I was standing in the library a day or so ago when a colleague of mine brought an article to my attention. He had forwarded me a link to a piece and was wondering if I was thinking of responding. I wasn’t far into the piece before I made my decision.
The December 11th Globe and Mail article by Margaret Wente carried the lovely title “In Ontario, the kids get thrown under the bus”. (You remember Wente? She was the columnist who was involved in accusations of plagiarism a few months back.) The article was framed by the tale of a grade twelve student who was lamenting that the current situation in Ontario schools was ruining her grade twelve year.
For those of you not following that situation, the teacher’s of Ontario and the government are at odds over several issues, the most contentious of which is the Ontario teachers’ right to collective bargaining. The provincial government, in a nutshell, wants to take that right away. In response to this threat, the teachers have started a series of one day rotating walkouts, and in some instances have gone to what is known as “work to rule”.
Work to rule for teachers means you do what you were hired to do. You teach, you mark, you monitor students. But you do nothing that is not written in as part of your actual job description. This was, you see, the student’s issue. The loss of prom, a mural project, a charity fund-raiser. All integral parts of making this students’ grade 12 year memorable. And all ground to a halt, according to Wente, because of teachers. Teachers are trying to get ahead by punishing the kids. In her words, they are throwing kids under the bus.
I thought about this article all day. I thought about it as I did duty in the library, helping students who had fallen behind get caught up in their work. I thought about it during lunch as I sat with my drama club. I thought about it after school as I worked with my students to help them prepare for an upcoming improv tournament. And I thought about it as I later sat and watched my own daughter perform in her Christmas concert, the fourth of eight concerts that my daughter’s school is holding this week alone.
And after all this thinking I arrived at a fairly stark conclusion. Teachers are throwing kids under the bus?
Ms. Wente doesn’t have clue what she is talking about.
The problem with people like Wente is that they only crawl out from under their rocks long enough to spew their vitriol and then they slide back into their holes without recognizing the true issues. Where was she when the teachers of Ontario were actually doing all these things for kids? The proms, the lunch hours, the after-schools? All the things that we teachers do happily on a regular basis because we love kids. And as much as the students enjoy the extracurricular events, we too find immense satisfaction in these clubs, societies and teams. Writers like Wente have no comment then. They prefer to beat teachers up about sick days. Pensions. Snow days.
Teaching is the best job in the world. Period. Yet I can think of no other professionals who get bad press for doing exactly what they are paid to do. If a local police officer stops being a cub scout leader, he does not get lambasted in the press. He gets a thank you party for all he has done. Teachers get accused of being self-serving and only out for themselves.Why? Because the only time we withdraw these voluntary services is when a government has forced us into a situation that leaves us no choice. Then people like Wente find occasion to focus on what we get rather than what we do.
It is the “what we do” that makes schools special. What we get only matters to those who fail to see the truth in that statement.