Well, the inevitable is about to come upon us. This Friday, Kawartha Pine Ridge (KPR) teachers will take part in a one-day strike action to show solidarity against Bill 115 and, as a result, elementary schools throughout the KPR District School Board will be closed. This comes after teachers across the province began rolling one-day strike actions last week.
This brings a local focus to the ongoing dispute between teachers and the Ontario government over Bill 115 — otherwise known as the Putting Students First Act — as parents scramble to find alternative arrangements for their children a week before Christmas break.
As is the case whenever a negotiation is public, there’s been a lot of rhetoric thrown around for both sides and, frankly, not a lot of progress. The public reaction is mixed from what I’ve read through news agencies and social media, with people saying “support our teacher’s rights” to “get these overpaid whiners back to work”.
Depending on the outlet you get your news from, the spin may also vary; however, spin and opinion aside, there is always fact and here it is.
Bill 115 is basically Premier McGuinty’s swan song. It was announced and then, after what felt like only minutes later, McGuinty stepped down as leader of the party in another classic example of starting a fire and then leaving it for someone else to put out.
If you don’t already know, Bill 115 takes away a lot of the union’s rights to strike action and also gives a lot more power to the Minister of Education, who can impose restrictions or contracts on teachers and force them back to work should they strike. You can tell that the bill was truly initiated off the idea of putting students first but, by the time the bill passed into law, it was filled with some sneaky back door surprises.
Teachers want a new collective agreement and the government wants it to include things like reduced sick days and rights. The government isn’t asking for teachers to keep things status quo for the next few years; they’re asking teachers to give some things back. Instead of agreeing that there will be no public sector raises for the next two years and keeping the current agreement in place, the government is looking for teachers to give some things up.
I’m not waiving the flag for teacher’s unions; I’m waiving the flag of fairness. If teachers are to make sacrifices, what sacrifices will Ontario politicians be making? Will they be taking a reduction in benefits or sick days?
Think back to the days when you were in grade school or high school (this may be more difficult for some of us). I’m guessing most can pinpoint, somewhere along the line, a teacher that really affected them.
For me, it was Mr. Jerry Allen.
He was my religion teacher in grade 9 and 12 (I went to separate school). Mr. Allen had to teach me at a difficult time in my life when I struggled with my parent’s divorce and a heavy drinking problem. I was 14 and I was a mess. Yes, I was drinking — a lot — at an early age and all I was trying to do was stay numb.
Mr. Allen was incredibly understanding, real and would call BS on something if he saw fit. He identified that I needed some help and would take time every day to make sure I knew he was there for me if I needed it.
Mr. Allen’s actions stuck with me through the years and now, as a 31-year-old father and husband, I still think about the kindness he showed me when others didn’t.
Teachers aren’t filling pot holes in the street or pushing paper in a back office. They’re shaping the minds and character of our children. Our kids spend hours everyday with their fellow students and teachers, and the experience they have there can have a major impact on their future. This is why teachers deserve a fair deal and the same rights as any other union. I get that there may be some bad apples — people who hate their job and got into it for the wrong reasons — but that’s true of any profession.
As a teacher in this day in age, you face more dangerous and complex challenges than ever before. It’s not a glorious job; in fact, it’s often a thankless job. Regardless of spin and hype, we need to stand behind and support the people who have one of the largest roles in our children’s lives and ultimately put students first.