An opinion piece, by Karen Nancarrow, Ontario Certified Teacher
I’ve just read one too many teacher bashing posts on Facebook today.
As a teacher, I will of course, provide a slanted opinion, but here you are. Disagree with me if you’d like, but not until you read this entire article, start to finish.
I love my job. Period. I would do it for less money, fewer sick days, and less time off. I would do it if I had to be tested yearly by the government to show that I know my stuff, and even if extra-curriculars were forced on me. I would still do it. I love it.
I went into teaching because I love kids. Yes, there are many people who think we go into this profession for the money, but please consider this. A starting teacher’s salary in our school board is $39 000. And this is after an average of 5-7 years to get a contract. In order to move up on the pay grid, teachers must have years of experience (so our salary goes up a little every year up to a maximum of 10 years) and we must also take extra courses in order to be paid the maximum amount. So in order to reach the top of the pay scale, a teacher must have had a contract for 10 years and have taken several extra university credits (paid out of their own pockets AFTER two university degrees).
So given that it might take 10-15 years to make it to the top of the pay scale (which is still a modest amount), many people’s assertion that teachers are in this for the money really have no justification for their position. When you ask teachers to look at “how good we have it”, please realize that when we go into teaching, the reasons are NEVER about the money! If I wanted to get rich, I definitely would not have chosen teaching as a career.
Pensions: Yes, we have a good one. Because we PAY into it!! Every maternity leave that I’ve taken (3 in total), I have paid back my pension and paid $8000 plus each time to keep it updated. Pulled it out of an RRSP.
So putting the money argument aside for a moment, this fight with the government actually has NOTHING to do with money. The bottom line for most teachers is that we have the RIGHT to negotiate with our employer. In fact, when this whole thing first got started, most teachers I know said “pay freeze for two years – yup, times are tough – we get it”. But it was only after more details evolved that we realized that the government wants to take away WAY more than two years of a pay increase.
Some say that we should be negotiating with our employers.
POINT OF CLARIFICATION here – the government is NOT our employer!! The school boards are. Imagine a third party coming in, going over your employer, who you have a good working relationship with, and telling you and them what you will be paid, how many sick days you will get, what days you will take off without pay, and that EVERYTHING you have negotiated with your employer in the last 20 years has now just been taken away in a heartbeat. No discussion. You have no say and your employer has NO say. Not even 5 minutes of discussion were we given – thanks so much!
Wouldn’t you fight to at least have the discussion with your employer? Even if you ended up with the same thing the government wanted to impose, would you not fight to have the ability to try?
Here are the two biggest concerns that I have:
- Yes people not in unions dislike unions. But unions are the backbone of a lot of our working class people – whether they are in one or not. If unions fall, we should ALL be very afraid! What the government seems to be attempting to do is to get rid of unions. This is not about an argument with teachers. This is about the government exerting unjustified power to wave their magic wand and do whatever the heck they want and this is NOT OK!! Whether you are in a union or not, whether you support unions or not, remember that they are the ones who have fought for statutory holidays, minimum wage, overtime and good working conditions. Whatever is negotiated, ALL workers benefit! Get rid of the unions – you’ll also be getting rid of the middle class. Less people have less money to spend = more people out of jobs. Period.
2. This fight is about protecting our democratic right to free collective bargaining with our employers. If Bill 115 is allowed to stand (which I doubt, because one very similar to it was just reversed in BC because it was considered unconstitutional and unlawful by the courts), then this allows governments free reign and places themselves ABOVE the Human Rights Act and ABOVE the Employment Standards Act!! We should ALL be very scared of this! They are putting themselves ABOVE the law.
That’s it. Top two concerns for sure. Not about money, sick days, pension or benefits.
The government could have easily said to the school boards (OUR EMPLOYERS) that they had a certain amount of money and then teachers would have (just like we do every 2-4 years) negotiated our contracts with our employers. But they didn’t.
Because of their excessive spending over the last 8 years, the Liberals panicked when it came time for the bi-election a few months ago. In order to get the Conservative vote, they acted hard-nosed to get a majority. How’d that work for you McGuinty?
I get it. You’re upset. When teacher’s contracts are splayed out in the papers for everyone to see every few years, people get pissed off at our “privilege” and our sick days, and our summers off. We all have that one teacher who was mean to us (or 2 or 3) and it’s time we give all teachers heck because of the very few bad apples.
AND on top of that, what we have always gets compared to what everyone else has.
Teachers work hard. No one is saying that you don’t.
Teachers deserve every penny they get. No one is saying that you don’t.
Teachers need sick days because we are around sick kids who wipe their boogers on us every day. And get lice, Fifths disease and pink eye. The flu, barf on our shoes, and sneezing in our face. Oh yes. Fun times.
Teachers get the summers off. Yup. And we don’t get paid either. We get paid for TEN months.
Teachers negotiated banking sick days. This actually ended up being better for the government than paying us vacation pay, so we actually gave in and took the banked sick days over having vacation pay every year. Banking sick days means that we have a bit of a short term disability plan if we get really sick. It means that at the end if we haven’t used all of our days, we get a small retirement gratuity, which is then taxed and half taken away. This actually SAVES the government money in the long run – cheaper than the supply teachers they would have had to pay had we taken all of those days. (Let’s not mention that Dalton is getting paid right now for doing NOTHING (excuse me, I mean organizing the Liberal Leadership convention), and when he retires in a month will get a retirement gratuity of $315,000), but who notices that?
We get that we are well taken care of. But we help you RAISE your children. And for some, we provide a safe place, food for breakfast, a hug a day, love and support when they get that NO WHERE ELSE.
And we do a ton of extra-curriculars. The public loves us when we do them and they get outraged when we don't. They are ALL VOLUNTEER!! And we love doing them, but NO ONE has the right – not our employer, not the government, and not the public – to pressure us or to chastise us when we choose not to VOLUNTEER!
I had a student tell me yesterday that I have changed his life. Not because I do an after school activity with him, but because I listen to him, care for him, spend time with him and value him.
Yes, we’ve all had a crappy teacher or two. But please everyone… don’t make it about that. Teachers deserve your respect. You love us all year until it’s time to negotiate with our employers which we have every right to do.
Parents – you’re pissed off? Good. Because now you’re paying attention! So how will you expend that frustration? Posting more Facebook posts about how horrible and greedy teachers are? I hope not.
Do better than that. Stand with us.
We are fighting for your children. For our own children.
We are fighting for public education.
We are fighting for democracy.
And if we get taken down, I’d watch your back, because you might be next….