COLUMN: What every parent needs to know about teacher job action

 Cathy Cove is a 26-year resident of Goderich and active member of its environmental committee. She is a  freelance writer and co-author of Not Like Any Other Sunday. She writes in Bullet News Huron about subjects that pique her interest.


The last threat of job action by a teachers’ union came in 2004 when the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) started a badly executed war with the government over increased preparation time.

It began like clockwork as students were heading back to school from summer vacation and the battle ramped up throughout the school year.

It did not exactly end well for the elementary teachers as then education minister Kathleen Wynne called their bluff, leaving ETFO to settle for less than what it wanted.

For its part the provincial government was singing a chorus of education peace-in-our-time and hoping that teacher union leadership would be satisfied enough to continue its support at election time.


In the past weeks, EFTO announced that it would launch job actions in December that would impact all Ontario elementary schools.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) announced that effective Dec. 10a withdrawal of voluntary and extra-curricular activity by all its members will commence.

Parents feel some sympathy for their children’s teachers.

“Teacher’s opinions at the individual classroom level don’t matter much – it’s all about what those at the top of their union say.  I know they are teaching for the right reasons. I know they love our kids and don’t like what’s happening any more than we do,” said a parent with two children in elementary school who wishes not to be named.

It’s most disturbing that EFTO union leadership is now threatening punishment of fines up to $500 per day if their members don’t follow the leaders. By any definition, those are the same types of bullying tactics we denounce when demonstrated by children.

Parents would like nothing better than for both sides to find a way to settle their differences without students being caught in the cross fire.

While recognizing that unions have the collective right to strike, the parent feels that the union needs to concede that the banking of sick days and wage issues is completely out of touch with the reality of today’s local economy, jobless and poverty rates.

“Sadly, it feels like our education system is right on the brink of political disaster. It’s going to take a lot to bring it back to some sort of peace between both sides. I honestly don’t know what it will take to make that happen or how high the cost will be to our children. They certainly don’t deserve to be caught in the middle and working or stay-at-home, struggling parents don’t deserve to be caught in the middle either, but as we all know, politics are never that simple,” concluded the parent.

School boards are doing their best in trying to prepare parents and families for the potential disruption.

Some are offering tips to parents on homework or project ideas, while others are trying to keep parents and public informed of pending job actions in a timely manner so parents might find other child care options.

Parents who have weathered more than a few job actions and/or strikes by public education teacher unions in the past have some advice for those parents new to the experience.

Pat Middleton reminds parents to check with your child’s teacher before assuming that something is cancelled.  Not all teachers take part in a job action to the same degree. Try to keep a positive relationship with teachers even though you may not agree with what’s going on. Find activities outside of school to get your child involved in. Often municipal recreation and or day cares will offer events to help parents out.

If you’re worried about your child academically and the teacher can’t help, parents will have to find a way to help them outside of the system. That applies to a strike or job action situation.

Sometimes government and teacher unions like to downplay job actions by suggesting that parents are getting used to the stress of classroom disruptions. No parent EVER gets used to this! The reality is more likely that parents are sick to death of it and with every new threat to a disruptive school year comes the ever-increasing move by parents to do whatever it takes to help their children.

Parents often come to the conclusion that the only way to avoid the stress of continued classroom disruption is to explore their options, demand more support through choice and do what’s best for their children.

“Parents need to know that there are alternatives to the constant threat of strikes and job actions. It’s time to demand the tools that would allow parents to choose any school for their children whether public or private,” says Doretta Wilson, executive director of the Waterloo based Society for Quality Education.

“The ability to vote with their feet is a powerful incentive for both government and unions to get their houses in order and to stop holding our children hostage every time.”

By educating parents on their rights within the system as well as what their education options may be, we lessen the effects of students being used as pawns in the labour vs. government crossfire.

If parents are willing to accept the labour wars within the public system, that’s totally acceptable. That is the individual choice of the vast majority of parents in Ontario.

If we’re not all willing to side with the students we all lose.


Written by on December 5, 2012 in Uncategorized - No comments

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