Posted on December 12th, 2012
I know I haven’t written about what you’re going through in a long time, not since the post that unexpectedly deflowered my blog three months ago. I want you to know that it’s not because I’m ignoring what’s going on; I think about it every day. (Well – and I did have that baby, too, so my daily priorities are often more nap-and-poop-related.)
I’d like to be able to say, “I wish I were there at school with you!”… but it wouldn’t be true. Not just because I’m delighting in my offspring at the moment – although that’s a big part of it.
Mostly it’s because I’ve been imagining being in your shoes right now, having to participate in work-to-rule, and I know how I’d feel. The stress would be eating away at me. Although I don’t presume to speak for you, I’m sure a lot of you must be feeling stressed.
If I were teaching with you right now, it would be a constant source of frustration and guilt to know that no matter what I did, I would be letting someone down: either the students and their families, or the union and my co-workers. That’s the reality of work-to-rule. People hate it when we disengage from extracurricular activities. It’s a tough situation to be in while trying to focus on the best ways to captivate the minds of a roomful of kids, this close to Christmas… especially if you have an overactive guilt reflex (which I do).
I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I know that if I were teaching right now, in moments of fatigue and strain, I’d second-guess myself and my situation.
There would be times when I’d see kids’ disappointed faces and think, Do I HAVE to do what my union says? Is it THAT important?
Then I would go read Bill 115, and realize that I do, because it is.
The right to organize trade unions for collective bargaining is a fundamental human right, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Bill 115 says No, actually, forget rights and negotiations: YOU WILL DO AS THE MINISTER SAYS. You can produce a collective agreement identical to the one she presents, or she will “impose a collective agreement”. Seriously. How can you even call it a “collective agreement” when there is nothing collective about it, nothing agreed to? Laurel Broten, along with the Liberals and Conservatives who helped pass Bill 115, are apparently exempt from the UDHR. That is a scary precedent. If this kind of autocracy is allowed to persist, the Employment Standards Act – which applies to all working Ontarians – will be meaningless. (So if anyone reading this still thinks it’s about the money… sigh… then I’m afraid you’ve been brainwashed by McGuinty.)
Still, even knowing how regressive Bill 115 is, if I were teaching, there would be times when I would overhear parents’ understandably frustrated remarks – even comments about us holding the kids ransom, using them as pawns, depriving them – and think, Do we really have to do it this way? Is this the only option?
Then I would think of the Queen’s Park Rally for Education, and the countless other rallies organized by teachers, students, and supporters in the last several months, all of which seem to have gone unheard… I would consider all the written protests, the letters and petitions and votes that remain unacknowledged… I would keep in mind that last February at the Provincial Discussion Table, three bankruptcy lawyers represented the government and there was no actual opportunity for discussion – and that when union reps were in talks with the government last month, it was the latter who abruptly ended things. All of this tells me that work-to-rule is not the only option; but this situation calls for us to use as many options as we have. We wouldn’t be here if any of the earlier objections had prompted the government to repeal Bill 115.
Of course, parents want their kids to have everything. We want that too, obviously, which is why we do all those activities in the first place. I believe most of us would far prefer to still be doing them. But the children’s right to field trips does not trump our right to collective bargaining. So I’ve vowed to disregard words like “pawns” and “ransom” and “deprived”, because I know there is nothing malicious or underhanded about this job action. (Unless people want to direct that language at the Minister. THAT would be valid.) Also, I’m ignoring parents who say we are “not letting the students” play sports or do drama or what have you, since we have forbidden nothing. That’s Ms. Broten’s territory.
If I were teaching right now, there would be times when the general public opinion – the rampant vilification – would weigh on me. I might wonder, Is my union really representing my best interests? Would it be better if we just dropped it?
Then I would give my brain a shake and remind myself: no, Bill 115 is not a fight we should drop. Our union representatives are doing their job by making sure that we, the members, know this. They are also doing their job by asking for more than they actually expect to get in negotiations: that’s the nature of bargaining. They know the contract inside and out, and keep high ideals in mind. This is how, over the past several decades, they have negotiated many necessary improvements to working conditions in schools. We know the budget is tight right now, and compromising on contract points during negotiation is something we can do. Giving up the right to negotiate is NOT.
The government portrays us as unreasonable in the midst of the mess they created, despite giving us no opportunity to be reasonable. They have obscured their role in this standoff and everything that led to it, knowing that we would have to resort to measures that affect children (we’re teachers… everything we do affects children). Colleagues, I’m sorry you’re bearing the brunt of this. It is sad that the alienation strategy has indoctrinated so many people – but we don’t have to internalize it. We know we have support from each other, and from other critical thinkers, in spite of it all. We’ve all talked to parents who, despite the fallout of work-to-rule, understand and support what we’re fighting for.
If I were teaching right now, there would be times when the haters – the ones who go beyond complaining, who spit venom in the form of ignorant suppositions and really nasty language – would get to me, and I’d feel like crap. This did happen when I wrote that other post: at first, it was exciting to try enlightening some web trolls, but the vitriolic content (not to mention the effort it takes to be educative, diplomatic, and civil when responding to these people) wears a gal down after a while.
What made it worthwhile was discovering that many of you found the post encouraging at a time when you needed it. I’m very, very thankful for that.
If I find myself discouraged by the antagonism, I take a deep breath and remind myself: this viciousness has nothing to do with me, as a person. Haters will be haters. Trolls will be trolls. Some people will always be hostile to us. Some people have chips on their shoulders and feel the need to unload their bitterness on the web or in the Op-Ed section, where they can be anonymous. As teachers, we have taught kids with those kinds of anger issues, and know that they are usually in need of help.
I want to remind myself, and all of you who could also use the reminder: You are a good human. You try hard. You work hard. You teach, to the best of your ability. That is what matters.
Dear colleagues, I’ve realized something while writing this, and you probably have as well: in spirit, I am there with you. This mess sucks, and it’s obviously far from over, but I’m with you for as long as it takes. Good luck, and bon courage. And happy holidays.
A NOTICE TO POTENTIAL COMMENTERS:
This not a news source. It is a personal blog, written by a teacher. Please don’t expect it to be unbiased.
You are most welcome to leave comments. Mature discussion is great.
Please be aware, however, that if you use inflammatory language and/or make arguments based on wrong assumptions or inanities (especially if they demonstrate that you have skimmed this post, seen that it’s pro-teacher, and decided to rant irrelevantly), I’ll delete your comment. I’ve already taken too much time to respond to people like you over here, and I’m done. I have a baby to feed.