I spend my days in solidarity with many teachers across Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, and across Ontario, in Protest against Bill 115.
To clarify, I am participating in a “pause” of any non-instructional work that I do during the school day, which includes all extra-curricular activities, clubs, and homework help.
It has not been easy. I love teaching and like many of my colleagues, working extra hours, participating in trips, plays, concerts and sports is a huge advantage of this profession. I can’t help to be filled with not only anxiety and trepidation but also confusion. The last several weeks have been filled with voices across my own community and Ontario debating the issues at hand. Do teachers have the right to Strike? Why are students being made to “suffer”?
I’ve noticed that people are focused on the present. Perhaps it is because they have a child in the system right now and they have a very personal stake. They want their children to have the very best education and they know that extra-curricular activities are an essential part of the schooling process. Research proves this. They know that their children need choice and flexibility at school and need to be enriched with a variety of learning that includes field trips, clubs, and opportunities to practice ARTS during non-instructional times. We know this well. I understand this because I am also a parent with two children in this system.
However, as a teacher, and as many of my teacher colleagues, I am looking beyond the present.
I protest for my students next year, in five years and in 20 years.
I protest to protect their future in the labour force.
I protest because I want my children and my students to experience an environment where labour rights are respected, debated, and upheld. I want them to continue to feel safe to voice their opinions in a democratic society. This debate itself – what an excellent learning opportunity this has been for them!
I protest to ensure that Ontario continues to uphold the high standards of instruction and respect for students and teachers that we have. I am proud to work for one of the most well respected systems of learning in the world. My stomach turns every time I hear someone try to compare our system to a US State that uses high stakes testing as a way to measure their children and teachers. I grimace at the thought of lowering our standards. What kinds of teachers would we attract to our profession? I am confused when I hear the community criticize teachers. Shouldn’t we support those that are working with our children?
I protest for change and progress in education. I push for innovation in teaching and learning. I push for new methods and insist on meeting the needs of our 21st Century children. I push for the ARTS in education. I am fortunate to work for a system where I feel safe and protected to take risks, while also getting the support that I need.
The last few years have afforded me opportunities to travel to many places across North America and the world where I would visit, share and collaborate with educators, researchers, parents and students. As an Ontario Educator and Activist, what I learned most from these experiences is how fortunate our children are to be attending Ontario schools and how fortunate I am to be a teacher in a Country that values my profession. I learned that even with a highly regulated system (much more than other countries), there continues to be a great deal of trust and autonomy amongst educators, which has led to much progress and innovation in many of our classrooms. Our organizations strive to work in partnership to empower teachers, as I have witnessed as part of the Teacher Leadership Program (OTF and Ministry partnership). In Ontario, our students and teachers are valued which is why we are constantly implementing new research and finding new ways to teach students that prepare them for 21st Century jobs.
If we accept Bill 115, I fear that the balance between Trust and Regulation in our system will swing irrevocably too far, creating a rigid system that is lead by those far removed from the realities of the classroom. Good teachers will leave. We will condone mediocrity and will fear risk taking. Our most valuable assets- our children – will ultimately be the ones that lose.