If You Want Something Done….

The phrase is actually “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”  I think in the face of provincial teacher negotiations it might actually be, “If you want something done the way you want it done, do it yourself.”

I could be off base on this, but the more I think about it the more I feel like Jeff Johnson doesn’t actually trust local school boards.  Not that I pretend to understand the facets of a very complex political system but here’s what I know….

1)  Jeff Johnson issued a statement a while ago (after Tripartite failed in November) saying that any agreements reached at the local level had to be presented to him ten days before ratification for “review”.  While he didn’t say this, it sort of felt as though he were implying he might exercise some sort of veto right if he felt he had to.

2)  He presented a contract directly to the ATA with regards to the province’s thoughts on salary and working conditions.

3)  When the contract was turned down with the ATA saying they would like to return to local negotiations (a system that has worked for many years in this province), Johnson started talking about possibly legislating contracts.

Like I said….maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.  But as an every day person watching this drama unfold it kind of comes across to me like the Minister is completely unwilling to give up control of this situation and put it back into the hands of the people who have been negotiating in this style for nearly a century.

The Minister wants a deal and he wants it now.  The public is under the impression this is a game about teachers wanting more money and guarantees they can have an even cushier working load then they already have (given that public opinion is I work about 6 hours a day with 10 weeks of holidays a year).

And the Minister has done a good job of making sure public opinion sways against the ATA.  He presented an offer with a tight timeline full of open ended loops holes that, while locking down teachers for 4 years, would give the government all kinds of flexibility to change the game up whenever they felt like it.

I can’t speak for other teachers but I do know this.  I’m working harder now than I ever have before.  My husband and I are both teachers and we live comfortably.  For us it’s not about the salary as much as it is the conditions within which we are working.

I used to have classes of 21 – 24 kids.  My class this year started off at 32.  7 of them are on IPPs, 1 kid had a severe learning and behavior issue.  And I’m expected to write those IPPs and look after the special needs of those kids.  When I first started we had an IPP coordinator who specialized in that and, while she kept me well informed and supplied me with help and strategies, she was much more qualified than I am.  When she left our school she was not replaced.  That was about 7 years ago.  Her job now fell to the rest of us who have NO background in special education.

I used to have supervision twice a week when I first started (about 35 minutes per week).  In my school this year, some middle school teachers are now at 145 minutes per week.  That’s  2 1/2 hours of their week supervising student during recess and lunch breaks.  Time that used to be spent photocopying, getting lessons ready, or just simply getting a break from their students.  One of my colleagues has a double supervision one day a week along with monitoring his class while they eat lunch.  He is with kids every single minute of that day.  No opportunity to have even 5 minutes to himself during the day.

We used to get 3 hours of prep time per week in one semester and 4 hours of prep in another semester.  That has been reduced to 2 hours each semester this year.  Just to summarize that, when I first started teaching I had  roughly 140 hours of prep time in a year.  Now it’s 80.  A loss of 60 hours of time that I used to prep lessons, engage kids one on one for extra help, do the menial tasks like photocopying, organizing field trip money, filling out my class pizza order, or other incredible meaningful things like collaboration with colleagues or doing quality marking.

I still do all of these things but now I do them on my own time, mostly at the expense of my kids and family.

My classes are getting bigger, my prep time is getting smaller, and in this ever changing world the pressure on me to keep up with PD and provide a quality learning environment is enough to make me crack some days.

Is it any wonder that after twelve years of teaching I’m just about ready to call it quits?  And I love my job.  I really do.  But I don’t know how much longer I can put everyone elses’ kids ahead of my own.  I’m burned out, stressed out, and facing a Minister who says “Do more with less.”  Last year I went down to part time so I could spend more time with my daughter (who will be in school next year so my part time comes to an end).  The thought of going back full time next year actually makes me sick some days.

This is just me, but I was good with a 2 year salary freeze.  It’s the working conditions that someone needs to do something about.  And saying you’re going to “study” it isn’t helpful.  Studies have been done!  The Minister just doesn’t trust them and wants to do his own.  Or maybe he just wants to make sure that they say what he wants them to say.  Will anyone really be surprised if he “studies” this for three years and it comes back to say that working conditions are no big deal?  I have a degree in psychology.  I know that you can make a study say whatever you really want it to say as long as you set it up the right way.

If you’ve ever read the book, “The Giver” by Lois Lowry there’s a section where a question is raised about a rule and the joke is that the committee will “study it”.  It makes everyone laugh because in the book the committee will “study it” forever but nothing ever actually gets done.

So you go ahead and study my working conditions all you want Mr. Minister.  I’ll just be over here with the classifieds.  Let me know when you’re done.

I’d like to end by saying that I think there is no more important job out there than teaching.  We hold the future leaders of tomorrow within our classrooms today.  And there are so many amazing things about our education system here in Alberta.  Other than my personal beef with things like standardized testing, etc. I really feel like I’m teaching in one of the greatest educational systems in the world.  Education is the foundation for a province’s economic well being.

Help us Mr. Johnson.  I need an advocate in government.  Not an adversary.  You co-chaired Inspiring Education, you’re a parent yourself.  I know you think education matters in this province.  So be the hero we need you to be.  Fight for us!

And there might be some out there saying, “But he is!”

And my response is, “He’s doing a really good job of hiding that then.”

Merit pay, watch dogging local negotiations, legislated contracts….these aren’t the words of an advocate.  They are the messages of someone who has control issues and wants everything done his way.

If you want something done……


About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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