It was a brave Elizabeth Renzetti who stuck her hand up in class to defend teachers last weekend. This, after all, has been the year of our educational discontent. From job action in Ontario, tense labour negotiations in Alberta and questions about whether education is preparing students for jobs we have yet to invent, everyone has an opinion on teachers.
And then one of these summers-off types – because in a country that’s grey for most of the year, free summers are the real class divide – has the gumption to go and run for Prime Minister. The Tory attack ads were quick to mock Justin Trudeau’s qualifications as a camp counsellor and “drama teacher.” Trudeau was just as quick to produce his own ad: He was no radical exposing school children to Tony Kushner. He was a math teacher. He can write equations!
Renzetti reminded angry Ontario parents, who had watched their offspring suffer in the dispute between unions and the province, how they used to feel. She defended the profession’s ability to not only rescue small children and hormonal teenagers from their parents’ clutches, but to return them as human beings who can do math.
Almost 350 people weighed in on whether Trudeau’s teacher past is an asset. In spite of the frustration of many with teacher unions, readers also said they recognize that being given six hours a day in which to redress the impact of how students spend the other 10, is no easy task. Maybe it’s true, as one said, that “the only people who can really legitimately criticize teachers ... are those who home school.” Yet much of classroom management goes beyond letters and numbers. Parents care about extracurriculars because some don’t have the time or money to offer those experiences and because they can fill the place of a community that not every kid has outside of school.
Readers, on the other hand, questioned whether Trudeau perched himself on the corner of that desk for long enough to call himself a teacher: “... he chose to leave teaching after three years. That doesn’t sound like commitment. So it was the phoniness of the add which offended me.”
Ironically, those who’ve turned grey writing equations are most resented (for being “over-compensated on our dime”). Young teachers who spend years working as the sub have our empathy. Do we like them more because they are us, living in a world of work today, gone tomorrow, without a guaranteed pension at the end? Envy is a powerful emotion. Renzetti asked readers whether they'd be willing to pay for the lifestyle benefits of teaching by becoming the targets of all those spitballs.
Simona Chiose is the education editor at The Globe and Mail