This morning, Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce is visiting the school in which I proudly teach. This comes at a time when all Ontario teacher unions are at a crossroads with the bargaining process, have held overly successful Strike votes and have been placed within a maze of displacing rhetoric from the Minister who readily holds press conferences about his commitment to students and their families all why cultivating a culture of divisiveness during the bargaining process. As Minister Lecce, my very own MPP, visits my school community today, I stand firmly in my advocacy for publicly funded education both as a teacher and parent.
Importantly, as an OECTA member, last week I voted YES in response to the Association’s call for a strike vote mandate. This mandate is one of pressing urgency as the Ford government machine continues to dismantle the legacy of a world-renowned Ontario education system. I voted YES in response to a government and Minister who clearly views teachers as expendable pawns and professes “modernizing education” without a critical understanding of what newly implemented policies mean for learners and their families. Importantly, the education system is being led by someone who is not an educator and who does not truly know the realities of the everyday publicly funded school system. This system is layered and schooling is so much more than curriculum.
As a teacher of 15 years, it’s hard pressed of me not to look at this situation from a biased lens. Of course, I am concerned about job security, benefits and income. Who wouldn’t be? Like so many Ontarians, I have a family and children to care for and I’ve worked incredibly hard to evolve into a proficient, diverse and pedagogically grounded educator with rich experience.
However, my advocacy is very much about education itself. I believe in being a life-long professional learner and work exhaustively to provide students with the very best educational experience possible in and outside of the classroom – this includes curricular and everything else that enriches a students’ schooling experience in a positive way. This means, I understand that we can always do better but also urgently know that our Ontario education system is not broken. It is modern. Great work is being done by teachers and so many other positive stakeholders.
Looking back to the Rally for Education at Queen’s Park on April 6, I attended not just as a teacher but parent of two elementary school-aged children and as a taxpayer. I rallied then for the same reason I voted YES last week. It was my stand against a disconnected government that does not value or understand the depth of the world-class education system we have in Ontario. Whether it be Public, French or Catholic, Ontario education is recognized as a world leader and that can’t be disputed by any person who is truly informed. Again, of course we can always do better and evolve. However, our system is not broken.
Reflecting on my YES, it’s one that I share with pronunciation as Minister Lecce visits my school community today. During the critical time in which OECTA filed for conciliation due to the Minister’s dismissal of the government’s bargaining team and overall lack of bargaining etiquette, the school setting is now being used for what can understandably be perceived as politicized gain. Although, it can be argued and valued that such a visit is positive as it’s a celebration of both student learning and teachers’ meaningful work, the timing for OECTA members brings discomfort.
This is the emptiness of it all. From all the positive words said about teachers and education on Twitter or Instagram, the failure to meaningfully act at the bargaining table, illustrates the hypocrisy of today’s visit.
You can’t celebrate great learning if you’re not willing to meaningfully be a partner in ensuring that students will have access to courses of interest (electives in high school), be in a classroom with a constructive teacher – student ratio, fund programming for the most vulnerable learners, adequately fund parent-engagement groups and eliminate mandatory eLearning (not simply lower the threshold).
Today is a curious day. Today is an awkward day. Today, I share that I voted YES. I don’t want to strike but will if it means advocating for my students, my profession and my own children.