Over the upcoming weeks you will be seeing an increase in footage and reporting about Quebec teachers on strike and protesting. I wanted to take this opportunity to give you a bit of context that will most likely not be provided by news outlets so that you understand what is being protested.
The popular perception of teacher protests is that they are mainly motivated by cuts to salaries and benefits. While this is undoubtedly a motivator, I do not think that I speak only for myself when I say that this is not the primary issue that is bringing me to the picket line. We have already accustomed ourselves to salary increases that lag behind the cost of living, and while the proposed salary freeze is even more regrettable, it is only the tip of the iceberg.
For me, the main concern is a series of proposals whose effect would be to undermine the quality of education that students receive by reducing the autonomy, working conditions, and quality of living of teachers. We are being asked to increase class size and work load, to allow non-departmental figures to select department chairs and coordinators, and to deal with budget squeezing that has already had a marked effect, among other proposals.
But the most toxic issue by a long shot is one that you have probably never heard of: the continued growth of the two class education system that is taking over Cegeps and has already poisoned higher education systems across North America. While day teachers enjoy a decent salary and good working conditions, Cont Ed teachers must perform the same job as day teachers but at a much lower salary and with access to fewer resources and less support. The students in Cont Ed classes often come from underprivileged backgrounds and have weaker skill sets. They clearly require more support, and yet they are placed in a situation where they must pay more than daytime students for classes taught by teachers who are given working conditions that discourage any extra effort, and that do not pay them for the obvious efforts that they already make. Try to tell a teacher worthy of the name that they do not have to meet, speak, or correspond with students outside of class time because they are not paid to do so (which they are not). The teachers that I know feel a moral and professional obligation to do this regardless of whether they are paid for it, and it is an insulting policy to assume that teachers should appeal to their pay check to excuse themselves from the basic duties of their profession.
The corporatized lens through which education is increasingly filtered will mean that the public will probably not hear about these issues. The proposed cuts are ways of promoting “efficiency”. Teachers must learn to “do more with less”. Cont Ed is a great “profit centre”, even if this profit is at the expense of anyone who should profit from it (students and teachers, in case you were wondering). Austerity is “inevitable” (it is not). Given the climate where this type of thinking dominates, it is not surprising that Cont Ed has experienced rapid growth at a time when daytime enrolment is projected to decline.
It is a cliche to point out that investing in education is investing in the future, and since we have heard the cliche so many times we probably forget just how profoundly true it is. The ideas, skills, and values made possible by our education system determine the economic, social, and environmental well being of our country. If you have been disturbed by displays of ignorance over this election, you might have a sense of what is at stake.
Investment in teachers and their working conditions is an investment in students and the future that they will create. The more that this system provides teachers with good working conditions and benefits, and ways of implementing creativity and innovation, the better the outcome for students and society. This is not something that should be so readily compromised.
—Geoffrey Pearce, Dawson College (Westmount, Quebec)