Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Understanding and Appreciating Teachers

Grade school teachers in good ol' Ontario are, by overwhelming majority vote at their union, currently on a work to rule program. That means, in this context, that they will teach their students but not do anything else -- like supervise extracurricular activities, do clerical work, etc. As far as I know, there isn't a single school board, in the entire province, that has a valid current contract with the teachers they employ.

It is a popular pastime, these days, to revile teachers. The teachers' unions are largely to blame for this. Teacher strikes over the years in Ontario, have resulted in resentment by harried parents, many of whom consider teachers to be under-worked and overpaid. Unless something dramatic happens in the interim, there will be Ontario-wide teacher strikes at the start of the new school year in September and there will be even more resentment.

Teachers can't afford to get any more negative attention. They will only hurt themselves by going on strike. Teachers, on average, make pretty good money in Ontario. Salaries range from a low of about $32,000 for beginners, to well over $60,000 annually. Additionally, there are very good benefit plans and plentiful time off, at Christmas, March break and the for the entire months of July and August.

I don't know about you, but I wouldn't teach my own son for $50,000 per year, never mind twenty-five or thirty of your kids. Please don't take offense. I'm sure that your kids are wonderful. In fact, let's stipulate for the purposes of this discussion, that every child, of every person reading this post, is perfect in every way. Let's also stipulate (strictly for hypothetical purposes, of course) that it is my son who is dull, unruly and un-cooperative, and who has a parent (me) who is blind to all his faults. Now, let's put twenty-five of your perfect children in a classroom with my delinquent-in-training.

What are the chances that there will ever be a class without some sort of problem related to the behaviour of my son? Pretty close to zero. And, if I am indeed the sort of father who won't accept that any attempt to discipline or admonish my child is anything but harassment by an evil teacher, nothing will ever be done about the problem.

Why is that?

When I was in grade school, parents supported the teachers. Parents expected their children to learn at school, to behave themselves and not be disruptive. If a child came home and dared to suggest to his parents that a teacher was picking on him for no apparent reason, the child would be treated to an attitude adjustment, then sent back to school chastened and, hopefully, more co-operative. Nowadays, the parent is more likely to accuse the teacher of unfair behaviour, bias against the child in question and who knows what else -- anything but accept the fact that it might be their own personal offspring who is the problem.

Is it reasonable to think that teachers have nothing better to do than to spend their days dreaming up ways to torture their young charges? Teachers know that the best chance they have of making it through every grueling day is to have a peaceful classroom, filled with cooperative children. That won't happen if they treat their students unfairly.

Here is what I think should happen: I think that teachers should insist that they get more flexibility in the disciplining of children in their classrooms. Principals and school boards should support the teachers. Problem children should be streamed into programs which consist of courses they can actually handle. In extreme cases, they should be expelled. No child, anywhere, has the right to spoil in any way the education of another. The stakes are too high. No parent, anywhere, has the right to expect that other parents put the future of their children at risk because there is mayhem in the classroom.

That's all that teachers should ask for. They make enough money, for the moment. They have enough benefits and enough time off. They also have thankless jobs with insufficient co-operation from parents, school principals and school boards. Fix that problem and we will have happier teachers. If we don't fix it, teachers will continue to demand more and more money, more and more benefits and more time off.

I don't know about you, but I would rather that my son be in school, actively participating in a classroom with a competent and caring teacher and motivated classmates, than to find myself in a position where I would have to teach him myself.

My son has had good teachers throughout his school years. I make it a special point, at the beginning of every new school year, of visiting with my son's teachers, pledging my support and co-operation. I insist that I be the first one to know if my child is the source of any problem in the classroom and if he doesn't do his homework or complete assignments on schedule. Then, I deal with the problem at home. Just as I don't want someone else's child(ren) to screw up the life of my child, I don't want my son's actions in any way to diminish the prospects of any of his peers.

Let's support the teachers of our children. I'll be at the front of the line.

A year or two ago, I wrote an article on the subject of school councils, found here: The Appearance of Doing Something Useful.

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