Bt Katherine Wilton | Published September 22 by The Montreal Gazette
Teachers are angry that Quebec wants to increase class sizes in high schools and elementary schools and is proposing to no longer consider whether a child has a learning disability when calculating class sizes. A few months before negotiations began in March on a new collective agreement with the province’s teachers, former Education Minister Yves Bolduc told reporters there was no clear link between smaller class sizes and student performance, citing a 2008 Université Laval study. The government also wants to increase the work week from 32 to 35 hours and is offering a three-per cent wage increase over five years.
“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity
By Robert Green
There is no question that the teachers of Quebec are angry. Already the lowest paid teachers in Canada, the government’s current salary offer would see Quebec teachers falling even further behind with their inflation-adjusted salaries decreasing by about 7% over 5 years. Of even greater concern is the fact that government is proposing to rid our contract of nearly every clause that protects our working conditions and the learning conditions of our students, from limits on class size to a range of supports for students with special needs.
It is an understatement to suggest that the teachers of Quebec want actions that will pressure government to back away from its most regressive proposals. Most teachers are ready to make personal sacrifices in pursuit of that goal. The question for Quebec’s teachers is: what sort of action will actually be effective in achieving this goal?
A grassroots push to work-to-rule
Last spring the members of the Montreal Teachers Association passed a motion in their annual general meeting stating that the action the members wanted to pursue was a work-to-rule campaign. The sentiment expressed by many MTA members was that the large number of unpaid hours worked by Quebec’s teachers was an enormous source of power. Given that teachers are not paid for enough hours to adequately do their job, withdrawing the volunteer labour done by teachers was seen by many as an effective way to create pressure within the system while avoiding the spectre of back-to-work legislation. Working to rule may not be as effective for other public sector unions but there was a strong sentiment that teachers were in a unique position to create real pressure with this tactic. There was also a feeling expressed that it would be far easier to build and maintain public support through a work-to-rule campaign than through a strike action which would create major inconveniences for families.
With government proposing to remove current limits on class size and various supports for students with special needs, the teachers of Quebec need the support of parents. Below are links to two editable form letters parents can use to express their discontent to government. The first letter is for all parents. The second letter is written specially for parents of students with special needs. Simply download the .doc file by clicking on the link, open the file, add your name and the date, edit the “he/she”‘s and any other edits you’d like, sign the bottom and its ready to send. For the contact info of all Quebec MNA’s click here.
One would think the headline would produce little argument. Yet, in her column, Celine Cooper unwittingly reveals the inaccuracy of that remark. When referring to the “abysmal high school dropout rates and levels of illiteracy” she notes that “parents who can afford private schools jump ship.”
Dropout rates must be qualified; the private schools’ exceedingly high graduation rates contrast sharply with those of the French public system. In fairness, the public English system does not mirror its French public counterparts.
At this time, the number of students attending French private schools exceeds the number going to the entire English sector. Cooper’s point that “all Quebecers deserve a quality education regardless of how much their parents make,” should be true, but that is not the case.
And why not? French private school tuition is subsidized by up to 70 per cent from the public purse. Parents, by the thousand, with just moderate incomes, see that subsidy as an encouragement to abandon failing public schools, which have been affected by the loss of some of the more academically oriented students and a disproportionate increase in those with special needs.
By Robert Green ! Published Sept 10 By the Montreal Gazette
Imagine your child sitting in a classroom with 35 to 40 other students. What kind of education do you think they will receive in such a context? How much help are they likely to get if they find themselves struggling with the material? How much time do you suppose the teacher will be having to spend on the unpleasant task of discipline versus the joyous tasks of fostering learning, creativity, compassion and a sense of wonder in students?
Now imagine your child is one of many with special needs in this enormous class. What will be your child’s chances of succeeding if the limited supports currently in place for students with special needs are removed: no weighting system that ensures smaller classes when there is a higher proportion of students with special needs; no childcare workers in the class to assist the teacher; no resource room to turn to for extra help?
Now imagine all of this is happening in a context where deep budget cuts mean reduced access to psychologists, behavioural specialists and counsellors.
Parents throughout Quebec need to understand that this is what’s at stake in the current negotiations between the province and its teachers. It is no exaggeration to state that the Couillard government is proposing to rid our contract of nearly every clause that protects the learning conditions of students, from class-size limits to the various measures aimed at providing support for students with special needs.
As professionals whose primary concern is the welfare of children, we cannot stand for this, which is why the teachers of Quebec have been left no choice but to engage in pressure tactics.