Even though I’m both a certified teacher (currently not employed in that capacity) and a parent, I have kept pretty silent on the current strife between teachers and the Ministry of Education in this province. In part, that’s because I don’t completely know what to believe or where I stand.
There just seems to be so much spin. The same newspaper article will quote the Minister saying the unions wouldn’t negotiate, and the union reps saying the Ministry wouldn’t negotiate. The Ministry claims it is all about money (and the media certainly focuses on that); the teachers say they agreed to a wage freeze long ago. And underneath the online articles are comments by teacher-bashers harping on about how teachers are “overpaid”, “get summers off” and “have cushy jobs”. Which apparently means they shouldn’t have the right to negotiate their contracts. Or something. And which also begs the question: why didn’t all these people go in to teaching if it’s such easy money and anyone can do it? But I digress.
No matter what you think led to the current situation, these kinds of comments make no sense and have little to do with the actual issue. Some people claim they “don’t feel sorry for teachers” because they could bank sick days, and “no one else gets to do that”. Regardless of my opinion on banking sick days, the fact is, this was a benefit that was agreed upon in the past. And I don’t care who you are: no one likes to have something that was promised to them taken away. Teachers work with kids, who are sick all the time and often have to be sent to school that way because their parents have limited sick days of their own. So perhaps instead of criticizing teachers for having lucked out in the paid sick day department, we should be asking ourselves if other industries can be doing better by their employees.
In my private sector job I often went in sick, exposing my co-workers to germs, so that I could reserve my days for when my children needed to stay home or to go to the doctor. As did my husband—and we still used all of our paid sick days, and went on to use vacation days for illness. And we had a nanny for some of that time! I can’t imagine what it’s like for a single parent with no back-up daycare, having maybe five days out of the year (if he’s lucky) to take for illness and doctor’s appointments between himself and his kids. Yeah, there’s a problem here, but I don’t think it’s with the number of sick days teachers have (or had).
I’ve also heard gripes of “I’m self-employed, I don’t get paid if I’m sick.” So, perhaps get a salaried job? Oh wait, being self-employed is probably a choice you’ve made for a variety of reasons. And no, there is no sick pay or employment insurance. Because if you are not paying into those benefits, naturally, you can’t draw on them. Perhaps set up your own savings that you can use when you are ill or out of work or wanting to take parental leave? But don’t blame it on teachers that your income and benefit structure is different. I had access to those kinds of benefits when I worked in a salaried position too. As a freelancer, I no longer expect them. But I can also drop off and pick up my children from school, do laundry while I work, set my own hours, work in my PJs, save time and money on commuting, attend my children’s school functions if I like…And looked at another way, because I’m a freelancer, no one is taking money off my pay cheque at the source. Like most things in life, it’s a trade-off. I’m pretty sure there are many, many, many things about teaching that non-teachers , both salaried and self-employed, would not want to take on in exchange for ten paid sick days, or even twenty, banked or not (otherwise, they’d be teachers, I suppose?)
Another good one is “in the real world, if you don’t like your job, you quit.” Really? I guess I don’t live in the real world, because for many if not most people, it’s not that simple. Many people dislike aspects of their jobs, and yet they stay because they have mouths to feed and bills to pay. Or maybe they’re just not quitters and don’t expect every moment of their professional lives to be unicorns and rainbows? Maybe the good outweighs the bad? Perhaps they hope to change whatever it is they dislike or disagree with, so they can get back to enjoying the actual work they do? Even if they want to leave and move on to something else, most people can’t just up and quit before another position comes along, especially if they would need to return to school or retrain first. Never mind the point of the contract talks has nothing to do with whether or not teachers like their jobs! Yes, I hope teachers that actually don’t like teaching will leave the profession, and yes, I know there are teachers currently in schools that probably shouldn’t be. That doesn’t mean most of those unhappy with the current situation don’t love and excel at their jobs.
My favourite is people complaining that teachers get summers off. Well, our kids get summers off so it makes sense teachers would too. There are definitely arguments for changing the school year, but I don’t think many include having kids go to school like so many of us work: 9-5 every day, year round, with only two weeks off for vacation. I, for one, don’t want that for my kids.
But maybe those commenters do think our kids should be going to school all summer long just so we can stop being jealous of their teachers? Or maybe only the teachers should have to go in during the summer, so we can all complain about “what do they do all summer that we have to pay them when our kids aren’t even there?!” (Psst, since teachers are only paid for the ten months of the current school year, if they worked summers, they’d get paid more.) Yes, summers off is one of the nice things about being a teacher—that said, many teachers I know work during the summer, sometimes paid (teaching a course, marking tests), sometimes not (planning their lessons for the upcoming year). Many go to school and pay out of pocket to upgrade their skills. I’m still not sure why they should be punished for a school calendar that’s been in place for probably over a hundred years by having their right to collective bargaining taken away?
Which brings us to teacher salaries. Frankly, I don’t think the starting wage is that outrageous, especially considering teachers must hold at least two degrees. Other professions requiring more than a Bachelor’s degree generally have decent compensation. Isn’t that sort of fair? Don’t you expect to be paid for your skills, education and experience?
I left my previous career knowing that my first teaching job would pay less than what I was making. After I spent money putting myself through school earning an additional degree. Clearly I didn’t do it for the money. Yes, there is a pay grid, which means teachers can eventually make an attractive salary, but they need experience and further education to get to the top of that grid. But what drives me crazy about this form of teacher-bashing is, why would we want poorly-paid teachers? Don’t we want professional, educated people drawn to teaching? Doesn’t the job they do–educating our children–deserve a decent salary? If you think not, if you have no respect for teaching, why on earth would you trust your beloved children to teachers all day?
Do I like that extracurriculars have been paused? No. Do I look forward to the disruption of walk-outs by my kids’ teachers? No. Do I have any idea what else teachers and school support staff could be doing to protest besides rolling over and letting their agreed-upon rights be eroded? No, I honestly don’t. Do you?