By H. Mark Ramsankar
I became the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) President in July 2017. These first few months have been exciting, fast paced, trying yet fulfilling. So much has happened in such a short period of time. What is of interest is the speed at which time has travelled. Six months seems like a long time yet here we are; closing out another year and heading into a new one. So, what have I learned in this new role and what might be ahead as we travel into 2018?
In 2017, the well-being of our schools was the theme of CTF’s pre-AGM Canadian Forum on Public Education, and youth mental health was the focus of our 2015 federal election campaign. These remain our focal priorities as we continue to advocate for safe and caring schools across Canada. A key issue of concern for Canadian teachers is the mental health and well-being of our students and teachers. Given the incredible diversity of Canadian classrooms and schools; providing the necessary supports and services for students identified with special academic needs and facing mental health challenges are absolutely critical. Sadly, resources and supports continue to lag in this age of austerity.
Our national collective bargaining conference in June 2017 found our Member organizations indicating and reporting an increase in the number of incidences concerning violence in Canadian classrooms. Education is a dynamic sector in all our provinces and territories. Outside influences on Canadian classrooms are very real and generally beyond a teacher’s influence or control.
The critical lack of supports and resources for children with serious behavioral issues has led to a rise in violent outbursts placing students and teachers at risk. Our schools need stronger funding bases and resources for special education, a comprehensive approach to supporting children’s mental health as well as health and safety protection and training for all school personnel. Teacher survey reports released by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario speak clearly to this issue.
The change in student demographics, class size and structure, the rise in violent incidents in our classrooms, the growing demands for recording and reporting student progress, 24-7 access to teachers along with the unprecedented growth of corporate intrusion/interests are straining our teaching and learning environments across Canada.
Member organizations also said the number of episodes reported does not come close to the reality of violence teachers face regularly at school. This may be due to a stigma to reporting acts of violence in the classroom. The result is that teachers can be reluctant to report because they perceive it may reflect poorly on their worth as an educator. We need to continue advocating for resources and the support necessary so teachers can teach the way they want to teach to continue meeting the needs of their students and to reduce the day-to-day stress of the classroom.
CTF is justifiably concerned with Bill S-206, a private member’s bill which is currently at second reading in the Senate, effectively calling for the repeal of Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada. If passed, this wrong-headed approach will impact students’ safety and the teacher’s ability to work directly with students. Section 43 is the only protection teachers have against prosecution when they are carrying out their duties in the complicated, unpredictable climate of today’s schools.
In April 2017, Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette spoke to the CTF Board of Directors about Bill S-206, the bill she introduced in the Senate which has since been taken over by Senator Murray Sinclair. Board members took the opportunity to inform the Senator of the negative impact the repeal could have on the safety and security of all students and personnel in schools. CTF is fundamentally opposed to any form of corporal punishment but recognizes the need for physical contact with students and, at times, the need for physical restraint to ensure their safety and the safety of others. We believe and hope she heard our message. Senator Hervieux-Payette promised to reexamine the bill with the Justice department in order to address the concerns of teachers. 2018 has CTF continuing to closely monitor Bill S-206. Debate was adjourned on December 7, 2017.
Copyright in Schools is currently another focus of our advocacy work which will continue in 2018. The current legislation is viewed as an international example to model yet concerns by the publishing industry have once again brought it forward as an issue. As the federal government is currently reviewing the copyright legislation, content creators and the industry sector have been busy lobbying the federal government for changes. CTF as part of the Education coalition has been lobbying against the proposed changes but for maintaining the fair use/fair dealing provisions established by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2012. If creators succeed in a revised federal legislation in their favour, we can all expect to see increased copyright fees that will siphon education funds away from students and schools and into the pockets of publishers. This will seriously harm teachers’ ability to access and use resource materials in Canadian classrooms.
I invite all CTF Members organizations and Canadian teachers to pressure their federal representatives throughout the coming months to maintain the fair use/fair dealing provisions in our education system. It’s important to have our voices heard at every opportunity.
The power of close to a quarter of a million voices and the collective voice of our profession are what drive our advocacy efforts. You as teacher leaders are the drivers of CTF through your professional organization. Through this work, we can continue to strengthen our world class public education system.
As classroom teachers, we must tell the story of today’s Canadian classrooms in 2018. What are the realities we face and how does lack of support combined with inclusion and the creation of inclusive classrooms impact learning environments and Canadian students’ opportunities to learn? Teachers understand the essence of learning is founded in the relationships between teachers and students. Support for nurturing and developing these meaningful relationships and maintaining safe and healthy learning environments is the work ahead in 2018.
(H. Mark Ramsankar is the President of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation)