T-🧨N🧨-T - True North Truths with Rod McPhee; Suggested Reading for Teachers as Strike Action Looms

One of the ways I funded my university education was through work as a supply teacher in the secondary school system. I did this during the four years I studied at Western and worked as a permanent supply teacher for the better part of a semester following graduation.

I was offered a permanent full-time teaching position to teach at a new high school but, much to my mother’s chagrin, I turned it down because I had learned our school board’s position was that it was the job of the elementary system to teach basics, such as spelling and grammar. Despite the reality that most of the students in my English classes lacked these basic skills, my responsibility was to teach the secondary curriculum, not to take time to do remedial instruction in the basics of the language. I explained that I was being asked to spend the next 35 years trying to build on a non-existent or faulty foundation, which made absolutely no sense to me. Accordingly, I moved on to other pursuits.

My career ended up in the insurance industry, specifically, Group Insurance, dealing with employee benefits. During my years in this field, I dealt with a great many teachers’ groups, predominantly secondary school teachers. I also spent several years with full responsibility for the largest group of retired teachers in Canada (now known as RTO-ERO I believe).

Given all of the above, I feel I have a reasonably informed insight into the members of the profession and many of the realities of the environment in which they function. I believe this qualifies me to comment on the constantly threatened and/or occurring, teachers’ strikes.

I want to make it very clear that teaching is an important, difficult profession. I also believe there is merit to the complaint that teachers are often underappreciated. However, it is also true that teachers in general are a fairly insular group, largely because they tend to associate mostly with other teachers. They spend a great deal of time carping to each other on their shared beliefs that they are hard done by, an unintentional, but very self-serving group think.

For example, in the mid 1980s, I handled the Long TermDisability (LTD) coverage for a large district of the OSSTF. I dealt regularly with a teacher named Bob, who had been seconded to the role of Benefits Officer for the district. On one of my visits to his office, he hit me with the following lament:

“You know, people think teachers have it so good. Sure, we get a week off over Christmas, and a week off over Easter, as well as the whole summer off; but they don’t realize how hard it is to get a good deal on a flight in March.”

Momentarily, I stood in a stunned silence, looking at Bob, before responding,

“Bob, pull your head out of your ass and look around. The average salary for your members is $ 51,900, much more than the average worker earns for a full year of work, and they get only 2 – 3 weeks of vacation. You expect sympathy because it is hard to get a good deal on a flight in March? Give your head a good shake!”    

As I said, Bob was a good guy, but the above reflects the very self-serving, insular viewpoint common to many members of the teaching profession.

I am sick and tired of all the self-righteous advertising by the ETFO, OSSTF, and other large educator unions. It is every bit as much self-serving propaganda as is most government advertising. I am confident most teachers care about their students. I also have little doubt that they are, at least, equally concerned with their own self-interest. They fully support their unions shamelessly using the students, and their day-care challenged parents, as pawns in negotiations.

Most of the individuals with whom I taught have been retired for fifteen years or longer, with generous defined benefit pensions with COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) clauses. We should all be so lucky.

Governments need to be less dogmatic and the unions much less militant. I believe negotiations with teachers (and other public sector employees) need to change significantly. There is some merit in making the employer’sability to pay a consideration in negotiations. Perhaps we should eliminate across the board percentage increases and move to flat dollar amounts. Sticking with across the board percentage adjustments, perpetuates giving the largest amount to those with the least need and continually widens the gap between younger teachers and more senior teachers.

Most teachers at the top of the scale are making in the vicinity of $100,000 per year; however, it is the newer-teachers, often having waited years for a permanent position to become available, who are earning anywhere from $40,000 to $50,000. Often, these new teachers bring higher levels of energy and creativity to the profession. It can also be argued that they acquire more value with each additional year of experience than do most senior teachers. Those at the lower end of the scale will benefit the most from a flat dollar salary adjustment while, measured on a straight percentage basis, those at top of scale will benefit somewhat less. It should also have the added benefit of reducing somewhat the ever-growing cost of education for the government and the taxpayers. It might even free up funds to be spent on other aspects of the education system about which teachers complain.

I think we would all benefit from a change to a flat dollar adjustment for all public sector negotiations.

Think about it.

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