I know there is not much sympathy in general society for elementary and secondary school teachers, but they really do get a bum rap from all sides of the educational divide. First, let me state that having taught in both pre-service and graduate education programs, I can verify that this is a group of individuals who are by their very nature, societal leaders.
Yet, once in their jobs, teachers find out fairly quickly that their notion of independence is no more than an illusion because they have to do exactly what their government, principal and union demands — and in that order. For example, here and here are comments Doug Little wrote on another thread about union involvement.
In other words, teachers either learn to do what they are told or they have to quit and find a new career path. Most, because they like children, the salary, the benefits and the pension plan, adapt. And, truth be told, I was no different.
Yes, there are ethical standards of practice. But, click on the link and you will quickly see how general they are. In fact, they are all motherhood concept words or statements — edu-babble as far as the general public is concerned — because they don’t say anything concrete.
I mean, when push comes to shove, how can a parent judge whether a teacher has a commitment to professional knowledge? And, even if parents did have access to that information, where does that leave their children when they disagree about something?
Let’s say, for example, that a parent complains about an evaluation technique whereby high school teachers have been told they cannot deduct marks for handing in assignments late. Let’s assume, for discussion purposes, that the parent’s child is one of those students who works very hard and does exactly what they are told to do. Yet, they see another student do very little for the same credit. Both the student and the parent feels the policy is wrong because there appears to be a lack of fairness and equity.
Now, who exactly are parents and students going to blame for such a policy? Do they blame the Premier or Education Minister? Not likely. Rather, they tend to blame the teachers because they are the front line workers. Which is likely why, Matt, a regular commenter here, writes in a comment on the same thread as Doug, that it was not fair for me to suggest that it is the teachers who are widening the divide between the no-fail policy and parents — when they don’t like the policy either.
The irony of the situation is that the “no-fail” policy was developed in the first place because of the public complaint that too many high school students were dropping out because school was not meaningful to them. In fact, Ontario’s current Premier, Dalton McGuinty, campaigned in both 2003 and 2007 that, if elected or re-elected, he would decrease the drop out rates and increase the graduate rates. And, guaranteed, come hell or high water, he will make sure he has improved statistics in time for the 2011 provincial election.
In reality, then, what options do teachers have if they disagree with a policy they must implement when, under the Ontario Education Act (Part X, Sections 264-265), they MUST follow their principal’s direction? It is not just as Catherine suggested in the same thread as Doug and Matt, that teachers don’t speak out because of the politics of fear. It goes far beyond that. It is the law.
Well, it seems that the only option they have is to ask their unions to lobby on their behalf. True, I have been hard on the teachers’ unions over the nearly five years I have been blogging. But, I am finally beginning to see why the teacher-union rep relationship I remember as being somewhat distant, is now so close.
Yet, I can’t help thinking positively about the whole subject. I mean think about it. Each and every day in every province and territory of Canada, there are thousands, if not millions of positive teacher-parent contacts, in person, by e-mail or on the telephone. In other words, whether it is because of College of Teachers ethical standards or legislation, such as Ontario’s Education Act, teachers are usually able to communicate effectively with parents.
However, for those parents who want to go further, to advocate change, they need to consider starting or joining a parent advocacy group that speaks regularly with provincial politicians, not on individual cases, but in general areas that need attention or reform. And, no, I am not talking about parent groups that cow tow or accept money from school boards, the government being lobbied or unions that might have a conflict of interest. In other words, parents need to become political because that is where all education policy happens. I know, because after early retirement, I worked as an EA for an Ontario MPP from 1995 until 1999, a member of provincial parliament who also happened to be the Education Minister’s PA. And, that old adage that the squeaky wheel gets the grease? Well, it is bang on!
So, while provincial ethical standards and Education Acts may be in place to provide public accountability, they may also hinder the parent-teacher communication process.