It’s Superbowl weekend. Lots of people up here in the north looking forward to getting together to watch football, cheer, groan and over-eat. I won’t be watching the game (ADTS: attention-deficit-TV-sports) but I am looking forward to a good party. Any excuse to have Ranch dressing and a distraction from winter.
Superbowl comes right before the second Blue Monday (or is it the third?), in the middle of a season defined by gray, white and cold. It marks the end of interminable January and puts a bright slash in the stretch of nordic monotony. It propels some of us to take our heads out of our hoods and look around. Notice stuff. Pay attention.
It definitely is time for Ontario citizens to pay attention to what is going on in education in our province. This week, thousands of Ontario educators will be walking picket lines in communities across the province. On Wednesday, every elementary school in the province will be closed because of labour action; on Thursday, ETFO members in districts such as the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, will be out on the lines again. Schools, the hearts and brains of our communities, will continue to be closed in these rotating strikes.
People have to ask: why are teachers striking? Why are educational assistants, early childhood educators and other workers striking? How has it come to this? Educators typically are people who love to do what they do, who care deeply about children and teaching. We know and depend on the routine of school, the stretches of time needed to build community, resilience and trust, so essential to learning. We want to be at school. We like coaching kids, running clubs, supporting students in class, holding orchestra practices, and conferring and de-briefing with colleagues. Kids, progress and change are everything to us. We also know, like lots of other people, that you also have to wake up, stand up, and give up paydays for what you believe in.
We are standing up for education. There is no space for cuts. We know: we work in schools! There cannot be any more cuts to special education resources – we don’t have enough resources now to meet current, growing needs. We can’t increase class size when, in many schools, we struggle, really struggle to properly meet the complex needs of students with learning and language challenges, behaviour and emotional issues, traumatic backgrounds, high anxiety and stress levels. We need MORE resources in our schools to be there with kids. Not less. We need presence and meaningful person-person time. That is when learning happens. Not on-line. And we are not walking out for money. Good God, I would not have gone into teaching, changing careers in mid-life, to make more money. I have a Master’s degree and enough skills to make more money in other jobs. That is not why I teach.
So, before this becomes a rant, and it is feeling that way, this is what I am asking my friends, associates, fellow citizens to do. PAY ATTENTION. Read the articles. Review the issues. Reflect. Think about what you wanted for yourself when you were in school, for your kids, your family. Write or call the Minister of Education. Think about why education is important, and what you want for kids overall.
Think about what it might be like when you cannot do the job you want to do. Think about the times when you went out on the limb for something you believed in, or didn’t agree with. Maybe it didn’t involve moving as a collective or carrying placards outside your place of work. Maybe you find the idea of striking uncomfortable. Well, get over it, please. We are taking job action to protect and defend education.
Poke up your head. Read some countering opinions. Measure the weight of numbers and stats behind the arguments and decide what is important. Take a look at what educational assistants and early childhood educators earn. Find out what they do. Read educators’ accounts of what goes on on a typical school day. This is about all of us, including you.