Why Union Matters

As a new teacher, back in the day, the idea of being a part of a union was fairly new to me. I had very little idea of what unions do and how they support the professional and mental well-being of people like me. I recall hearing varying opinions about ETFO, as a union body, as well as learning about some of the ways colleagues interacted with their local and/or provincial union. However, I wanted to find out for myself what my union was all about, what they could do for me and what I could do for them.

A personal story: My very first interaction with my union came at a very pivotal point in my career. My first job in 1999  was as a LTO teacher in Toronto. It was shortly after the amalgamation of the six cities into one mega city, and many of the administrative roles and responsibilities at the various board offices were still going through reorganization. After working for a month, I realized that I wasn’t getting paid and my bills were piling up. Though I submitted all the necessary paperwork and documentation to the board on time as directed, apparently I was nowhere to be found in their payroll system. Every time I called payroll to find out what was going on, I was redirected to someone else based on my last name. At one point, I was told that I was calling the wrong board office and was given another number to call. Apparently that person was out of the office and no one else was able to respond to my issue at that time, so I was given another number to contact, and so on and so on. This continued for another two months and I had no idea what else to do to solve the problem. One day, I shared this issue with a colleague, who happened to be our school’s union steward. She gave me instructions on how to contact my union with all the necessary information and documentation of my issues with getting paid. I contacted the union and, to my surprise, the very next day I got an emergency cheque from the board. Two weeks later my regular pay was deposited into my bank account and I have had no issues with payment ever since. That was my introduction, and the start of a great partnership, with my union and the connection has grown stronger over the years. 

As I got more involved in the union in my role as union steward, volunteering on various local and provincial committees, attending ETFO’s annual general meetings as a delegate and representing ETFO at the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) Project Overseas program, I began to learn a lot about why union matters. I learned that ETFO not only fights for better wages and working conditions of its members, ETFO fights to improve equitable access to publicly funded public education. ETFO also advocates to ensure that members’ working conditions are safe and free from harassment and oppression. I also like the fact that members have access to professional development and quality teaching resources and support to ensure high quality student learning and achievement. I believe in a strong partnership between the union and the school boards across Ontario. A strong partnership would help to ensure that members feel safe at work and students receive high quality education in an equitable and inclusive environment. I know that not everyone might have had the same experience with their union as I did, but what remains true is that, together, our union makes us strong. 

For more information about your union, visit: EFTO

no cape required

Have you ever seen or heard this one? “I teach. What’s your superpower?” It’s on shirts, mugs, plaques and all sorts of other tchotchkes. I’ve heard it at conferences and keynotes too and it never fails to make me chuckle when I do because it seems like a humble brag even though it is true. To continue the candy coated clichés then, it comes as no surprise that each educator possesses super powers that they use everyday.

You know the ones I’m talking about. Pivoting (easy stomach) to emergency online learning with little to no notice, covering classes while losing prep after prep due to a lack of available occasional teachers due to illness or quarantine requirements, putting on a brave face for students and colleagues who are showing the signs of anxiety at the edge of a nervous breakdowns, and facing a barrage of unrealistic expectations from system leaders who are decades between the classroom and the boardroom. I guess the capes these superpowers come with are back ordered due to supply chain issues like our HEPA filtration units, school nurses, RAT tests, and consistent policy. 

Cape or no cape, I guess it’s not bragging when it’s backed up with actions because I know that it is happening in classrooms in Ontario and beyond on a daily basis. 3 weeks into the new year and the shift is coming to relax restrictions rather than enforce measures to protect the public. Each day another classroom is emptied while caretakers “sanitize” because another student departs with symptoms. Each day our front office team deals with 20% more calls and reports of COVID related absences of students. Each day we prepare to accommodate learners who have stayed home able to choose the hybrid option. Each day the struggle to see something positive in every situation becomes more difficult even for the most enlightened optimists among us. 

That is why, this post comes with its own irony, as I write this month, because it is taking all of my superpowers as an educator just to get through each day right now. I truly believe that it is not normal to wake up feeling restless or trudging home with little left in the emotional tank for family let alone friends or additional school work such as planning and assessment. It is taking every ounce of my superpowers to find the air and the serenity right now. Each exit from school at day’s end feels like emerging from underneath water to finally draw an overdue breath of air. 

The move to online and then back to the classroom this month with little to no regard to the wellbeing of students or educators is once again due to negligence and dereliction of responsibility by the current government. There’s nothing better than making sure families start the year wondering and witnessing ongoing acts of orchestrated distraction, unchecked number vomit news pressers, and photo ops provided confusion in the media for the public. These stage managed wretched events only amplified how an out of touch premier and his party of gaslighting grifters are able to go to inconvenience a province and its 2 000 000 students and make it sound like they are doing their jobs.

It is political performance art at its worst through a series of non-messages, announcements about announcements and off news cycle timing intended solely to keep everyone stuck to a web of distraction and uncertainty woven by political incompetence. It is also the kryptonite that weakens education and civil society at the expense of future generations who are only learning about their super powers in our classrooms. 

Thank you for reading and for sharing your superpowers. 

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Attitude of Gratitude

Many years ago I remember watching a gratitude themed Oprah episode.  There was a gratitude journal that the guest had developed and was relaying all of the benefits of writing down things that you were grateful for each day.  The power of suggestion (I’m a sucker for an impulse buy for self-improvement) lead me to the nearest Chapters to purchase one of those journals that weekend.  I certainly didn’t fill that journal. I think I lost interest in a couple of months because it felt as though I was writing the same thing over and over again.  I realize now that gratitude, like mindfulness and meditation, is a “practice.”

Gratitude practice is most effective when life is rough.  It sounds counterintuitive.  It is much easier to be grateful when things are going well right?  Easy to “count your blessings” when you are sitting on a beach in a resort in the Dominican Republic.  I personally feel the power of the gratitude practice when life isn’t going according to plan.  Though, I want to be clear here, there is a fine line between true gratitude practice and “looking on the bright side” or “finding the silver lining.”  That bright-side-silver-lining thinking can border on toxic positivity which isn’t helpful.

Gratitude practice means different things to different people.  For me, it is connected to daily journaling.  Each night since the fall I have been writing about my day in terms of gratitude before going to bed. Some nights I might write for 5 minutes.  Some nights I write for a half hour.  It might read something like, “I’m grateful that we got outside for a walk, that my son felt good about his essay after all of the struggles and tears, that we were able to eat a healthy meal, for Hello Fresh being delivered to my door and for the opportunity to reach out and connect to some new teachers through professional learning today.”  I try to reflect on the events of my day in terms of gratitude.  I could write in my journal that the technology in my professional learning session that day was glitchy, we got off to a rocky start trying to get everyone into the WebEx room, and there were links that didn’t work even though I had tested them twice. Instead, I choose to be grateful for the connection and discussion that I had with the teachers that day.  It isn’t that I ignore that bad things happen or think about how things can be improved, but ruminating on the bad things that happened during the day right before going to bed isn’t going to ensure much of a restful sleep.

In some of the professional learning opportunities that I have recently hosted with new teachers we have discussed the struggles of the current climate in the classroom.  It is important to have a safe place for teachers to voice those concerns and have someone listen with compassion and empathy and ask curious questions.  I will often say that there are many things that I can’t help them with, but that I am there to “embrace the suck” with them.   At the conclusion of those discussions my final question is always, “What is a recent personal or professional success that you’ve experienced that you would like to share with the group?”  This ends the discussion on a note of gratitude. It is SO easy to get caught up in venting and complaining about the situation in education right now. Teaching it is NOT an easy job on any given day but the difficulties have grown exponentially with the pressures that COVID has added.  So when we can take a moment to remember why we continue to go to work each day, why we got into the job in the first place and what our recent wins have been, I think it brings a feeling of hope.

Sometimes I practice gratitude in a less formal way that is more like mindfulness.  Recently while walking on a treed trail on a bright, sunny, winter day with my best friend, I stopped mid sentence and just looked around at the beauty.  I said to my friend, “I just had to take a minute to take this in.  We are so fortunate to be able to walk here.”  It only took a moment.  I don’t do that all of the time, we’d never get anywhere on our walks! However, remembering to do it every so often helps me to deal with stress and the bad things when they do happen.  If in the moment of a stressful situation I can take a moment to breathe and practice gratitude it sometimes keeps the emotions from escalating.  When conversing with someone who is frustrated and perhaps complaining or lashing out I try to remember that this person is doing the best they can at that moment and that each opportunity to interact with someone who is suffering is a chance to learn and I try to be grateful for that.  Author Andrea Owen in her book, “How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t” would call it an AFOG-another flipping opportunity for growth.  When I remember to think about gratitude in a not so great moment, I might do it raised shoulders and through gritted teeth, but I keep trying.  It is, after all a practice.

“If the opposite of scarcity is enough, then practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough.” -Brene Brown

6/194 and cross-curricular life learning

6/194 and cross-curricular life learning.

This blog title could also read, “Why a small fraction means so much to the future?”

I am trying to make sense out of some pretty important numbers that are affecting us. By us, I mean students, their families, and educators. “Us” also means the entire fabric of society that we share and by which we are covered. Since the currently elected government is seeking to tear this fabric apart without regard to the long term social and financial consequences, I thought it would be good to consider this post as a cross-curricular exercise and include social studies along with the math.

Whoa!(Math)

6, the number of days ETFO members have walked on the picket line fighting for public education.
194, the number of days in a given school year that we spend in the classroom making public education incredible.

Now a few more relatable figures.

3/97 or 0.030927835, just a shade over 3%. I had to simplify the fraction. Ironically, it’s the same amount that the government has legislated an offer to 83 000 ETFO, 117 000 educators (OSSTFOECTAAEFO), and 55 000 CUPE education workers in Ontario. Yup! 1% per year over 3 years.

Back to 6/194

That hole in our paychecks from this fight to protect and preserve public education hurts and the offer of 1% per year is unconscionable. Not surprisingly, the government padded their own pockets with 14% and took 7 of the last 12 months off(insert lesson about irony here). Since we’re talking about irony, why not share a real life teachable moment? I’m thinking a critical thinking exercise about the veracity of facts, content, and the credibility of media outlets especially where they originate or how news gets fabricated.

Want another amazing lesson? Check out this thread by @ms_keats This thread offers a wonderfully considerate lesson via Twitter after the MOE suddenly made Reg 274 an issue  during negotiations with ETFO. Sadly, talks broke off, but since education is always their priority, the public can trust that the government was back to work at the bargaining table the next day because they are committed to a deal(Is sarcasm in the curriculum?). Isn’t that what unions and their employers do in good faith in a democratic society?

Wait! What?(Social Studies)

What do you mean the government wasn’t at the bargaining table?! This is a realistic expectation because we are teaching our students(grade 5) that Canada, therefore Ontario is a civilized society governed by lawmakers who are always respectful of the rule of law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? I contend that the current government is engaging in a systemic violation of our Charter Rights as citizens as their thoughtless actions threaten the rights to opportunity in the future of 2 000 000 students and  the collective bargaining rights of 200 000 educators “not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment”. This line from the Charter is not limited to the criminal justice system, and any intentional underfunding of education through ruthless cuts is tantamount to punitive legislation and is contrary to our Charter rights.

If that wasn’t enough to light a legal inferno, then consider that a  6 – 1 Supreme Court of Canada ruling affirmed that collective bargaining rights are human rights, and the role of collective bargaining has “in promoting the core values of “human dignity, equality, liberty, respect for the autonomy of the person and the enhancement of democracy.”” 

I’m sharing the quote below with bolded and underlined main points, if my MPP, the MOE, or the Premier read this;

“the Supreme Court proclaimed labour rights to be human rights, and boldly declared for the first time that collective bargaining is a “constitutional right” supported by the Charter.

So our elected officials who have violated the Charter should now have to face the consequences for their malevolent disregard for the rights of its citizens. Right? I won’t hold my breath as legal cases against governments spend years in the courts. However, we cannot allow our elected officials to rule by decree without accountability to the whole public whom they have sworn to serve.

Civics does not equal civility

When will they pay for selling out the future and for the harm they will inflict to the well-being of the students in our province?  We will not lose count of the lies, the streams of misinformed statements, the factless rhetoric, the accusations, the doubling down, the vilification of our noble profession, and of the requests we have made for them to come to the table and negotiate.

I also contend that the current government is angling its way towards a secondary agenda authored by pernicious profit seekers including publishers and private education providers looking for a piece of the public education pie. These steps do not appear to benefit our students. Our steps on the picket line have shown more to the public of our commitment to excellence than any sound bite, attack, or child care bribe put forth by the government. There is strength in our numbers. 

Come to think of it, I have kept count of the steps I have stepped – 90 000 plus, the waves I have waved to drivers honking in support – 1 000s, the dozens of encouraging conversations conversed on the picket line, and the 3 people who waved with their middle fingers while yelling single syllable words.

It’s my first strike as an educator. Yet, it feels like our current fight against this government’s assault on public education is nothing new. Everyone remembers what Mike Harris and his ilk did in the 90s. The Ford Regime is Harris 2.0 complete with vitriol and misinformation spewing from a cadre of party whipped sychophant proxies acting as media drones du jour. In response, teachers are standing in solidarity together fighting for respect, transparency, and fairness on behalf of all Ontarians who will be directly affected by cuts to education now and in the future.

Teachers believe this so much, that have given up 3% of our wages already. We know that we are part of a world class education system because we work in it everyday. The results speak for themselves which is why it is so frustrating to see people trying to dismantle what is working well.

6/194 is a small fraction especially knowing how teachers, especially in 1997, fought for us. This will mean even more to the students of Ontario who will bear the burden or benefits because of our actions in the future.

Thank you for reading and for sharing on social-media.

Further reading:

This Collective Bargaining Rights Day, Unions Celebrate Wins for All Workers

Seniority Matters

Seniority in teaching matters because there is much documented research showing that teachers must practice up to eight years before they develop efficacy in their practice. In the British VITAE study of 300 teachers in 100 schools, authors Day, Sammons, Stobart, Kingston, and Gu (2007) showed that teachers’ levels of confidence and self-efficacy continue to grow until around the 7 to 8 year mark. After 8 years, teachers reached a significant turning point in their professional development (Day et al., 2007).

The 7th year of teaching is significant as it marks about 10,000 hours of teaching practice. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, states that in order to master any skill it takes “to a large extent, a matter of practicing … for a total of around 10,000 hours” (Gladwell, 2008). This make sense because teaching is a complex and challenging profession and as a result it takes over 7 years to develop high levels of professional efficacy. Further to this, as teachers’ professional knowledge grows, so does their professional judgement.

In the early years of teaching, there is a great deal of trial and error in developing practices that work with students. I content that this process, while occurring less often, is an ongoing part of teachers’ practices as teachers must meet the needs of many students. This results in developing a myriad of strategies implemented in tandem with many students’ needs.

I personally know that if I need collegial advice, I approach the most senior teachers in my school, as they have the depth of experience and knowledge to guide me. Further, teachers with extensive experience know that the work of teaching is complex, and it is naïve to believe that simple solutions will address complex challenges with students’ learning.

To imply that older teachers should not be teaching because of declining efficacy is to imply that other professionals such as older doctors, lawyers, and politicians should do the same.

I dedicate this blog to courageous teachers who strive to work with their colleagues and do the best for their students day after day.

I believe that when working collaboratively, teachers are better together.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

References

Day, C., Sammons, P., Stobart, G., Kingston, A., & Gu, Q. (2007). Teachers matter: Connecting lives, work and effectiveness. Maidenhead, UK: Open University

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. Hachette UK.

 

Celebrating us

We did it.

We brought another amazing decade of learning to a succesful close with passion, creativity, and purpose. For ETFO it has been 21 impactful years in the service of public education, students, and educators.

It’s my 11th year as an ETFO member, and I am looking back at the past decade with some mixed feelings. Perhaps it is a function of the time of year when all of the best and worst lists are being shared in the media? Regardless, I am thankful to be an educator who works with wonderful students and amazing staff at a great school.

On the other hand, I am also intrepid about what is continuing to widening gap between student needs and the resources with which to support them. What will the future look like if government cuts and policies changes go unchallenged? This got me thinking about how instrumental the work of ETFO is to supporting us and I found myself browsing through pages of resources, messages, and initiatives via etfo.ca

Whether you are newer to the profession or a veteran educator, I thought it would be a good idea to look back at the positive impacts made by our union that have helped us get us here, and as we prepare to for 2020.

Let’s take a moment to break down some of the numbers from 21 years of ETFO:

  1. Membership ~ Let’s use 75 000 as the mean number of teachers from past to present.
  2. Days of Instruction ~ 21 years x 190 days = 3990 days
  3. Minutes (days x 300 minutes of instructional time x membership) ~ 8.9775 x 10 ^10 minutes

For the sake of my own brain, I am going to say a lot of learning has occured as a direct result of tens of thousands of past and present caring ETFO educators. Millions of moments curated that have culminated and contributed to millions of positive impacts in and out of classrooms. Millions of moments where struggles turned into opportunities and hard work paid off. Millions of students who have gone on to do amazing things. Millions of lessons learned with millions more still to come.

Without becoming too nostalgic, I think it’s a great time to take stock of all the amazing things that have happened that have ensured the voices of elementary educators will be heard. 21 years on the shoulders of giants who have stood tall in the face of adversity to prepare a way for future teachers to succeed. To all of those who have taught before and alongside me, I am grateful.

Grateful for:

21 years of lessons learned in and out of the classroom.
21 years of remaining on the cutting edge of technology and ongoing teacher training
21 years of inclusivity and equity
21 years of looking out for the safety, mental health, and wellbeing of our membership
21 years of dispelling myths with facts
21 years of commitment to something bigger than themselves
21 years of standing up for students, their families, and to make public education better/stronger 
21 years of fighting against the malicious mandates of socially and fiscally tyrannical governments
21 years of solidarity

Such success is something to celebrate. Especially, with a strike mandate of 98% in favour this past Fall. Our collective voices and our profoundly positive professional impact will not be dismissed or ignored.

While certain media factions seek to villify our profession, we know that we possess the power to light the way for public education well into the coming decades. When elected officials undermine our collective good in the short term, we remain focused on the future by standing together now. Side by side, ours are the shoulders to stand on.

As I shared earlier in this post, the numbers show that the possibilities grow everyday an ETFO educators enters a classroom. Bring on 2020!

Cheering you on everyday and looking forward to celebrating an even better future in education. Thank you for reading.

Undercover Boss

Have you ever watched a show called Undercover Boss?

An average episode of the hour long program shows a CEO or top tier exec going incognito to better understand the work flow, flaws, and family of an organization. The show makes sure that the top dog is put alongside some pre-selected employees(often outspoken) who, fearlessly or not, walk the “newbie” through a day in the life at their job.

In most episodes, there comes a moment when a budget-line-watching-number-crunching-corner-office-seat-occupier realizes how their top down edicts are negatively impacting the organization until they see it from the perspective(s) of the workers. At this point in the show, regardless of profit and loss statements, the executive works to make things right, realizing that if things were better for the workers, the bottom line would benefit too. A win win outcome right?

I love TV. It creates narratives to suit itself. Moreover, despite a proliferation of reality TV programs, the medium remains irreal. Much like any Disney offering, TV has conditioned us to expect a happy ending that is far away from everyday experiences. If all goes accordingly, good always triumphs over evil, a hero will emerge, and on the show Undercover Boss, at least, some lucky employees will help their bosses to miraculously see the light and improve the company. This is not the current case between the government and public education in Ontario.

I would love it if our elected officials had the courage and conviction to do this for longer than the time it takes to convene a photo opp or craft a sound bite. I wonder why this is rarely, if ever, true when it comes to government and education. Other than clichés about how much the students come first and the importance of educators, hollow words do not mirror the devastating actions that senseless cuts are having on public education.

As such, we have seen neither the current Premier nor the Minister of Ed spending any meanigful amount of time with the people on the frontlines like an undercover boss. Since they are making decisions that affect everyone working in education, we all deserve to see and know that they are completely aware and informed.

I have never heard genuine words of understanding from elected officials that qualify them to make the decisions they are making which will ultimately impact our society for generations to come. In its wallet.

With so much attention placed on the bottom lines of provincial budgets, it becomes an easy target for outsiders to look across a spreadsheet and proclaim cuts can be made and no one will ever feel it without duty of care or context. This is not unique to education either.

This past year has revealed many glaring differences about how information is being (mis)used, bent, and or weaponized to suit political agendas. As such this misuse of information seems like systemic micro and macro-aggressions towards our profession, the public education system, and our students.

Which leads me to this question. How can a system of the people for the people be so myopic in its duty and dilligence? Isn’t the idea of education for all to actually provide education and therefore opportunity for all? With all of the time that governments and bureaucrats spend poring over the books, they have conveniently missed the direct cost implications of intentional systematic underfunding.

Here are some things to consider.

  1. Loss of education opportunities limits the number of skilled and quality workers contributing to the economy. That means more spending and tax dollars from higher wage earners.
  2. Economic cuts reduce opportunities for many people already living on the margins of society. That means cuts to education is a form of systemic discrimination towards many communities.
  3. Cuts to course offerings hurt the wrong people when those who can afford it can simply shift to a private school.Even my elementary students are shaking their heads about how traditional courses that lead to Post Secondary Science and Engineering courses are being limited or disappearing from local high schools. (see what is happening in my board @ YRDSB)
  4. Cuts to OSAP hurt the wrong people too. Rich kids will still go to post-secondary school, while marginalized students will have their futures moved further out of reach.
  5. Refusing to fund education to the fullest is a recipe for social disaster.  If we cannot agree on this, then we are agreeing to leave the next generation worse off than the last. When private schools are advertising that they have the courses that have been eliminated from our public schools, there is a problem.

None of the above are acceptable.

Our parents did not struggle and sacrifice for this. My mom and dad did not work full and part time for this. Neither did yours. Students and their families do not make sacrifices for this. No one would ever vote to limit the future of opportunity of its youth. Neither would a sensible and caring society allow anyone to slip through the cracks. Unless they had an agenda to undermine Canada as a civil society. The actions of our elected officials appear specious at best when it comes to education.

Our work brings value far beyond any budget lines could ever define because it brings human possibilities forward everyday. Reducing and removing opportunities also removes relationships that empower students into the future. Restricting or taking away someone’s access to education is simply an affront to all humanity. We are difference makers, miracle workers, and advocates for all of our students. We are working hard to change the narratives that have become a distraction in public education.

We are fighting to be heard and respected, let alone seen and understood, by politicians who prefer to take cover behind short sighted populist agendas that seek to serve the bosses rather than the people who work for them. It’s time for their eyes and minds to be opened.

What if every school could welcome an undercover boss(politician)? Maybe then, these decision makers would truly see the commitment, struggle, and value of our fight for students, their families, and this noble profession. My door is always open. No photographers please. It’ll disrupt the learning.

Fight on. #CutsHurtKids #ETFOStrong

Further reading

York board says bigger class sizes forced cancellation of 123 high school courses. 

What Exactly Is Happening To Ontario’s Education System? What You Need To Know

Financial facts on Canadian prisons

What is the Rand Formula and why it matters to teachers?

The Rand Formula provides legislation that all members of trade unions must pay union dues regardless of the worker’s status.

The Rand Formula was established by Supreme Court of Canada Justice Ivan Rand which was introduced in 1946 as a result of the Ford Strike of 1945 in Windsor, Canada. The Rand Formula is also referred to automatic check-off or compulsory check-off meaning that in provinces where the Rand Formula is not mandatory, an automatic check-off of union dues may become part of the collective bargaining agreement if the employer and the trade union agree.

Union dues to be deducted

This means that collective agreements include  “a provision requiring the employer to deduct from the wages of each employee in the unit affected by the collective agreement, whether or not the employee is a member of the union” and that this amount will be forwarded to the union.

Religious objections

If an employee has objections to this due to “their religious conviction or beliefs, objects to joining a trade union or to paying regular union dues to a trade union”the employee and/or their Board can, directly or through a deduction from their wages, send the equivalent funds to a registered charity.

Purpose of the Rand Formula

The purpose of the Rand Formula is to establish the legality of automatically collecting dues from trade union members covered by collective agreements. This means that workers in a trade union cannot benefit from the activities and protections of their union if they choose not to pay mandatory union dues. Even when members choose not to participate in their union or are not a registered member of their collective bargaining workforce, the worker still must pay union dues.

Why do teachers pay union dues?

In Canada unions are formed when the majority of workers in a workplace vote to become unionized. Once a union is established, members gain the benefits and wages negotiated by their union through the collective bargaining process, their professional advocacy for working conditions, and with professional representation.

Unions have a legal duty to represent their members and be accountable on how these member dues are dispersed. Union dues are democratically set by the members of the union who, in turn, receive the benefits of belonging to this union. Union dues are used to fund the cost of collective bargaining, to fund the cost of enforcing the collective agreement, and to fund the cost of campaigns union members instruct their union to support. Union dues are also used to defend workers in a workplace grievance as investigations and/or arbitration can be very costly. Further, if a union strike or lockout were to occur, members receive strike pay.

Can workers dispute paying union dues?

Legal Challenge: Freedom of Association (Lavigne vs Ontario Public Service Employees Union)

In 1991, Francis Lavigne, an Ontario community college teacher, complained that the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) was not using their union’s dues for purposes in which he agreed. Lavigne was not a member of OPSEU but was required to pay dues as per the Rand Formula and stated it violated his rights of freedom of expression in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (section 2b).

The Supreme Court ruled that there was no violation of Lavigne’s Charter rights (Lavigne, 1991) as the use of the union dues did have an expressive content but the payments of these union dues did not imply any support of union causes and did not prevent union members from expressing their own personal views. So there was no violation of the freedom of expression under the Charter and union dues were to be continued to be paid under the Rand Formula.

Connecting the Rand Formula to Teachers’ Real Lives

Teaching is a very public profession. Even when teachers are not teaching, they are held to high ethical standards. At or away from school, teachers’ choices and behaviour can impact their employment. Regardless of how professional teachers conduct themselves, they are always at risk of adverse complaints. When belonging to a union, teacher members receive the union support and resources they need to defend themselves in the case of an adverse allegation. Due to their professional and public vulnerability in their roles, teachers need this support in order to do their jobs. When political parties put pressure on governments to abstain from the Rand Formula, this puts teachers at great risk by impacting their collective bargaining rights and privileges.

Imagine being in fear of being fired when a student complains to a parent about an assessment or an adverse statement supposedly made in class. It’s happened to me many times and my administration and my union were there to back me up. My board respects the role of all their member unions, not just those belonging to the teachers’ unions (ETFO & OSSTF). It is in following the collective agreements that boards of education and their teachers can make student success a reality.

In solidarity and collaboration,

Dr. Deb Weston, PhD

 Why Collective Bargaining Matters to Teachers

CUPE Fact Sheet: Union dues and the Rand Formula

 Additional Resources

Advance Cutting & Coring (2001): The Supreme Court upheld mandatory union membership in the Quebec construction industry. R. v. Advance Cutting & Coring Ltd., 2001 SCC 70, (2001) 3 S.C.R. 209

B.C. Health Services (2007): The Supreme Court recognized collective bargaining as a constitutional right under the freedom of association guarantees. Health Services and Support – Facilities Subsector Bargaining Assn. v. British Columbia, (2007) 2 S.C.R. 391, 2007 SCC 27

Lavigne (1991): The Supreme Court upheld mandatory dues. Lavigne v. Ontario Public Service Employees Union, (1991) 2 S.C.R. 211

 

Beyond

Did anyone else go to sleep on the last night of school already thinking about next year? I did.

It’s not the first time either. After 10 years in education, it is now a given that I will go to sleep on the last day of school reflective, happy, and excited about the past, present, and future of this calling.

2 sleeps into the Canada Day long weekend and the reflections continue. Along with my REM time retrospectives (not the band, although they are awesome) come some big looks forward to September. It’s okay if you think this is not normal. I’m good with it. It’s not above, but it is definitely beyond what I ever expected to happen the very moment I started teaching.

For me, it is a great time to look back and recognize the growth over a school year at the speed of learning. It is also a time to reflect on the emotional highs and lows and to unpack the instructional tool kit for some much needed organization and maintenance. However, this June seems a bit different because of the current political climate in Ontario. This has me thinking even more about the importance of some advanced preparations. And why not?

I do this now because the year is still fresh in my mind. Whether I can control it or not, I remain in teacher mode – my internal alarm clock is still waking me up on teacher time. Since it takes time to wind down, I might as well wean myself off bit by bit and I know there must be many others out there as well going through eduwithdrawal. Want proof? Check out #onted on Twitter. There is still so much happening on an hourly basis directly relating to eduction.

Consider this recent tweet from Sam Hammond to our newly appointed MOE Stephen Lecce. It appears that despite going on a nearly 5 month break from the legislature, the new minister was concerned that teachers did not know their schedules.screenshot-twitter.com-2019.06.30-20-35-53
You’ll come to your own correct conclusions about the collection of castigating contrarians currently in public office. I have. With so many educators still in teacher mode, more are becoming actively engaged in challenging the effrontery of messages like Lecce’s. This is in order to protect all students from the political dynamite intended to undermine the bedrock upon which our stable and progressive society was built. It may be Summer, but time out of the classroom can be well spent in dispelling false claims and  controversial assertions coming from the ruling party.

One of the biggest loads of misinformation in need of incineration has been the outright promise that no teacher jobs will be lost. This has been a massive cause of concern as class sizes have been co-opted. It has also come with the staggering and sad losses of positions for many amazing educators. Many who continued to go beyond the job in order to serve their students all the while holding the cards of an uncertain future.

Someone who is going beyond to inform us all is Andrew Campbell. He curates a comprehensive document that shows how the cuts to education are affecting our profession by the numbers and from board to board. Warning, this might provide many with night terrors if they read it before bedtime.

This is what keeps teachers awake at night. We have to deal with stunted salvos like the one above from Mr Lecce and disrupt its corrupted political narrative. We must take a stance for the students whose voices and opportunities are being stripped down to the basics in act that will only destabilize their future by limiting their access to education. This is beyond anyone’s mandate or scope of power. No decent citizen voted in the hope of shortchanging the future of our youth.

In order to get past it, we must go beyond signing petitions or retweeting.

So stay up late.
Write a letter to your MPP.
Support and encourage one another.
Read up on the issues via @ETFOeducators on Twitter or via the Building Better Schools website.

We must go beyond the government insults, the inexplicably random policy choices, the gutting budget cuts, the acrimony, the villification, the distrust, the disingenuous praise, and the indifference because the 2 million students who we are fighting for are worth it.

There is something each of us can do to make sure our collective voices are heard. Sharing yours in July and August while you rest, recharge, and prepare for September will ensure that our support of students will be heard loud and clear all Summer too.

When the bells ring again in September, our answer to the ruling party will be in the form of 83 000 + strong devoted educators each ready to teach far beyond the destructive discourse of a politician’s disputes, and instead straight to the hearts and minds of our students like we always do.

Best to you all this Summer. Thank you for a great year of interaction and inspiration. See you on Twitter.

Remember to breathe (as you continue to inspire others)

I checked in on a few of my former student teachers today. Each of whom are shining examples of professionalism, commitment, and creativity in their classrooms. They have been on my mind alot lately, as daily news of the government sponsored attrition games occupy headlines and conversations across the province. I am sure they represent the hundreds, even thousands of new educators who have recently joined our calling.

It’s rough out there right now, and for many new hires to school boards the uncertainties of the day are leaving many wondering what the future holds? For each one of these amazing educators, things are changing and there is not much they can do to about it until the facts and figures are finalized. It must be difficult to know that the educational landscape is shaking beneath so many feet. We all need something to hold on through the experience.

Sharing what we have in the emotional toolbox may be all that can be done for now. I encourage everyone to keep checking in on one another as we remain united and ride out the storm. A call, an email, or time for a cup of coffee could provide a little needed encouragement. I have noticed that even veteran teachers are feeling the tension of these days too. I have caught myself stress eating, acting a little more impatient than usual, and struggling for motivation. I’ve taken to breathing exercises to slow down my busy mind. Perhaps it’s the unknowns of it all that are keeping me off my game?

To get a sense of it all I have been turning to Andrew Campbell. He curates Ontario Education Cuts. This is a list of announcements and projections from school boards and grade panels that challenges the message being delivered by the province to the public and school boards about job losses, shrinking course offerings, expanding class sizes, and shifts to online instruction.

screenshot-twitter.com-2019.04.30-20-35-35The information and numbers in this document seem to add up differently than political messages about job losses over time due to attrition and attrition alone. Maybe there is a Math Curriculum revision opportunity in the works here since such skewed accounting discrepancies exist?

What we all need is to have the complete set of numbers to work with before we can truly provide assurances to our new teachers that there will be jobs for them in education.

I remind myself that I am surrounded by incredibly dedicated and caring professionals whose lives are dedicated to making the world a better place. Stay informed. Stay encouraged. Be strong. We are all here to support and lift each other up when things get rough. Sometimes it might be a time for a cup of coffee and a conversation. Other times, it might be a simple reminder to breathe.