Farquhar: Province should show teachers more respect

Members of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario take part in a one-day strike in Sudbury, Ont. on Wednesday January 22, 2020. The Rainbow District School Board said in a release that all classes from kindergarten to Grade 8 at Rainbow Schools in Sudbury, Espanola and Manitoulin Island were cancelled for the day, including Grade 7 and 8 classes at Chelmsford Valley District Composite School, Confederation Secondary School, Lively District Secondary School and Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School. John Lappa/Sudbury Star

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Reading a wonderful article in the local paper The Manitoulin Recorder about an Island teacher being awarded a Governor General’s History Award had me think, this should be required reading for everyone in the Ford government when it comes to the current labour strife.

Assiginack elementary teacher Heather Jefkins was given this prestigious history award for Excellence in Teaching for having her Grade 3 and 4 students explore the traditional fibre arts of quilting and weaving with a project called Weaving stories and Stitching History.

Reading Ms. Jefkins comments in the paper it was easy to hear how thrilled she was with her students and how much love she has for her job.

“I have been lucky to have the job I have, having taught on Manitoulin for the last 25 years. The communities, individuals, churches, Legions and businesses have all been supportive.”

According to the article, this was a project she thought initially would last three weeks. Instead, by having experts come in, she watched the students’ excitement build and this three-week project turned into a five-month project.

It fit into the curriculum for her Grade 3 class to learn about settlements in Ontario in the 1800s and Grade 4 students to assess ancient civilizations.

Jefkins said, “it was exciting every step of the way to watch the kids be so engaged and bring information and pictures they had found to me on the projects they were working on.”

The award was more special because a former student, Brenna Madore, now a colleague at Assiginack Public School, nominated her. Ms. Madore said, “I was her student in Grades7/8 and I really just liked her as a teacher, how she taught history and always made it relevant to us as students.”

The reason I say this article should be required reading is I believe teachers like Ms. Jefkins and Ms. Madore are more the norm than we are led to believe.  Governments of all stripes have always had a history of taking on teachers and making them the enemy.

It’s easy; they can argue they are paid too much, that they get the summer off, they only work from 9 to 3 and on and on.

We don’t hear about the teachers volunteering to coach a team or lead the band.  Teachers are not paid for any extracurricular time.

Or how about the fact they need to pay for any courses for advancement and how they don’t get paid in the summer.

I have always thought it takes a special person to be a good teacher and, of course, you will always some that aren’t as good as others, like in any profession.  But think about it: they have your children in their care for five or six hours and sometimes longer with teams, plays, bands, etc. We also expect teachers to pick up on any issues your children may be having outside of school.

This is a profession where you need about five years of post-secondary education, including a bachelor’s degree, and one or two years of teacher’s college, depending on the province.

Starting salaries range from $40,000 to $57,000 depending on the region and education levels. As you get experience, your salary goes up, like in most professions.

So my question to all of you who think teachers are paid too much: how much do you think your kid’s education is worth? Do you want your kids in a classroom with 25 other kids or would you prefer 22?

Do you think high school students should have to take courses online to graduate?  What about the kids who don’t have access to computers after hours except at libraries?

Yes, they may be asking for a two per cent increase, but they are also trying to hold the dismantling of our public education system at bay.

Heather Jefkins is one of those teachers who loves her job and your kids deserve to have teachers like her. When this government does everything it can to disrespect this profession, remember, they are talking about teachers like her and many many others out there.


— Ruth Farquhar is a freelance writer based on Manitoulin Island.