I know you’re angry right now. You should be. That your bargaining process has been interrupted by the reprehensible actions of the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives in Ontario should outrage you and all Ontarians who support you.
I want to acknowledge your pain. Having never had a student wet himself beside me, having never had to separate a fight where girls’ hair is strewn across the floor, having never had to explain why the Merchant of Venice doesn’t suck, having never had to stop myself from swearing for more than a few days at a time … I know that what you do I could never do. What you do, most people can’t do. Even with the shitty teachers lumped in, the service you give to the community deserves to be acknowledged, honoured and celebrated.
Somehow, this message hasn’t gotten to Dalton McGuinty. Somehow his teacher-wife who I assume he talks to has withheld this vital information from him whenever they chat. Somehow his memories of high school (likely awkward) have clouded his judgement. Values of fairness, respect and process have been lost or forgotten.
In part, you are to blame. You spend too much time with students. Unlike the current government, you don’t issue a press release every time little Preethy learns to spell or big Hugh walks into class on time. You don’t brag to the world that another cohort of students have come and gone from your classroom with more knowledge than before. If you took the government’s approach to public relations, you would release an advisory about every child, every three days, even if medium-sized James was still a terrible fractioner.
In part, your union representatives are to blame. They thought that only Hudak could be as bad as Mike Harris. They were wrong. They thought that maybe Dalton was different. Despite having taken no action on much of the waste and poor policy ideas of the Harris years (like EQAO), they thought — just maybe — Dalton’ll respect us.
Did you know that one of the stats that Dalton likes to keep referencing is that under his watch, there’s been zero days lost to teacher strikes? He drags that out whenever he can. I first saw it at the Liberal convention in 2011. No mention, of course, that Ontario have a college professor strike under his watch. But who’s counting?
Dalton knows that playing politics with teachers is risky business. Screwing over the people who spend the most time with your children is not the smartest idea. But, his kids are grown now so bets are off, apparently.
You’ve all been used. Disrespected. Shamed. He’s hoping that you’ll return to your classrooms and never mention this again. He knows that your other political options aren’t the strongest and that many of you will reluctantly return to the Liberal tent.
But, you don’t have to do this.
You’ve just experienced what many progressive people would call “oppression” and it was at the hands of the “law,” or, the people who you elected to represent you. These people were empowered by your votes, are paid with by your money, play with your money and then make your most powerful tool, a strike, illegal.
When you experience an injustice at the hands of people you pay and you elected, you have to first acknowledge that you’re part of the problem. Then, that there’s something you can do to fix it.
I urge you to think beyond work-to-rule. That pisses off the most keen or the most in need of extracurrirulars. The most keen will grow up to become embittered politicians and repeat this vicious cycle. The most in need of extracurriculars are the ones you care about the most.
-Refuse to mark anything. Refuse to submit grades. Refuse to administer tests. Use this as an opportunity to be creative and responsive to your students. Give fake grades to the students who need to hear that they’re better than everyone else.
-Refuse to administer the government’s standard tests. Return the tests blank.
-Talk to your students about what has happened. Organize protests at your school in any way you can.
-Take your kids outside for class once a week. Hold class outside in protest (the kids will probably love this).
-Write a letter and send it to all of your kids’ parents about how you have been affected by this decision.
-Consider a wildcat strike. Tell your most active, badass kids to spread the word in advance so that no one actually shows up to school.
-Encourage your students to boycott their uniforms.
-Never forget and spend every second you have not marking to rage against this decision.
-Make sure that you have a few colleagues ready to take action with you. Do this together.
Teachers, I really feel for you. This hasn’t been fair. But, remember that the saying “no justice, no peace” actually means something.
Keep the children safe, get creative, and fight back with everything you have.
Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is mid-way through a Master’s in Education Foundations at the University of Saskatchewan. She is formerly the Editor-in-Chief of the Ryerson Free Press and the Communications and Government Relations Coordinator for the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. Nora’s music can be heard here: www.soundcloud.ca/nora-loreto and her blog is at www.noraloreto.ca
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