When I graduated teacher’s college it was the beginning of the “Harris years”. Teachers were being declared redundant all over Ontario. I spent three years teaching outside of the province. Since then I have been through many rounds of collective bargaining-both as a teacher and a local ETFO leader. I have seen how Ontario’s Provincial governments have continually eroded our collective bargaining rights, stripped our benefits and made working and learning conditions steadily worse for teachers and students. As you well know, they’re at it again. I’ve been asked, what can new teachers do to make a stand for education while still keeping a focus on our classroom in these uncertain times?
1. Take care of yourself Anxiety abounds in times of uncertainty and scarcity. Focus on the present moment as much as possible. Make sure you have the facts you need but try to stay out of the swirling vortex of unproductive conversation and speculation. Take time when you need time, do something for yourself that isn’t school related, eat healthy, exercise, if it is something you do-meditate, and get some sleep. Take one day at a time.
2. Don’t believe everything you hear in the staff room Well meaning and passionate teachers will discuss the political situation. Some of the things that you hear will be true and some will not. The correct information will come from ETFO Provincial office, local ETFO leadership and your school Steward.
3. Social Media Social media is a great a source of information but also one of anxiety. Remember to follow reputable sources such as ETFO and other Ontario Education Unions and get the information you need from reliable sources. As always, be cognizant of who could be reading your social media posts and pass on correct information.
4. Attend Union meetings and ask questions Collective bargaining and political legislation can be daunting. Sometimes it is assumed that everyone in the room knows exactly what is being discussed. Ask questions when you need clarification. You might find there are others in need of such clarification too.
5. Follow the advice of your Union Your Provincial ETFO has a plan of action that is communicated to all local ETFO leadership and ETFO members. As a new teacher you may feel powerless, but there is strength in members taking action together. Read your emails from your stewards and participate in political actions when asked.
6. Support one another These are uncertain times for all teachers and education workers. It is important to be aware of your own mental health and that of your colleagues. Check in with your mentor and friends on staff when possible. A note or a treat in a mailbox, an email or a visit at recess might make the difference in someone’s day. Remember, other education workers in your school, whether they belong to a union or not, feel the same pressures.
7. Your students When the learning begins, your students will always need your full attention. They will sense the anxiety that you are feeling. Try to leave the uncertainty and politics at your classroom door as much as possible. Concentrate on the students that you have in front of you for the next three months. The students are at the heart of what we do as educators and we will get through this together.