What is the most important thing to me as an educator?

This question was put out on Twitter today:

It’s a good question and I wonder how this will be answered today. This is what I said.

The most important thing to me right now is protecting public education from governments who truly do not see the value in strong, independent school systems. When a system is under attack and young teachers are losing their jobs, little else matters.

I have the advantage of being retired and because of that, I don’t have to worry about what my employers think about what I write. At one point I did and I suspect this is what stops many people who play prominent roles in education social media from speaking out.

Many educators think they shouldn’t speak out and that is sad. I really think this is a time when people should work in solidarity with other educators, mainly young ones with no seniority to oppose what the right-wing government here in Ontario is doing.

The current approach to governing in Ontario is basically slash and burn. Cut away public health, education, trees, music programs, public transit, legal aid, libraries – the list grows every day. There is growing resistance to this approach to governance and more people are beginning to push back as illustrated in this Toronto Star opinion piece – Ford ill-prepared to be the great disruptor:

When you go out of your way to offend people, you invite a bitter counteroffensive. Which is what’s happening with federal cabinet ministers, municipal councillors, medical experts, educators, parents and students.

Some people don’t seem to realize how good we have it in Ontario and how bad things could get. I have talked with teachers in El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico about their systems and it is incredible how fragile public education is in these countries. Even in the United States, it is really frightening to listen to the pressures educators are under. I talked to one teacher last year from New York City who told me they really had to dress warmly in the winter as their boilers were no longer functioning. To get replacements the school has to raise a public bond, something the local ratepayers were not willing to do.

People here don’t seem to understand sometimes how things could change in this province. It is like we live in a protected bubble here in Ontario and many still think we can go on as before and other people will fight our battles for us.

Fortunately, others are. If the Toronto Star piece is to be believed, there is continuing protest against cuts to public spending. The opposition has to be constant and it has to be universal. As I wrote in an earlier piece – you can’t just wait until they come for you, you have to stand up for the ones losing their jobs right now.

We are actually dealing with a true bully right now. I am not saying this to be clever or to score political points. Doug Ford has learned – probably from the politics of the current American government – that bullying works. People will not stand up on a prolonged basis to a bully. Somehow, that is someone else’s job.

That is not what we teach in schools. The bystander plays a key role in removing the audience from the bully. The bystander can suck the oxygen out of the room.

I mentioned the names of some educators in my last piece – What Do You Say When Our Social Institutions Are Under Attack? who are doing a really important job of leading the opposition to the PC government. More are joining them and even more should. This is not a momentary crisis. It will not end with the summer. It will never be business as usual as long as students are being crowded into classrooms and young teachers lose their jobs and their futures.

Maybe what I am saying will make some people uncomfortable or even angry. I really don’t mind that. But if you want to get angry at someone, why not direct your ire at the people who are willfully taking apart the public education system we have all benefited from?

Now that is a pretty important thing to do as an educator!

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What Do You Say When Our Social Institutions Are Under Attack?

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

Pastor Martin Niemoller

There is little question that social institutions here in Ontario are under attack. As an educator, I am most aware of what is happening to schools in this province and especially, I am very concerned about the newer teachers, those without seniority whose jobs are disappearing. Every day brings another announcement of new surplus to board notices.

Like Doug Peterson, I really don’t like that term. Surplus sounds pretty non-commital. I think we should use lay-off as they do in other sectors. These mainly young people are losing their jobs – that is what is happening.

I am encouraged by Andrew Campbell. He is quietly doing a wonderful job through social media of cataloguing the lay-off notices and now the stories of teachers who are being laid off. I am encouraged by Doug Peterson, who is featuring some of the posts written supporting teachers and students each week. I am also encouraged by the teachers who are speaking out about being laid off. These are brave people who are putting a human face to a great injustice.

One of these teachers is Melissa Basta. I don’t know her, but I am really struck by the message she put out this week and encouraged that so many people have retweeted her post.

Andrew is collecting these stories and you can find them here.

This is where I am struggling. Over the past week, several educators have written me in private and one pretty publicly to tell me (or in one case lecture me) on why they can’t get political on this issue.

I am not judging them, but it does make me sad. Maybe it is because I spent so many years as an administrator trying my best to encourage and work with young educators, but I just can’t understand why many will not take a stand when the quality of education here in Ontario is under such a threat.

Not standing up against what is wrong is a slippery slope. This is why I have included the Martin Niemoller poem in this post. Niemoller was a pastor in Germany in the 1930s and he spent seven years in concentration camps for his opposition to Adolf Hitler.

He actually started out as an early supporter of the Nazis but gradually learned to see how absolutely evil their regime was. His poem shows his gradual evolution as an activist. It is a stark reminder that we all need to play a role to speak out against injustice.

Will speaking out make a difference this time? I am not sure. Andrew Campbell wrote that he questions if it will. It is much easier to display opposition these days through social media so the overall effect might not matter.

I hope this is not the case. I hope those who feel it is not their role change their minds. I hope people like Andrew Campbell, Doug Peterson, Peter Skillen, Julie Bolton,  Will Gourley and many others will continue to write and collect the stories that should be heard.

This is a gentle challenge for more educators to speak out. I am not doing this to put you on the spot and what you decide to do is obviously up to you. However, allowing any government to act with impunity especially when it comes to the institutions that gird our social fabric is dangerous.

Please don’t wait until there is no one left.

Dividing and Conquering Educators in Ontario

This is an emotional time here in Ontario. The education system is certainly under attack by the Ford Government and I would say nerves are getting a bit frayed.

Not only are class sizes going up but more and more teachers are being put on notice that they have no position for next year. Andrew Campbell is doing an excellent job of cataloguing the surplus notices as they come out almost daily in Ontario. His list is now 11 pages long and it makes for depressing reading.

The notion that these redundancies will be covered by teachers retiring makes no sense to me. The way things work is that teachers with the least amount of seniority are declared surplus to school or the system first, then, much later in the year, some will be taken back as other teachers retire.

The document talks about “attrition protection” – a fund that will allocate money to boards so that younger teachers will be hired back if their position is cut. This seems to be a very complicated way around the current issue. In other words (I think) if the number of retirements is low, the Ministry of Education will allocate money to school boards to hire back its younger teachers.  This, to me, means that the Ministry will in effect be keeping the class sizes lower.

I don’t get it.

The shuffling and readjusting continues. One new measure brought up during the budget announcement has to do with the repeal of Regulation 274. This is not a budget issue, but it is one that could distract educators as they work to oppose the current actions of the Ministry.

Regulation 274 was brought in in 2012 by the Liberal Government as a way to make sure only the most qualified teachers be considered for new jobs. Principals were obliged to interview a prepared list of five candidates and these five were the ones with the most seniority on the long-term occasional (LTO) listing.

Unions liked this measure as they said it took out any favouritism in the hiring process. Education administrators didn’t like it because they were no longer able to choose the best candidate for the job – they were told who they could consider and it was a very narrow list.

Making an announcement now that the Ministry will be getting rid of the regulation has the potential to divide educators at a crucial moment. I have already seen this happening in some of the Facebook conversations I have been a part of. In one conversation I wrote that the end of Regulation 274 would allow for a more merit-based hiring system than what we have had since 2012. While my comments received some support from administrators I know I also received this comment from a teacher I used to work with. Referring to the time before the regulation he wrote:

We had a nepotistic system which was completely controlled by principals, many who were incompetent leaders. This was an improvement because teachers had to prove themselves with successful LTOs before they could move ahead.

He continues later in the conversation:

So the principals can now go back to hiring those that they can bully or someone’s relative. THAT will be great for education.

It only took a few hours for this to flare up. We have to remember that there are some profound differences in opinion amongst educators in Ontario. There has to be, just like in any other profession. What is important to remember now is that it is very easy to exploit these differences.

The hiring process should be discussed and debated and it certainly needs to be equitable, but this is not the time for this debate. The current government is working hard to syphon off millions of dollars on the backs of students and teachers. That is the issue, we can’t start fighting amongst ourselves.

If we become divided we become weaker. We become easier to isolate and easier to manage. It is very good to remember that it was Doug Ford’s predecessor, Mike Harris who took administrators out of the teacher federations and helped set up the ‘us and them’ dynamic reflected in the comments above.

A house divided will surely fall. Our profession is under a great deal of stress right now, let’s not make ourselves a pushover for those who currently hold the reigns of power.

 

Education Bloggers and Podcasters in Ontario – Make Your Voices Heard

If you are not an educator or healthcare worker, you might things are OK here in Ontario. We now have buck a beer and tailgating is not far behind. We have a government in Ontario that is catering to the base interests of many people in the province. The government for the ‘people’ is reducing class sizes, getting rid of thousands of teachers, diverting money away from repairing schools and delving dangerously into the math curriculum. They say the system is broken and they are here to fix it.

The situation will remain grim and we are probably heading towards a political showdown between the teacher federations and this government. This will not go well and a chill will descend over education in Ontario that will not be lifted for years to come.

It is very sad and frustrating that every 15 years or so we need to go into one of these destructive cycles. There still exists in this society a belief that educators make too much and that we lavish our children with an education system that is too rich for the collective blood. The system needs to be culled every decade or so to make sure money is being spent in a ‘responsible’ way.

If this were not the case, we would not have a government who says with impunity that student protests were controlled by union bosses and that teachers are engaging in political protest using their bulletin boards. The public, by and large, is accepting this.

Over the weekend, thousands of teachers travelled to Toronto to protest against this assault on our public education system. This is a good thing, but it is not nearly enough. In a world of the 24-hour news cycle, more must be done.

So, I have a proposal. While there are a number of great bloggers and podcasters who have made their voices heard, more of the province’s education opinion-makers need to weigh in. It is very possible to look at a day of podcasts and blog posts and see people writing about the same thing. This is OK up to a point, but I would argue that all writers and broadcasters need to dedicate at least 15% of their time to political protest.

Will this turn the tide? No, but that is not a strong enough argument for not doing this. When an excellent education is under attack by politicians who simply want to save tax dollars everyone has a role to play on a regular basis to speak out against this injustice.

Let’s make no mistake here. This is an injustice. Yes, this involves the loss of teacher jobs, but much more importantly, one of the best education systems in the world is being hijacked by politicians who are catering to society’s base economic interest.

So writers and broadcasters, let’s not beat around the bush. Come out and call this an injustice. Write more about how these changes have nothing to do with improving the education of our children and everything to do with leaving a few more dollars in the pockets of voters.  Call this what it truly is – an assault against the learning environment of children and young people in this province.

Please stop worrying about how this will look or what your followers might think. If you are able to put together a post on any other educational topic, this one really should top your list.