Have you noticed the unhappiness in the education community lately? I’m speaking about teachers specifically. In Ontario the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), which represents 83,000 public elementary teachers, occasional teachers and educational professionals, will conduct a central strike vote as it discusses bargaining issues with members.
In Chicago, teachers have reached a tentative deal after a long walk-out, for teachers and support staff.
What is it about these workplaces compared to offices or other workplaces that we expect so much and give so little in return? Why are contracts so difficult to achieve?
Ontario teachers are relatively lucky with annual median salaries hovering around $80,000, and more when benefits are included. For Canada, that average number is about half of the Ontario value, and in the U.S. it hovers around US$60,000.
But still, the strife generally comes from other places – not salaries (usually). If we accepted a corporate job there are certain standards we would expect and certain things we would need as support. We don’t pay for office supplies or necessarily have to involve ourselves with after-work activities. Teachers do.
We have bosses and co-workers and authority to deal with, but teachers have our children and therefore parents who believe they can access teachers for comment whenever they want or on whatever topic they deem appropriate. Because it is our children, there is some merit to that argument, but not all the time and not for any reason. Let’s agree that the classroom is a very different workplace that requires a different way of thinking on the part of school boards and principals who have to address workplace issues.
Perhaps we can avoid strikes and strife if we look at the classroom as a different kind of workplace and create environments that, we in the corporate (or other) world would assume as a given. The debate needs to open up to create the kind of work environment where teachers are able to do their jobs well but know that their workplaces are a secure and safe environment for them to work in. The talking, at that level, can begin at any time, not when the parties are forced to sit at the table.