I like school teachers. I appreciate what teachers tend to contribute in making student communities more vital and engaged. Quality educators are a treasure, the catalyst for curiosity and a generous knowledge conduit. Civility and professional commitment are their personal bywords. Great teaching even welcomes its eccentrics that leaven the educational bread, the inspired oddball that shows the young there is more than one way to do something well.
I despise teachers’ unions – at least the ones I know all too well here in Ontario. The public school teachers are once more locked in a pathetic, soul-sapping fandango with their government paymasters (we have distinct public funded Catholic school systems – an equal rights and freedoms disaster story for another day). The same tired union narrative has wheezed long for the 40 years since I entered Grade 9 and our local high school teachers declared their first of many ‘work to rule’ campaigns in protest against government pig ignorance. Contract negotiations stall over (insert one): money / working conditions / preparation time / bankable sick days / pension benefits. Government and union leadership commence massive propaganda campaigns, each leading with their own version of “If you tell a lie, make it a big one”, with (wait for it….) IT’S ALL ABOUT THE KIDS. Uneasy peace forged for 4 year contract period. Repeat.
Ontario is out of money. Our Education Ministry claims it must cap budgets; teacher salaries are frozen; the government bans strikes by teacher unions; the legislation includes draconian penalties for any transgression, one on its face that strikes at fundamental freedoms of association and conscience. The unions reflexively direct their membership to withdraw participation in all extra-curriculars, the sports, clubs, and opportunities for the young that are at least as important as algebra or French. Do the minimum – we’ll show them. It’s all about the kids.
And so it goes…the jackboot of the state, poised at the exposed educator’s throat? The principled, altruistic union, our last public sector bastion to stand tall against the forces of evil? Hmmmm. Ontario teachers are the fourth-best compensated group amongst the 30 OECD nations; their US colleagues largely dream of average annual salaries of $98,000 after 10 years, with pensions to die for when compared to most. If I spent 9 months in close quarters with modern adolescents, I would want my summers off, too – and I know many teachers who take additional courses during these holidays, on their own dime – to get better, the way true professionals do.
But what winter of discontent so darkens the scribe’s heart where the individual is loved, and their leaders loathed? My meritocratic sensibilities will not stomach ‘professional’ unions and their blowhard bosses who refuse to cooperate with administrators to ensure that sub-standard teachers are encouraged to find other work. They refuse to agree to standardized evaluations. They claim a right of self-regulation. A simple observation: if indeed it is ‘all about the kids’ – hard to demand R.E.S.P.E.C.T when these unions do such a rotten job of reciprocation to the public that pays the freight.