Quebec teachers are defending children’s learning conditions

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.

Certain media have attempted to portray teachers as primarily concerned with salary. This could not be farther from the truth. Though we are the lowest paid teachers in Canada, making nearly $20,000 less a year than our colleagues in Ontario, there is little doubt in my mind that if the government withdrew its odious proposals that will have such dire consequences for our students and made us a fair salary offer that merely prevents us from falling even farther behind, we would probably vote for the agreement tomorrow.

We want these pressure tactics to come to an end as badly as our students do, which is why we need the active support of parents. The Quebec government has a long history of ignoring teachers and their unions, but it is often far more responsive to the concerns of parents. The more parents can find ways to actively support teachers the faster we can generate the pressure needed to persuade the Couillard government to abandon its irresponsible attempt to balance the province’s books on the backs of our most vulnerable students.

11200603_894715313901171_2463888740493347149_nIn addition to doing things like signing petitions and writing to local MNAs, one concrete way that parents can show their support for teachers and for public education is to join the movement to surround schools throughout Quebec in human chains on the first day of every month. This powerfully symbolic act sends a clear message to the government that the public will not tolerate attacks on the learning conditions of our children.

Thus far, most of the human chains have been formed around schools in French school boards. While a few schools in Quebec’s English school boards did this on Sept. 1, it’s time for parents and teachers at other schools to follow their lead.

We need to send a clear message to the Couillard government that attacks on the learning conditions of students are as unacceptable to parents as they are for teachers.

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