Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Memo to teachers' unions: You don't get $84,000 a year for a part time job

Politicized teachers "standing up for democracy" by targeting our kids
My sister is a teacher. She works long hours. So do most teachers. The teachers I've dealt with at my kids' elementary schools have earned my respect. They're caring and professional, intelligent, imaginative and enthusiastic. I can't praise them highly enough.

For the excellent service most teachers provide, they take home a fair salary:  $84,000 a year on average, plus great benefits – the kind of benefits most people in the private sector can only dream of.

On top of this, teachers have ten weeks off in the summer, two weeks at Christmas and another week in March – for a total working year of just nine months. In addition, their contracted working time is only 300 minutes a day. That's five hours. Put that together – nine months a year at five hours a day – and you've got a part-time job.

That's what it says on paper. But other than a few deadbeats that some schools are cursed with, teachers put in more hours every week leading extracurricular activities and hours more preparing lessons.

Except of course when they're in a snit or their unions tell them not to.

Currently most teachers in Ontario are in a snit or are conducting a work-to-rule job action as ordered by their union. The teachers are annoyed that the government imposed a contract on them. They say that's a violation of their rights. Doubtless it is. On the other hand, the government has not only a right but an obligation to the people of Ontario to keep the province from going bankrupt while keeping our schools working.

I don't know whose rights trump whose in this situation, but that's why we have a justice system. The teachers' unions have taken the government to court over the issue, and if indeed the government has overstepped their bounds, the courts will slap them down.

But in the meanwhile, the elementary teachers' school union has ordered teachers to continue taking out their anger on the kids, and while the high school teachers' union has given permission to resume extracurricular activities, in many schools they haven't  including in my daughter's high school.

This means no extra help for kids having trouble with math. No letters of recommendation for kids hoping to get into university next year. No meetings with parents. And of course no sports, school plays, after school clubs or any of the other activities that teachers normally supervise as part of their job.

In contrast, at my son's elementary school, the teachers are supposed to be continuing their work to rule campaign. Of course, that's not how the elementary school teachers' union puts it. They're not in a legal strike position, so they call this job action a political protest. A couple school boards in the province have taken the unions to court, so we may see a judge order a stop the union's campaign – or not. It's hard to guess what a judge will do.

In the meanwhile, while the teachers at my son's school are supposed to be taking part in the union's work-to-rule campaign, they're actually doing more than their high-school counterparts. Before March break, they took the kids on a three-day trip to an outdoor education centre. So the teachers were on duty for about 56 hours straight, and then returned and put in another two days of class time for the week.

They do the same every year. To repeat: putting in long hours is the sort of thing teachers normally do. But their union claims that such extra hours are voluntary and that extracurriculars aren't part of a teacher's job.

Decades ago, that may have been true. Since then, the profession has evolved. Decades ago, teaching was a low prestige job with bad wages. Not anymore. And seriously, in what other job do you get to call yourself a professional, earn $84,000 a year, and yet claim that you're really obliged only to put in only part-time hours?

I think it's a fair guess that the unions aren't asking for a return to low wages, so I'd really like to see a contract that spells out that extracurriculars are part of what teachers are getting paid $84,000 a year for. Besides putting a stop to the sort of work-to-rule nonsense the unions are currently inflicting on our kids, spelling out what's expected of all teachers will also put the deadwood on notice that they're not being paid just to show up.

Because of course there are teachers who never lead any extracurriculars, who have used the same lecture notes for decades, and who frankly just don't give a damn. Perhaps it's a pipe dream, but if we spell out what teachers are actually expected to do, maybe we can get rid of the teachers who don't do it.

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