A teaching friend of mine sent around this letter recently. It’s written in response to CBC Radio Morning Edition’s Scott Watson’s take on the May 5th walkout. I don’t know the teacher who wrote it, but I think it bears repeating, particularly in light of recent developments. I think it speaks well to the challenges teachers face in and out of the classroom as we negotiate with the government for our new contract. As a side note, for those of you not following the issue from Saskatchewan, teachers and the government have been negotiating a new contract for over a year, and we have therefore been without a contract since Sept 1. When conciliation failed earlier this year, Saskatchewan teachers staged a one-day walkout to show support for our bargaining team. This was historic in that it was the first time the provincial association had withdrawn all professional services province-wide since the beginning of collective bargaining back in the 1970s. Anyway, here is the letter:
Dear Scott Watson,
I am a teacher in Regina and I listened to your commentary this morning on my way to work, I have to say it was a very difficult way to begin a very long day and I listened with my jaw hanging as you stated your opinion about the action that my peers and I will take tomorrow morning. There were many statements that I would like to respond to.
I found your use of the word bullying particularly offensive. In an online search I found that the word bully is defined as one who hurts or frightens others to get what they want, or one who is cruel to others who are weaker than him. While teacher job action may be highly inconvenient to people in Saskatchewan, I do not believe that it is hurtful or cruel and I also do not consider the Saskatchewan public to be weak. Are you hurt or frightened by teacher job action? While some people may face difficulties in finding a solution to their child’s day at home tomorrow, you must remember that it is not my job to provide the Saskatchewan public with childcare. My job is to provide education.
You stated that the STF request for a 12% wage increase was stupid and arrogant. In my kindergarten classroom, calling someone stupid is considered bullying. I instruct my students to solve problems by talking about their own feelings and presenting what kind of change they would like to see in the future. You stated that the people sending their children to school do not receive 12% wage increases in one year without increased duties or earning a promotion. That was a pretty big generalization.
My husband is a lawyer for Saskatchewan Justice and just last year he and all other lawyers employed by the government received a 15% pay increase without increased responsibility or earning a promotion. Recently, Saskatchewan Nurses received a 35% pay increase. Lawyers, nurses and teachers are all university educated professionals with similar levels of education and training. I view these pay increases as well-earned appreciation for a job well-done, as well as their fair share of a wave of economic growth in Saskatchewan that they contributed to.
Teachers are extremely valuable to this growing province and we also desire some appreciation and some indication of our value to society. Moreover, I strongly disagree with your insinuation that teacher responsibilities have not increased. Every year teacher responsibility grows. We are expected to incorporate new technologies and teaching strategies using new curricula. We have continually increasing class sizes, and continually decreasing resources to support us.
I would also like to respond to the “hard questions” that you presented in your commentary. Firstly, you asked why good teachers get paid the same amount as bad teachers. That question has no bearing on STF bargaining. Who is to decide which teachers are “good” and which are “bad”? Does this same inequity not exist in all professions? And how would you account for a great teacher who has a terrible month or year because of poor working conditions or personal difficulties? How do you propose to regulate such a pay scale?
Secondly you ask why teachers who are very involved in extra-curricular activities are paid the same as those who are not. The answer to that is simple. Teachers are not paid for extra-curricular work. We are paid for the work that we do between 8:45 and 3:45 as stated in the Education Act. Anything else is volunteer work. You must also remember that while some extra-curricular activity, such as coaching and student clubs, is very visible to the public. Other extra-curricular activities are not. Teachers who choose not to be involved in student centered extra-curricular activities are often the ones who are doing other important work such as attending parent-teacher association meetings, chairing committees that promote growth and improvement within schools, or simply mentoring new or struggling teachers. In my 4 years of teaching I have never had a colleague who has not done some work that was outside the scope of a teacher’s defined duties. Every staff finds a balance of work load, and it is not for you or anyone to judge its fairness.
As for the question of why students have so many days off of school, I wonder what research you did yourself to find the answer to this question. Children are guaranteed a certain number of days at school in the education act and they receive them. I think there is great value in giving children days to simply play and enjoy themselves. There is much learning that can be done outside of school. Teachers are also guaranteed a certain number of professional days for training and for preparation for the work that they do. If the question you meant to ask is: Why do teachers get so many days off? I would like to inform you that we are paid for the days that we work. How many days of paid vacation do you get at your job Scott Watson? I get one. Most teachers in our province get zero. Scott Watson, do you get to choose when you take your vacation? I have no control over when I take my unpaid vacations. While it is true that we get two months off in the summer as well as numerous other vacations throughout the year, our pay is administered to us on a 10 month basis and the salary of a teacher on temporary contract is determined by a daily rate, and multiplied only by the number of days that we actually work.
I disagree that “it is not a leap of logic to figure out where some of the blame might lay” when considering that the “education system has lost a bit of its way the past number of years.” First of all, I find your statement very ambiguous. In what way has the education system lost its way? And who are you implying bears the blame? Why didn’t you just come out and say what you thought? As a person who works in a school, I attribute it to a lack of funding to improve facilities, an increase in child poverty and neglect, a decrease in parent accountability for their child’s learning, and a lack of support for teachers in the form of instructional assistants, child psychologists, counsellors, speech pathologists, behavioral consultants and lunch-hour supervisors. Teachers are bearing the weight of all of these student needs and oftentimes we are exhausted from the simple emotional drain of providing all of these things to parents and families, let alone the actual work of educating our students.
You spoke as though a focus on self esteem was some sort of trade off for instruction in reading and writing, when the reality is that teachers are expected to provide both. We do not give up the subjects of reading and writing in order to build children’s self esteem. Teachers do our best to help children experience success in these and all academic topics in an effort to build their self esteem through hard work and academic diligence. My job is not to make children learn. My job is to teach children. Students and teachers are equally responsible for student learning, and their parents also have responsibilities,
When I walk off the job tomorrow it will not be instead of doing the job I am paid to do. I will not get paid tomorrow. Instead I will gather with a group of my peers to try to demonstrate my worth to the Saskatchewan public. I feel strongly that there is a need for teachers to take job action and I support my professional federation in the decision that they have made, not because “my wants and needs are far more important than those I am paid to teach” but because I am selfless every day in my job when I skip my bathroom break to clean a scraped knee, or when I miss my lunch hour to attend meetings and make phone calls to parents, or when I spend countless unpaid hours marking, lesson planning, coaching, responding to emails, researching new teaching methods, retraining myself to teach a grade level I’ve never taught before, buying supplies for my classroom, creating portfolios for my students, decorating bulletin boards, creating my own teaching resources, filling in report cards, or attempting to stand up for myself in the face of negative press about my chosen profession. Tomorrow is one day for me and my colleagues and we have earned it. We are not taking it without consequence to ourselves.
While teachers are not allowed to vote on contract offers, we were allowed to vote about whether to take job action and we voted 95% in favour. The teachers of Saskatchewan will not be bullied Scott Watson and we are far too smart for whatever you, Scott Watson, are “trying to pull.” I invite you to spend one week in my kindergarten classroom with me. I would certainly welcome an extra set of hands, and perhaps it would provide you with an opportunity to “quickly find a way to get back to reality.” You have seriously misjudged the worth of teachers and I hope that my comments will prompt you to rethink the statements you made publicly this morning.
I welcome your response.
Well said! The commentariat in local newspapers is starting to swing towards the teachers’ position after this last round of talks failed (except for die-hard anti-union folks). We’ll see what pressure another strike brings to bear, particularly as we draw closer to the end of the school year.