letter to Education Minister

Minister Lecce,

As your government is in the midst of the beginning stages of negotiations with education groups across the province, I implore you to not take your fight to media. I implore you to research and get a thorough understanding the roles and realities of education in Ontario.

By taking your fight to the media, you are working to destroy relationships and skew perceptions. There are people who believe everything the government says simply because you are the government. With that comes great responsibility. Do not take it lightly. Remember, your role is to fund and support a system with one goal: EDUCATE CHILDREN.

When you vilify teachers, you vilify the entire system. To many, teachers are education. And that’s okay – if you treat them with respect. But your predecessors and most certainly your leader has made teachers (and therefore everyone in the system) out to be money grubbing, uncaring, pampered people.

They are not. The jobs within education are too hard to do if it’s only about the money. People in education do the work because they want to EDUCATE CHILDREN.

To all those who doubt, I ask one simple question: have you done the job? Have you done a thorough set of research to increase your true understanding the job? Teachers and people within education want to do their jobs: EDUCATE CHILDREN.

And, surprise, there are so many more people in the system than teachers. Teachers do not solely educate children – they are supported by administrators, custodial staff, psychologists and speech therapists, teaching assistants, secretarial staff – the list goes on and on. By attacking teachers, you are attempting to divide these education groups to be an elitist group (teachers) and others – you are making it so that people within the system have to choose sides when they are all meant to work as a team to do one thing well: EDUCATE CHILDREN.

Your leader has also placed a wedge firmly between the education system and parents. A good example is a recent announcement. Rather than providing full support to the system to implement the new health curriculum, to encourage dialogue, your government has stated that parents can opt out. Not enter into discussions about the importance of educating young people about the critical topics within the curriculum but opt out. In a public system, there are expectations to complete all the curriculum. There is a place for accommodations, but not an outright opting out. You are creating a wedge – again – forcing people to choose sides, rather than supporting relationship building so that parents and the education system can meet the one goal: EDUCATE CHILDREN.

I recently left education after more than 15 years – I was a teaching assistant working the most vulnerable students. These students had physical and cognitive disabilities. They had behavioural difficulties – they all needed help to be part of the system. They needed significant supports to be successful and part of the educational community. Over the past many years, funding has changed the way teaching assistants support students. No longer can we take the time to support students and teachers in the previously meaningful ways to ensure that all students can reach their potentials. Funding meant that we were only able to support students in two key areas: personal care and personal safety (theirs and others).

Basically, they are there to toilet, transfer, and help with mobility. Teaching assistants ensure that students do not harm themselves or others, including running away from classroom situations which are beyond their abilities to engage in. Children who act out are the responsibility of classroom teachers/DECEs and teaching assistants but helping them learn to cope and learning skills to better manage their reactions to stresses on their abilities? That task, which used to also fall within the purview of teaching assistants, is no longer an expectation because there is not enough time, not enough funding. There are some teaching assistants who only have time to toilet all the children in the school and then start again – toileting all the children in the school.

So, the relationships with students suffer. Teaching Assistants no longer get to build the relationship necessary to get a student to trust, learn and be successful. The teaching assistants are so busy doing the tasks of personal care and personal safety – they can’t be part of the classroom in the meaningful way that students need. And these people – good people, people interested in EDUCATING CHILDREN – have so much to offer students. Don’t dismiss them any longer.

In the upcoming negotiations, remember Teaching Assistants. They are the ones doing the work that supports vulnerable students in very important but challenging areas: personal care and personal safety. Remember that they deal with violence and injury at a higher rate than other employee groups. Remember that currently a large majority of Teaching Assistants need two or more jobs to make ends meet because their salaries are not sufficient to keep up with rising costs or even the current cost of living. Talk to these frontline workers: you would not believe the levels of stress and injury that are currently being experienced. Because if you did, you could not, in all good conscience, continue to underfund these roles.

There are not enough people to meet all the needs of all of the children when it comes to ensuring they can access education, whatever that access looks like. Children with special needs are children within your community – they are children who deserve what all children deserve. An education. A meaningful education. Not a peripheral view of the system, but a meaningful engagement with education. They are not one size fits all. They are not all able to access it within the same framework as a neurotypical or physically typical child.

By cutting funding, you are cutting access for children. In 2018, the Ontario Human Rights Commission reported:

In a recent survey of parents of students with intellectual disabilities in Ontario, 53.2% of parents surveyed reported that their child was not receiving proper academic accommodations; and 68.2% of parents reported that schools were “meeting half or less than half of their child’s academic needs.” In interviews, parents emphasized “the devastating effects of low expectations and lack of opportunity for engagement.”

Do you know who can assist children to have opportunities for engagement? Teaching Assistants. Do you know whose positions are so woefully underfunded they cannot provide those opportunities? Yup. Teaching Assistants.

The current funding model does not meet the requirements of Section 8 of the Human Rights Code which states:

…education providers have a legal duty to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities who are adversely affected by a requirement, rule or standard. Accommodation is necessary to address barriers in education that would otherwise prevent students with disabilities from having equal opportunities, access and benefits.

Yes, it states education providers have that legal duty. But it is not possible for education providers to do that without the appropriate levels of support from their funding source: the government. Passing the buck is not acceptable. Funding has been cut – and no amount of creative accounting presentation can change the fact that the funding has not kept up with the needs.

So, please. When it comes to the upcoming negotiations, take your responsibility seriously. Do not lay the blame for the system failures at the feet of teachers and/or education workers. Accept responsibility for paying people within the system in a manner to acknowledges their value to their key role: EDUCATING CHILDREN.

And please, please, please – provide appropriate levels of funding and keep funding growing along with the greater demands of students and education in this province.

Paula Turner


the long goodbye

April 1, 2003, I began my career in education with the Peel Board.

My love of public education and being around small humans started sooner than that though.

I began volunteering in 1994 when my oldest began kindergarten. I often brought my youngest into the school library and would help out teachers by preparing activities for classrooms (read: cutting out hundreds of shapes). I ran bake sales and play days with all the other stay at home or flexibly scheduled parents. We did goofy sketches at assemblies and made meals for Teacher Appreciation Days.

I was hooked.

At one time, I planned to become a teacher. In 1985, when hubby was finishing up his degree, I was planning on going back to university and get a degree and then go to teacher’s college. Times were tough for new teachers (relatively speaking), but I viewed it as a stable profession. Hubby was supportive, but some of the extended family was not. As I was known to do, I caved to the pressure to not commit to a career.

I began having babies a few years later. I was/am/always will be hooked on that choice.

Maybe my love of all things education began even earlier – in high school, when I attended a Catholic high school as a non-Catholic student. I was exempt from religion classes if I did community service. I found a daycare for children with Down syndrome and their siblings to fulfill my requirement. My high school was ‘self teaching’ (hey, late 1970s, your flexible education ideas are calling!) so I could spend as much time on any subject as I needed. We didn’t have classes, no one took attendance. (Not surprisingly, many people took 5 or more years to complete the three required years of high school in this model.)

I began spending all my time at the day care – and only going to school one or two days a week. I graduated 5 months early so I could spend even more time at the daycare.

I was hooked.

So, yes. I may have been hired by the Peel Board on a snowy April day in 2003, but the seeds were planted back in the late 70s.

Education today is not anything like it was in the 70s and does not even remotely resemble my first permanent role with the Board in 2003.

I began working one on one with a student who had physical and cognitive impairments. We had oodles of time to do his physiotherapy and occupational therapy exercises. We worked hard to overcome his anxiety about doing work (which manifested itself in such stress he threw up. Every day. Usually on me.) and by the end of the year, he did participate more.

I thought it was a tough year. But it was nothing like my last full time year, 2014.

That year I was working with multiple students in multiple classrooms. The province and the Board had moved to deeming Teaching Assistants as necessary only for personal safety and personal care. There was no more supporting students with curriculum expectations – we were the front line between success and failure within a very narrow scope.

Today, Teaching Assistants work with at least 3 students. Those three students are very high needs – that why a TA would ‘only’ have 3 at a time. If the students have been deemed to have lesser needs, that ratio goes up. One TA to 4, 5, 6 or more students.

It’s not the same world at all.

In 2014, I returned to university. My long goodbye to working in schools began.

I occasionally went into the schools to do supply work until I returned full time in 2016. After years of being hit, pinched, spat on, punched, and ducking various projectiles, alongside lifting students for toileting, I began to think my body wasn’t up for the task. I took a role at the Board main site. In an office. By myself.

By the early spring, I decided to ‘retire’. I needed to accept that I wasn’t going back in the classroom. Those years away had made it feel like too daunting a task to return. Alongside that, I had begun working on a research project at McMaster. The possibility of doing my masters hung in the air.

The long goodbye got serious – there was a retirement dinner and notification that I was too young to start drawing on my pension.

In early 2018, after floundering around for a few months, I took a short term job at my union’s office. After that, I stayed on the supply TA list, with a minimum requirement of one day of supplying a year.

I didn’t fulfill that requirement this past school year. I worked full time at the university and was advised that I shouldn’t risk my bum knee in a special education setting or classroom. I made a half hearted attempt to get an exemption from my one day a year requirement.

Yesterday, I opened an email that said, You have been terminated.

The long goodbye is over. I think I’m okay with that.

Not 100% sure, but yeah. Probably.

The opportunity to volunteer at my local school still exists. And as long as the chance to occasionally hang out in the world of education and interact with small humans still exists, all is good in the world.

celebrating love

A year ago today, we celebrated your love.


You walked into the day together.


You embraced each person, bringing us into your love.


You are two very unique, very independent, very amazing people.


Your love is one.


Untitled by R.M. Drake

You will be the clouds
and i will be the sky.
you will be the ocean
and i will be the shore.
you will be the trees
and i will be the wind.

whatever we are, you and i
will always collide.


Love Sonnet 17, by Pablo Neruda

I don’t love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
Secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I don’t know any other way of loving

but this, in which there is no I or you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.


Land acknowledgements

Was listening to a rebroadcast yesterday of Unreserved on CBC. The best description I can find of the show comes from their website:

Unreserved is the radio space for Indigenous community, culture, and conversation. Host Rosanna Deerchild takes you straight into Indigenous Canada, from Halifax to Haida Gwaii, from Shamattawa to Ottawa, introducing listeners to the storytellers, culture makers and community shakers from across the country. The Unreserved team offers real talk from the people behind the headlines, with a soundtrack from the best in Indigenous music.

Yesterday’s show, a rebroadcast from June, talked about several topics, but the theme was the idea of maps (colonial contrasted with Indigenous) and also land acknowledgements.

I was struck by everything I heard, but I was keenly interested in the piece on land acknowledgements. You know those – a short bit of information at the start of a meeting, stating the Indigenous land you are currently occupying.

The person being interviewed for the piece I was listening to, Hayden King, is an Anishinaabe writer and educator who also has responsibilities at Ryerson University that include teaching courses, but also in an advisory capacity. One thing that King did was write Ryerson’s land acknowledgement:

Ours basically said that Ryerson is on the territory of the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabek, and it’s a territory that is governed by the Dish With One Spoon Treaty, a treaty that committed these nations to share the territory in peace, friendship and respect and all newcomers are invited into this treaty and in the spirit of those obligations.

He now regrets what he wrote.

I think that as the conversation has advanced around territorial acknowledgements, some more scrutiny was put onto ours, among others. I think internally, we were having an internal conversation about it and it’s [like], who are we, really, to invite anybody into the Dish With One Spoon Treaty?

For me, personally, I think I started to see how the territorial acknowledgement could become very superficial and also how it sort of fetishizes these actual tangible, concrete treaties. They’re not metaphors — they’re real institutions, and for us to write and recite a territorial acknowledgement that sort of obscures that fact, I think we do a disservice to that treaty and to those nations.

What King is encouraging people to do now is go beyond making those blanket statements, ones that were intended to get people (specifically non-Indigenous people) thinking and hopefully acting.

King proposed something that I felt was doable and very important. He proposes that people add to the land acknowledgement calls to action – what are the responsibilities laid out for colonizers in the specific treaty for the land you are acknowledging.

As King says, It’s one thing to say, “Hey, we’re on the territory of the Mississaugas or the Anishinaabek and the Haudenosaunee.” It’s another thing to say, “We’re on the territory of the Anishinaabek and the Haudenosaunee and here’s what that compels me to do.

King proposes the idea that land acknowledgements need to have a call to action.

It could look like, as King says, a provost of a university make the land acknowledgement and then state what the university is going to do to make good on the commitments of the Treaty for that particular land. In a place like B.C., where there are no treaties, it is a completely different call to action than in Ontario.

In Ontario, we have treaties that have commitments that the Crown agreed to for Indigenous people – access to hunting or fishing grounds for instance.

But the spirit of the treaties means that institutions need to be leaders in calling for action – how, as King states, the institutions will be breathing air into the colonizers commitments of the treaties.

(If institutions are wondering what that action can look like, there’s this little document called The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action.)

It is important to consider this next step as presently these acknowledgements are, as King states, becoming a box that gets ticked off on the agenda items for meetings or gatherings and do not have the intended meaning.


When Giving Is All We Have

I woke up to a newsfeed that left me with no hopeful words.

So, here are someone else’s.

When Giving Is All We Have
               – Alberto Rios

 One river gives
its journey to the next.
We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.
We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.
We have been better for it,
we have been wounded by it—
Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.
Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
but we read this book, anyway, over and again:
Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
mine to yours, yours to mine.
You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me
what you did not have, and I gave you
what I had to give—together, we made
something greater from the difference.