Monday, February 27, 2012

E-mailed question re: Teacher Unemployment Crisis

I received an e-mail from Kevin asking the following questions:
As a member of the College Council, what will you do to help solve the teacher unemployment crisis in Ontario? What steps must the College Council take to seriously resolve this crisis?
Here's my response:

On its face, the College of Teachers has absolutely no jurisdiction over the employment of teachers. School boards are solely responsible (and unaccountable) in that regard. Every collective agreement in the province contains a “Management Rights” clause stipulating that the Board is responsible for hiring.

So my initial piece of advice is that you need to get involved with your union. You need to lobby your union to stand up for occasional teachers. You need to tell your union leadership (at the provincial level as well as the local level) that there needs to be a fair and transparent hiring process, with priority hiring of occasional teachers into full-time positions. You also need to tell them that there must be capped occasional teacher lists, and there must be a fair call-out system, otherwise occasional teaching cannot be financially viable. We need to ensure that every occasional teacher gets enough work in a year to at least bump over the poverty line, which means every OT needs at least 100 days of work. Once you've told them that, you need to tell them you're willing to walk a picket line to get those things. I've sat at the bargaining table during negotiations, and I can tell you that walking a picket is likely going to be necessary before change happens.

I don't know if you're an occasional teacher or completely unemployed teaching-wise, so I'll clarify the idea of capped lists for occasional teachers. While it would be nice in some respects if all unemployed teachers were automatically added to occasional lists, it would be cold comfort. There's only a limited amount of work each year available. In terms of occasional work, in my school board (Niagara) there's approximately 50,000 days of occasional work each year (including both daily and long-term). We currently make $220.87 per day. With that much work available, there's a capacity to give 500 teachers 100 days of work per year, an annual salary of only $22,087.00. Our list currently has over 600 teachers on it, which drops the capacity to under 83 days of work each ($18,332.31). You can see how having an unlimited number of teachers on the list becomes progressively more disastrous for everyone. And that's assuming the work gets evenly distributed, which it does not.

Back to the College, the irony is that the College of Teachers has been at the forefront of collecting data on teacher underemployment and unemployment. For more than a decade, the College has been producing the Transition to Teaching study each year. For several years now, they've known there was a surplus of thousands of graduates every year over and above the number of retirements taking place. Yet they've done nothing. They've completely dropped the ball. I daresay that it's likely due to the fact that the vast majority (if not all) of College Council have permanent salaried employment or are collecting pensions. They're so far removed from the situation facing new teachers that they can't even conceive of there being any urgency to the problem. In a nutshell, that's why I'm running for College Council; the voice of teachers who are struggling just to earn more than the poverty line needs to be heard. No one is speaking up for us.

What the College should do is advise the government to sharply curtail the number of positions available each year in Faculties of Education. It is clearly within the mandate of the College to do that. The College should also stop accrediting new teachers' college programs.

The College needs to use the Transition to Teaching study in a meaningful way, by turning it into a set of recommendations to the government that should include:
  • Limiting spaces in teachers' colleges
  • Ceasing funding for new teachers' college programs
  • Possibly shutting down some programs completely
  • Advocating that the province mandate a standardized (or even central) hiring model that is transparent, accountable, and allows for province-wide management of the resource of unemployed teachers whose skills are not being used.

There are many places a teaching degree can take you besides a classroom; the College could not only provide information on some of those opportunities, but it could also promote the value of a teaching credential to employers outside the education sector.

The College of Teachers needs to walk a fine line, though. As you can no doubt tell, I've got a strong union background. However, the College is supposed to be an independent body; if it goes too far down the road of advocating for things that are collective bargaining issues, it runs the risk of being dismantled. That's exactly what happened with the BC College of Teachers.  It no longer exists, and in its place is the “Ministry of Education Teacher Regulation Branch”.

I've been working for change for the past seven years, and while progress is being made, it's slow grinding work. I hope I'll soon have the opportunity to work for change from within the College of Teachers as well.

Mark Carter, OCT
Southcentral Region Part-time/Full-time Candidate

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