From Colin Matthew, my good friend and fellow bargaining unit president over in District 15 Trillium Lakelands:
Sisters and brothers we find ourselves in interesting times. Our working conditions are again threatened by those who believe that we lack the resolve to stand together. We enjoy innumerable benefits won by those that came before and as such it is incumbent on us to ensure that those to come enjoy better conditions than we do.
Of course, teachers are not a particularly self-centred bunch – in fact our job demands that we give of ourselves intellectually and emotionally everyday. We do this, however, in an environment of almost total isolation and while we know our students and our craft it is easy enough to lose sight of our colleagues and their individual circumstances.
A long retired phys ed teacher I know uses the term ‘ages and stages’ to refer to the changing priorities we face as we proceed through life. I want to take a minute to outline the minutiae of the Collective Agreement and argue that the part ‘that doesn’t affect me’ is worth fighting for, and even worth striking for if need be.
Beginning and early career – time can seem limitless if family demands are few and energy levels run high but money and job security are often precarious, while student debt burdens us, and there are myriad pressures to jump into voluntary activities outside of school.
Your CA has hiring, staffing, surplus protection as well as PD funds and recognition of prior work experience to help get you started. If you have questions you are entitled to representation and the union can come to you. Your CA also reminds us that voluntary activities are just that.
Finding your feet – while the paycheck grows so to the demands, perhaps of buying a house or starting a family. Time is more precious and the money doesn’t seem go much further.
Your CA defines limits on workload and provides unassigned time for prep and marking as well as a 40 minute lunch. You have access to benefits (for you or your family) and leave days for moving, legal appointments, or for attending a wedding as well as top up for maternity leaves.
Hitting your stride – you’ve stopped checking the seniority list every spring, you may even have an established timetable, many of us have growing kids or aging parents that require our attention.
Your CA gives provides financial incentives for leadership opportunities, allows medical leave for yourself and a family member puts limits on the TPA process, allows for transfers between schools and provides representation if you’ve hit a bump in the road while continuing to provide medical and drug coverage as well as counselling services.
The long way home – the end of the mortgage may be in sight, for some the family takes up more time and money than ever whether growing kids or rapidly aging parents and we are confident in our teaching abilities and know well how to organize and manage the teaching year. Maybe we are even thinking about our best five.
Your CA provides access to a variety of leaves including x/y leaves, bereavement leave and leave to attend graduation exercises. It guarantees your access to the pension plan, drug benefits and a grievance arbitration process, and ensures that your seniority provides the stability you have earned despite ever changing demographics.
As you proceed through the ages and stages always bear in mind that you are paid to perform specific duties. Teaching, especially in small towns, is a special trust but you have a right to a life-work balance that works for you and your students. Judge not those around us as we cannot know their circumstance. Ask questions and be informed but never forget that none of the benefits that you currently enjoy comes free of charge and any of these can be stripped. We are at a time when we must stand visibly and vocally together and remind those that would seek to diminish us that we are not merely the frontlines of education, we are education!
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The view from my desk, as Teacher Bargaining Unit President for D17 Simcoe