Saturday, February 11, 2012

Voter Forum question: Occasional Teachers

In the Voter Forum, Anonymous asked the following under the heading "Occasional Teachers":
Candidates, what do you plan to do to get the College to promote the professional development, advancement, and job security of Occasional Teachers in Ontario, particularly the non-retiree, non-pension OTs who lose income, classroom experience and advancement opportunities due to the persisting problem of double-dipping retirees?
Here's my response:

This is a complex question. To begin with, we need to recognize that there are two categories of retired teachers: those who receive a pension from the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan (who are limited to working 50 days per year), and those who received commuted pensions (lump sum payments, which have likely been pummeled by financial markets) who are not restricted in how much they work. In either category, we can't assume that they're receiving the "typical" $40,000 per year pension reported by OTPP; the teacher may have been out of the workforce for years raising children, teaching may have been a mid-life career change, they may have spent their career as an occasional teacher, etc. Further, the decision of how many days retirees may teach is made jointly by the government and the Ontario Teachers Federation, rather than the College of Teachers.

All that being said... I think it's a problem that retirees are simultaneously taking work away from newer teachers (a concept we need to moderate; see my first paragraph) and not contributing to the OTPP. With only 1.5 workers per retiree as of 2010 reported by OTPP, we need to make sure the workers funding the plan get a chance to work!

With OTPP constantly facing funding shortfalls that have forced them to make decisions like raising contribution premiums and only partially guaranteeing indexing of pensions, it's a serious problem that anyone would be working as a teacher and not contributing to the pension plan.  Current workers' pensions have already been weakened (higher contribution rates, conditional indexing), and there's no hope of stopping that trend unless everyone who is working as a teacher is contributing to the plan.

The College of Teachers' role in this would be a lobbying one, communicating these concerns to OTF and the government. Of course, there may be a conflict of interest involved... how many members of, and candidates for, College Council are retired teachers?

Professional development is definitely an issue for occasional teachers that the College needs to address. Part 3 of any Specialist qualification has as prerequisite one year of full-time experience in the specialty, which your school board has to sign off on. In practice, this excludes most occasional teachers and prevents them from earning a Specialist designation.

This holds them back professionally since they don't have the designation on their resume, and it costs them financially. QECO treats a 3-part Specialist as equivalent to five (5) university credits. So in terms of advancing on the salary grid, occasional teachers are usually relegated to the more expensive route of acquiring five credits instead of three. Yet occasional teachers are the teachers who are least able to afford additional courses.

Generalized specialties such as Reading, Primary, Junior, Inclusive Classroom, Integration of Information and Computer Technology in Instruction... why should an occasional teacher be prevented from taking these courses and earning their Specialist qualification? If elected, this is an issue I'll pursue.

As to advancement and job security of OTs, I'm afraid most of those issues fall more squarely into the realm of responsibility of the teachers' unions, all of whom need to work hard on behalf of occasional teachers; OT contracts have tons of room for improvement. The College of Teachers does have a role, though. In advocating for the teaching profession and respect for teachers, the College needs to emphasize that occasional teachers are valued, professional members of the teaching community.

I've always thought that a 3-part Specialist in Occasional Teaching would be a good idea, as it would recognize occasional teaching as another niche within the profession, similar to teaching French or being a teacher-librarian.

The College can also advocate for appropriate funding for occasional teachers. Currently, school boards are funded (as per the 2011-12 Ministry of Education Technical Document, pg. 16) $72,879 per elementary teacher, plus 11.63% for benefits, and they receive a supplement for higher QECO ratings on top of that. In contrast, school boards are given a lump sum of $126.69 per ADE (Average Daily Enrollment; a lump sum, not awarded on a daily basis, despite the acronym) to fund occasional teachers.

By comparison, textbooks are funded at $69.00 per ADE, and classroom supplies at $82.82. School boards receive more funding for textbooks and classroom supplies than they do for occasional teachers.

Again, this is an area where the College needs to advocate on behalf of its members. It's quite clearly in the public interest for students to be taught by occasional teachers whose primary income is teaching, rather than waitressing, bartending, telemarketing, etc.

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

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