story. Our students are our focus and we help them to learn, grow and succeed in whatever way that is uniquely their way.

The state of education in Ontario is at a critical point – or more aptly a precipice: something needs to be done to prevent the tumbling down of the system. The government needs to pull back on the rhetoric and step up to the bargaining table and listen to what the people who spend their days educating and supporting students have to say. We need to support ALL students to be successful. Stop taking back money from a system that needs every penny to ensure that the youth of Ontario are ready for the future of Ontario.

Stop telling people it’s all about our salaries – it is about so much more – it is about our working conditions which are student’s learning conditions.

But, let’s get real: we do need to talk about salaries. As I’ve stated before, I am at the top of my pay grade and I can go no further. The top of the pay grade for teaching assistants and early childhood educators in Peel Region means you take home under $30000 a year. Therefore, I do think it is appropriate for my union to sit at the bargaining table and talk about salaries. Other unions should also be free to discuss salaries as that is part of the bargaining process for all employees, unionized or otherwise. No one in education in Ontario has had a raise this past year, as we are all without contracts (and we could talk about how much the government has saved there…..). Therefore, it should not be made out that it is an unfair aspect to talk about salaries.

Because let’s face it folks, other people who are paid from the government coffers are getting paid enormous sums of money. Education workers in Ontario are not asking for anywhere near CEO salaries; but the constant clawing back of benefits and little to no cost of living raises leave education workers paying more and more out-of-pocket for the right to work.

I encourage any and all education workers to take up your pens, send out emails to newspapers and broadcasters, politicians and friends. Talk about your work. Spread the word – we are here and we need to be heard.

Down but not defeated

I would address this to the Wynne Government but more than ever, I know they are not listening.

I would address this to the media, but I fear they are not listening.

I had some optimism the other day, optimism that maybe the world of education would be productive and going forward in negotiations. That may still be the case.

But today I learned that the new president and CEO of Ontario Generation will not have his salary capped. It will be $1.55 million. I am so utterly defeated by this fact.

How can my government sit and negate and berate and denigrate people who work in education and claim that we are money hungry and putting forth our agenda on the backs of children while they are letting the rich get richer? This government is pushing for classrooms that will require a shoehorn to jam more children in, but has no problem allowing ridiculous salaries for public executives.

I am angry and frustrated and, well, sadly, not surprised. I keep thinking back to my sense of cautious optimism when Wynne took office – I thought things could not get worse than the previous premier (what was his name again???).

I was wrong and that makes me sad. I cannot believe that we are not only back at the bargaining table fighting to hold on to the decimated contract items that we do have, plus fighting tooth and nail for our students to have productive and reasonable learning conditions but that we are having to justify ourselves to a public that doesn’t seem to give any mind to ridiculous salaries of other public employees.

Seriously. What is wrong with this picture?

$1.55 million for CEOs versus $30,000 for teaching assistants/DECEs……who is not showing fiscal restraint Kathleen Wynne?

That’d be you, not me.

Where is my seat at the (bargaining) table?

I am cautiously optimistic to hear that the Ontario government met with leaders of the teacher’s unions today. Our teachers are hardworking, dedicated individuals who I have felt supported by and who have encouraged me to be included in the education teams on which I have worked. I want them to reach fair and equitable agreements with the Boards and government.

I am disheartened that the Ontario government has once again overlooked and disrespected other education workers within the province by excluding them from discussions. When a student needs individualized attention because of differences in their learning needs, or requires personal care or can only fully participate with their peers with the support of a teaching assistant, well, we are there. We stand beside the teachers – and sometimes in front because, well, teaching assistants are allowed to be hit by a special needs student – it’s part of our job. We are there, doing our job. When some confidence building activities or social skills need to be taught, we are there. When there are 26 three, four or five-year old students all wanting the same toy, DECEs are there alongside their teaching partner, passing along important lessons that will carry a child throughout their life. We are part of the teaching team.

Yet, the government has decided that the only parts of the teaching team that matter are the teachers. Teachers are incredibly valuable and should be treated more fairly, especially by the media and the government. Teachers though, unlike the government, would tell you that it does take a village to educate a child – it not only takes teachers and teaching assistants/DECEs, it takes custodians and secretaries and various specialists….and principals and vice principals….and parents too.

I am baffled and more than a little offended that the government has once again ignored and pushed aside other groups and made teachers the sole focus. In reality, I think it is not only unfair to those of us in other employee groups but also to the teachers because the target is once again squarely placed on their backs if things do not go well at the bargaining table. The government is (supposed to be) bargaining with ALL employee groups and all employee groups should be given the opportunity to bargain simultaneously and accept the outcomes, both good and bad.

We can take the criticism and we would be happy to do it alongside the teachers with whom we work each day. We are a team. Don’t pick apart the system, effectively pitting one group against another (whether it’s the public against teachers or teacher groups against all other groups) and expect it to work well once you, the government, decides it’s time to end this process.

All employee groups matter.

Most of all, our students matter. We all deserve better.