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  • mmantha-co

March 22, 2024

Doug Ford has adopted Red Green’s

approach to fixing problems




At the conclusion of the March Break, my team noted an uptick in the number of comments and enquiries about the woes of Ontario’s education system. Regular readers may recall that I recently wrote a column on the matter. The problem, of course, is a shortage of teachers, education assistants and early childhood educators. The long-term effects of this shortage are proving to be more than a challenge for school boards, principals and teachers. Ontario needs the government to implement thoughtful, effective, significant changes immediately. Otherwise, the effects on our children will be profound and long-term.

However, what Ontarians may not understand is why such a shortage exists.

What started out as a growing concern was actually predicted back in the 90s. The Economic Policy Institute published a report called “The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought in 2019. They cited a study that examined a list of indicators that “are critical signals. They [the indicators] help analysts detect when there are not enough qualified teachers to fill staffing needs in a labour market that does not operate like other labour markets.” The shortage became a problem under the previous Liberal government. However, since the Conservative government came to power, the mismanagement of the education system escalated a problem into an urgent crisis.

An article published in EdCan Network on October 3, 2023, announced that teachers are burning out at an alarming rate. They said a survey of teachers across Canada found that 85 percent of them report a work-life imbalance. It also noted that 30 percent of new teachers leave the profession in under 5 years. The workload, stress and violence experienced in teaching today is not something they can see themselves continuing as a lifetime career. The bottom line is that the workloads and demands have become unbearable.

The people of Ontario must understand that the classrooms we knew growing up are not the same learning environment that our children and youth experience today. Teachers and education assistants are leaving the profession altogether because the job has become mentally and physically overwhelming. Worse is the fact that when young people are contemplating getting their degrees to become a licensed teacher, once they talk to someone already in the trenches, they are soon dissuaded because the REAL job description and working conditions they hear scare them away. Such reasons include:

·       Overcrowding of classes

·       Teaching split classes of 2 and even 3 grade levels

·       Increased student assessment and reporting

·       Integration of special needs students, including severe behavioural students, into regular classes without consistent and adequate EA support

·       Increase in behaviour and violent incidents directed at staff due to student frustration from lack of success and support

Also of great concern is the Ford government’s deteriorating respect and lack of concern for the welfare of education professionals. Of the recently settled negotiations, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario magazine stated: “Teachers are dedicated professionals who invest their time, energy, and passion into nurturing the potential within each student. Yet, the Ford government’s continuous disregard for teachers’ expertise, input, and well-being, as well as their attacks on the profession, have eroded the morale of the very individuals entrusted with inspiring Ontario’s students and helping them to succeed. Allowing these conditions to persist harms students and schools.”

Does this refrain sound similar to the cries from Ontario nurses?

On the matter of violence experienced by staff, it seems the steps taken by the Ministry have had virtually no positive impact whatsoever in addressing the issue. CTV News reported on May 15, 2023, that an astounding 80 percent of teachers reported personally experiencing or witnessing violence involving staff. Now, think of your place of work. Have you had someone at work bite, kick, punch, or throw a chair or equipment at you? Would you and 80 percent of your coworkers be able to report experiencing or witnessing workplace violence? Your workplace is probably nowhere near that number.

I was thinking the other day about this issue, and I concluded that Premier Ford may have hired Red Green (of CBC TV show fame) as a special political consultant.

Let me explain. It appears to me that the Ford government’s approach to resolving the teacher shortage crisis has Red’ Green’s philosophy written all over it. I say this because of Red’s affinity for using duct tape. Fans of the program are well acquainted with Red’s claim that you can use duct tape to fix absolutely everything in the universe. And if it doesn’t work, it simply means you just aren’t using enough tape.

For the last few years, school boards have had to rely heavily on retired teachers, student teachers, and even virtually unqualified individuals to fill the vacancies. Retired teachers have historically been limited to substitute teaching for up to 50 days per year. During the pandemic, when so many workers, including teachers, had to be off work for weeks, the Ontario Teachers Federation (OTF) agreed to temporarily almost double the maximum to 95 days. This agreement was extended at the government’s request for the last three years, based on the understanding that the Ministry of Education would effectively recruit new teachers with up-to-date training and skills. However, the Province has not kept its end of the bargain. And with the way they publicly negotiated and treated teachers, they basically shot themselves in the foot.

Upon assessing the government’s progress in recruitment, OTF declined the request to extend the 95-day work maximum for the coming year.[CM1]  The March 19, 2024 edition of Toronto Star quoted OTF saying, “Amending the rule was only ever envisioned as a short-term measure. Deflecting responsibility onto retired teachers is neither a sufficient nor a sustainable option to address staffing challenges. Changing the rule for retired members neither encourages working teachers to remain in the system nor does it attract prospective candidates to join the profession.”

This decision astounded the government and school boards alike as they declared that OTF’s decision would come at the expense of Ontario students. Education Minister Lecce immediately pointed the finger at teachers, calling the decision “regrettable,” saying, “Despite adding nearly 3,000 more teachers since 2018 and cutting certification timelines in half, school boards have cited their concerns about high rates of teacher absenteeism.”

Really, Minister Lecce?

The Ministry has known just how bad the situation was since they were elected over 5 years ago. They know thousands more teachers need to be hired, yet they have only added 3,000 in those five years. That’s not even 1,000 per year! That’s truly a drop in the bucket.

The problem is that the government is relying on temporary measures that in no way permanently address education issues. David Mastin, first vice-president of the Elementary Teachers Federation, responded to Lecce’s criticism, saying that the Province “is asking us for this Band-Aid … it covers the problem, and it prevents people from seeing the real problem … As uncomfortable as this may be, we need people to see what this problem is.”

You can call it a Band-Aid solution, but I say a better way to describe it is that Ford uses Red Green’s duct tape approach to fix education. I vividly imagine Red advising Premier Ford in a high-stakes meeting about relying heavily on retired teachers to solve the problem. Red says, “This is only temporary – unless it works.” Unfortunately, it seems Premier Ford and Minister Lecce agree with this, too.

So, in the meantime, Premier Ford is content to sit back and see if his duct tape job works – at the expense of our children and their future. Let’s hope there is a sudden shortage of duct tape in Queen’s Park.

As always, I invite you to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at mmantha-co@ola.org or call Toll-free 1-800-831-1899.       

Michael Mantha MPP/député       

Algoma-Manitoulin


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