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!

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.

Trolls Creep Into the Education Debate in Ontario

What does one expect a retired principal to say??? You just want leech our system dry and fail our student to line your colleagues (sic) pockets.

Taken from a direct tweet to me – Sunday, March 24

We are entering into a zone in Ontario where debate and protest are again necessary to protect public education here in Ontario.

Unfortunately, when you begin to advocate for a public institution, you do invite the trolls out there to take shots at you. It is incredible how quickly the debate on social media can go south when we start talking about education. I certainly will not be focussing on the negative, but it truly is a shame when people think it is OK to attack teachers for standing up for their students and parents.

Every 15 years or so democracy seems to take a misstep. We elect someone whose interest in public institutions is suspect. Why do we do things like this? Why do we get tired of supporting vital public institutions?

Democracies sometimes head down the wrong road and when this happens the consequences can be very destructive.

In Ontario, the current government of Doug Ford is taking the beginning steps in dismantling many of the gains our education system has made in the past 15 or 20 years. For the most part, we have made these gains because the people in power believed in strong public institutions. Of course, they made lots of mistakes and they could have done more, but I don’t think you can argue that they didn’t believe in a strong public education system.

The current government is having trouble figuring this one out.

When I protest, I’m not standing up for my rights. I’m standing up for my students because my working conditions are their learning conditions & they deserve better than crowded classes, fewer high school options & forced e-learning.

Taken from Twitter – March 25

It is great to see educators fighting back – there are lots of comments like the one above on Twitter right now. Maybe we can drown out the trolls!

There is an important interview you should all listen to. In it, the current Minister of Education, Lisa Thompson struggles to explain why increasing average class sizes to 28 in high school is a good thing.

//www.cbc.ca/i/caffeine/syndicate/?mediaId=1461676099953In a follow-up article, Lisa Thompson is quoted saying that her government is committed to standing by Ontario’s teachers.

I would argue it’s a little more like standing on the necks of teachers, but that’s just me.

This is an important moment for education in Ontario. Increasing class size does only one thing – it reduces the number of teachers you need to employ, nothing else. Anyone who has spent time scheduling high school classes knows that and I have done lots of that.

You have to expect the trolls will ooze to the surface during these debates. Lots of people have real or imagined gripes against an educator and social media gives them a voice.

trying to ‘school’ teachers will not work for Doug Ford

What is great about the current debate is that lots of educators are also taking to social media to write in support of the current system. This is really important. I don’t know if it will make any difference, but politicians should learn that they can no longer make decisions in a personal vacuum. Their decisions will be debated and in some cases protested against in the public forum. Doug Ford warning teachers not to protest his education cuts is a hollow threat.

It is good to reflect on the Twitter comment to me. The troll writes,  “You just want leech our system dry and fail our student to line your colleagues (sic) pockets.”

The day before Doug Ford was quoted saying this, “I love the front-line teachers and we may not see eye to eye with the head of the unions because all they want to do is collect their union dues and start pocketing (them) into their pockets,”

There seems to be a similarity here. This is what happens when our political leaders drag down the debate and make things personal. It gives permission to the trolls out there to do the same thing.

Educators in Ontario should not allow this to happen.

 

Public officials should not destroy what they cannot understand.

nothing against this person, but Lisa Thompson is not an advocate for a strong public education system in Ontario

Like many concerned educators, I have been following the education news in Ontario as closely as possible.

It seems to me that the political leaders in our province are doing their utmost to follow the lead of the much more flamboyant political dilettante south of us when it comes to public audacity.

In the last few weeks, some crazy ideas about education have been floated out there.

First – let’s get rid of the kindergarten cap of 29 and the hard cap of 20 in grades 1,2 and 3.

As a former elementary principal, this seemed to be thoughtless and irresponsible hogwash. It was soon followed by another thought bubble – let’s see if full-day kindergarten is all that effective!

Again, as an elementary principal, I have to say that FDK was easily one of the most innovative and successful education initiatives that any government has proposed over the past thirty years. Especially in my last school in a high poverty community made up of immigrants from all over the world, FDK became the great leveller. Children who did not speak any English, who had never had the opportunity to socialize with other kids were all brought together in the same classroom.

It was a little hectic, but we had gifted, truly wonderful teachers and ECEs who worked hard to socialize these children. They had them all day. They made sure they got a good nap. They taught them how to play in a larger social setting, they brought them into a wider society.

I can say the same about the caps in primary and kindergarten. In the most important years of education, class sizes were kept small. No school in the province could sneak in more students and save costs through larger class sizes. In the most vitally important years, a calm learning environment was given a chance.

These wonderful innovations had one important thing in common – while they were great for kids and educators, they were expensive. The number one expense in education is staffing and small class sizes mean more teachers, more salaries.

We have been very fortunate in Ontario. Over the past two decades, we have had some truly visionary leadership in education, inspired and guided by some of the best minds in the education world. I have been so proud to be an Ontario educator.

Now, something has changed. Call it the rise of populism in Ontario or whatever you want, but the expert is now not needed or wanted. We can get rid of great policies by floating an idea out there with no consultation and absolutely no wisdom or vision.

A wise person once remarked that we are experiencing the death of the expertise era. In a populist wave, public ministers are moving into positions of power with little or no experience. But they are for the ‘people’ so experience no longer matters.

So, as a way to start turning things back to sober discourse on what is best for children, I am suggesting that the current Minister of Education, Lisa Thompson resign.

I have nothing against this person and good for her for becoming a public servant, but she doesn’t know anything about education and she is certainly not a strong advocate for a vital public education system.

She is being moulded as a hatchet person for the current premier who certainly has no love for public education. As you would expect, the Toronto Star has come out against Doug Ford as the anti-education premier – The results show education is enemy number one for Premier Ford, but there is a good point here. The current government is looking for the vulnerable points in our education system.

What costs lots but serves a population that certainly cannot speak for themselves?

Lisa Thompson really has little idea of what she is doing, but it is the job she was assigned and she is going to do it. Calling for her resignation will go nowhere, but the call does need to go out.

We deserve an excellent system. Our system is excellent. Public officials should not destroy what they cannot understand. In the end, we will rebuild, but why put children through all of this?

 

The Opposition grows in Ontario to Health Curriculum Changes – Minus a Catholic Voice

 

The summer is usually a quiet time for education news in Ontario.

Not this year. The declaration by the new Conservative Government of Doug Ford rescinding the current (2015) Health and Physical Education curriculum is causing a virtual firestorm in the province.

The story just gets more interesting by the moment. Andrew Campbell is doing an amazing job at keeping track of the school boards in Ontario that are coming out with statements in support of teaching the 2015 Health Curriculum.

Here is a portion of the TDSB (Toronto Public) statement:

We want to let the TDSB community know that regardless of the Health and Physical Education curriculum, we have a responsibility guided by the Human Rights Code, the Education Act and supported by TDSB policies, to ensure that each and every student, such as LGBTQ students, feels included and reflected in our schools and classrooms.

Similar statements are being put out by many of Ontario’s Public school boards.

It is important to note that none of the boards making public statements are Catholic school boards. Before I go on, I want to state that I was a Catholic educator for 31 years in Ontario, the last six years as an elementary principal.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Principals Council of Ontario seem to be silent on this very important issue. They may have made statements, but nothing is available on their websites or twitter feed. These two organizations are important components of the Catholic voice in this province. Just like the bystander who doesn’t stop the bully, these organizations are becoming part of the problem when it comes to delivering an important curriculum to our children.

Liz Stuart, the President OECTA, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association has made a positive step to become the lead Catholic voice in the province.

And I say again Teachers need relevant, up-to-date information and resources to help students manage relationships and personal well-being.

She was interviewed by CBC Toronto a few days ago. In the interview, she makes it very clear that the current Fully Alive Program taught in Catholic schools complied with the 2015 HPE Curriculum. Why then are Catholic school boards reluctant to publicly support the retention of the 2015 curriculum?

Good for OECTA and Catholic teachers in the province. However, the Catholic hierarchy seems to be taking the position that a return to the earlier 1998 curriculum is a relief. No mention of cyberbullying, same-sex couples, issues relating to LGBTQ people, consent or sexting. No uncomfortable conversations.

Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board chair John Caputo was quoted in the Sault Star as being satisfied by the current regression by the province.

“Being Catholic, we don’t agree with the lifestyle,” Caputo said. “(But) we’re not here to judge people or to crucify them for their lifestyle. We’re here to educate, and that’s what we’re trying to do with our children is try to educate them so that they’re well prepared for the real world.”
There was, however, a “sigh of relief” within his board, Caputo said, when the new government announced the older curriculum would be brought in.
“It was a lot easier to deliver it, based on our faith,” he added. “The newer one did have some challenges and we were struggling on how we were going to present it.”

While it is inspiring to see the position the Public boards are taking, it is very discouraging to see Catholic boards favouring a position of abstinence rather than speaking out for the protection of their students.

It seems to me there are two reasons for the silence. First, this is uncomfortable ground for the Catholic leadership. As school board chair John Caputo stated the 1998 curriculum was easier to deliver, it was based on Catholic faith.

I would argue that our faith is much more inclusive than that. As Catholics, we have a responsibility to support those who are underrepresented in society – that should come first. Respect for the Dignity of the Human Person should come first. Instead, we are falling back on old ideas.

Second, the Catholic boards do not want to say anything to anger the current government at a time where the idea of amalgamating Public and Catholic school boards is gaining currency.

Hardly surprising, but troubling.

When so many voices are missing from a crucial public debate you have to ask if the Catholic voice in public education is losing credibility. As a former Catholic school principal, the absence of Catholics in a debate that really centers on what is best for our students is a loss for everyone.

Students, parents and teachers deserve better than this. There should be a stronger, braver Catholic vision in Ontario right now.

Some Suggestions and more responses on what to do with Education in Ontario – a rolling blog

results 1

This image has been updated from July 7th. This wordl includes some of the key words in the 148 responses to our survey.

This past week a very interesting article was published in the Hamilton Spectator by a retired teacher, Ken Durkacz –  An open letter to Premier Ford on education

So, I have to say I find all of his suggestions appealing and it would be interesting to see what others think. Here are the author’s main ideas, I will paraphrase, but you can click on the link above to get the details:

1. Eliminate standardized testing. It would save tens of millions per year, which could be reinvested.

2. Move to one publicly funded school system. It would save millions in the duplication of services.

3. If you must cut from boards, cut from the top. There is a widespread feeling among front-line workers in schools that boards are bloated with people in positions that have little to nothing to do with the day to day education of students.

4. Reintroduce principals and vice-principals back into teacher unions.

We tried to survey people interested in issues during the election and it did work a little. You can read how people responded to an open-ended survey I wrote here. Thanks to Google, the 44 responses to the survey are summarized here. If you ignore the obvious overrepresentation on Regulation 274, there is no clear consensus on what the major issue in Ontario education is. So, I think Dan is heading in the right direction by making some very practical suggestions on how to improve education in this province. People who took the survey certainly echoed what he wrote.

Rather than giving my opinion on what might be the most popular ideas, let’s open this up to others who have an interest in public policy and education in particular.

Here are some ideas:

  • a survey (who doesn’t like a good survey) on what are the best ideas to pass on to Mr. Ford
  • a series of podcasts on some of the key ideas in the article. We will take care of that using our series – First Hand Stories on VoicEd Radio.
  • (a postscript – here is the first of our podcasts  and here is our second podcast
  • our third is here
  • a summer panel discussion – what are the key ideas that the new government should be considered in education? I think this would be a great discussion for VoicEd Radio. Maybe one episode per idea?

Summer is a great time for wondering about new ideas and initiatives. Maybe the new Minister of Education, Lisa Thompson could be a special guest on one of these shows? I will certainly share the survey with her.

We will start with number 1 – a survey for all of you. How would you rank the four suggestions? Do you have your own suggestion? Let’s see if we can generate some interest in education issues here in Ontario for the summer.

Postscript:

After 59 responses in less than a day, the results can be seen here

It is a little hard to interpret the results except to say all four issues seems to be important to respondents. What is most interesting so far are the comments at the end of the survey.

It is unfortunate that most are dominated by the Regulation 274 robots. This is to be expected, but what is a bit disappointing is that other educators in the Twittersphere are not all that willing to enter the debate, retweet or even like this discussion. I do hope this changes, the debate on the future of education deserves to be joined by more education opinion-makers.

We have completed our first podcast on our response to the article – you can listen here

A follow-up podcast is now out here

Our third in the series is here