Work-to-rule tactics mean teachers are only working the hours they’re paid for
Teachers from Royal West Academy held a “mark-in” in downtown Montreal on Oct. 17 in hopes of gaining recognition for all the work they do outside of the classroom. They sat on the steps of Place-des-Arts, demonstrating in opposition to austerity measures being taken by the Quebec government.
The sentiment over the last couple of months has been that the government, which is offering the teachers a two-year salary freeze followed by a one per cent salary increase over three years, is ignoring the so-called “invisible work” done by public school teachers.
My message to them: your work is anything but invisible.
It’s visible in the student who conquered stage fright to perform in the school musical. It’s visible in the preteen who proudly announced to his parents that his marks are improving in math class. It’s visible in the student who decided to join their friends on the rugby team and fell in love with a sport for the first time. It’s visible in the countless alumni who have excelled and taken on leadership roles in their communities.
I was the second of four children in my family to attend Royal West. Between the years of 2005 and 2020, there will have been at least one member of my family wearing burgundy and blue at any given time.
The invisible contribution of the school’s teachers—in the form extracurricular activities, one-on-one meetings and well-devised lesson plans—has made me into the person who I am today: someone who is conscious of their environment and their ability to play an active role in shaping it. I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to let a 15-year-old direct a play, but those afternoons trying to organize a group of 12 and 13 year olds in the middle of a hallway were instrumental in my personal development.
I can see now, however, that as the teachers strike for the compensation they truly deserve, students are missing out.
“We aren’t taking something away. We just aren’t doing what we were doing for free,” said James Dufault, an English and drama teacher, speaking to CTV on the day of the mark-in. This is the same man who I remember, on a fall afternoon, instructing a room full of students how to preserve tomatoes, filling jars that would then be donated to a local food shelter.
My younger siblings, who are in grades seven and 10, don’t come home with stories like that anymore. Rather, my little sister confesses to me that she is struggling in math but can’t go see her teacher for help over lunch period. My younger brother isn’t going to get to help coach the bantam hockey team, as he hoped to do. The school that they attend is not the school that I know and love.
Katharine Cukier, my homeroom teacher for the the majority of my time at Royal West, penned a piece for the Montreal Gazette a month ago about the Work-to-Rule measures that the teachers are taking. In her letter, she explains exactly what is wrong with the expectation that teachers can complete all of their work, from preparing lesson plans to correcting papers, in 32 hours.
Cukier also noted the biggest issue with the stance that the government is taking is much greater than withholding adequate compensation for the work being done. “What will happen to the bottom half of our society who are going to struggle to learn or struggle with the frustration of an overburdened teacher in a dysfunctional regular classrooms?” she wrote.
This strike is not about a group of civil servants asking for a pay raise. It’s a matter of facing the reality of our public school system: that special needs students, who Cukier stated make up 15 per cent of the public school student body, and students from impoverished families will fall between the cracks.
An increase in resources is beyond necessary. Let’s start with those who stand at the front of the classroom, day in and day out.