A small but growing faction of angry teachers will withdraw voluntary services – from club supervision to coaching and directing plays – casting a cloud of uncertainty over the coming school year in Ontario.
The move is not a directive from unions, but a decision by individual teachers who feel betrayed by the Ontario government. Educators are up in arms over legislation being pushed through at Queen’s Park this week that dictates the terms of their next contract.
“It makes me feel like we’re just pawns,” said Lisa Taylor, a Grade 2 teacher at Arthur Public School in Arthur, Ont. “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a teacher who thinks this [legislation] is fine.”
Teachers routinely lead after-school activities on their own time or buy books for the classroom with their own money.
In an effort to make up a $15-billion deficit and preserve programs such as full-day kindergarten and smaller primary classes, the provincial government early this year asked teachers to accept a wage freeze and cuts to sick days.
Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said union members felt cut out of the bargaining process, but the proposed legislation that imposes the province’s terms was the biggest insult. He said he has heard from members who intend to withdraw from extracurricular activities such as clubs and sports teams in response.
“I’m getting inundated with e-mails and phone calls from people who say they’re fed up. They’ve put a lot of time and energy into a lot of things that they love doing, which are voluntary, and they’re starting to question if that’s being appreciated any more,” Mr. Coran said.
The teachers’ intentions provide a first glimpse of the coming school year. Mr. Coran had warned last week that some teachers might feel frustrated over the process and not want to provide extra services.
Ms. Taylor is among them. She has volunteered to lead school choirs and basketball teams in previous years, but said she is not certain whether she will do so this year. And she is rethinking the $1,000 worth of books, games and activities she bought for her students with her own money.
“There’s a part of me that just wants to walk into my classroom and just strip it of all the things that I’ve personally paid for and just bring them home to give them to my daughter,” she said.
Ed Coombs, who teaches Grade 8 at Queen Elizabeth Senior Public School in Mississauga, Ont., said he will no longer stay after school every day to help students with homework. He also won’t officiate at the annual soccer tournament, one of his favourite parts of the school year.
“It breaks my heart,” he said. “But the eroding of workers’ rights really worries me. ... Teachers are being treated really, really badly.”
Education Minister Laurel Broten was vague when repeatedly asked about disruptions to the school year as teachers act on their feeling that they are being cheated by the legislation.
“I really want to encourage our teachers to put the interests of the students that they have the privilege of teaching every single day first,” she said.
In July, the province reached an agreement with the English Catholic teachers’ union, but most school boards and other unions have been reluctant to accept the same terms.
With the school year just days away, the minority Liberal government recalled the legislature two weeks early to introduce legislation that would force the monetary terms of the Catholic contract on the rest of the province’s boards, delaying pay raises for young teachers and blocking strikes and lockouts. The bill, which has the support of Conservatives, was debated late into the evening on Wednesday.
Cayla Hochberg is another teacher who feels betrayed by the government’s strategy, but said she won’t let that affect her students.
“What’s happening politically does not translate to my classroom at all,” she said.
Ms. Hochberg, who teaches at St. Andrew’s Junior High in Toronto, said many teachers are frustrated but she believes that those who are planning to withdraw services are in the minority.
She coaches running and has already been in touch with teachers across north Toronto about the fall.
“The e-mails have already started about the cross-country season and they’re business as usual,” she said.