Teachers are duty-bound to their students: Thoughts on Teachers’ Strike

What is the issue?
When I was about to sleep last night, I happen to read a news article on Facebook about more than 12,000 college employees of 24 colleges across Ontario going on strike, cancelling classes for more than 500,000 students (starting) today (https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/10/15/ontario-college-faculty-goes-on-strike-monday-after-final-offer-rejected.html)
This really troubled me that I was not able to sleep right away.  Why?  All I can think of are the students.  Their education.  One hour of classes missed is lost already.  How much more this?  I am really troubled to the gut, principle-wise, about the fact that classes were cancelled, that the education of more than 500,000 students are compromised.  Why?  Because the College Employer Council did not agree on the critical proposals of OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employees Union).
What were these critical proposals?
Taken from the OPSEU site (https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/10/15/ontario-college-faculty-goes-on-strike-monday-after-final-offer-rejected.html), the critical issues proposed to ensure quality education and fairness are:
1. 50:50 ration of full-time to contract faculty
This proposal:
  • establishes a ratio of full-time to non-full-time faculty that ensures stability and flexibility;
  • establishes the basis for standardized data collection with the assistance of the Ministry of Labour to ensure consistent and accurate staffing level information; and
  • ensure a realistic timeline to reach the target of a 50:50 ration and reasonably distribute the cost.
2. Job security for partial-load faculty
This proposes:
  • enhance partial-load job security and requires the college to issue contracts three weeks in advance of the semester;
  • creates improved progression on the salary schedule and reflects all work done during academic year;
  • enhances seniority for partial-load faculty; and
  • clarifies the role of seniority in assigning work to partial-load faculty and improves language on equity and diversity in hiring.
3. Academic Freedom
This proposes:
  • defines the specific faculty rights that academic freedom entails;
  • reflects contract language in effect in other Canadian colleges; and
  • affirms faculty ability to make academic decisions about their courses, research and professional activities.
What are my thoughts on the issue?
Yes, these are critical issues.  Legit and necessary.  I do not only sympathize and I don’t even have to just empathize.  I really know and understand the necessity of the critical issues and the urgency of it.
I empathize and can understand this because I have been a teacher for 10 years in the Philippines.  And even though I am not teaching right now (since I got here although my entry was college instructor), I know how difficult it is to be a teacher; how difficult it is to make ends meet.
I taught in high school and college, regular full-time status, with 8 preparations every single day.  Eight! (Imagine the reading and the studying and the preparations I have to do?!  Everyday?!)  That’s 40 hours of classroom interaction every week, from 7:40 to 11:40am and then from 1:20 to 5:20pm).  But that’s not all there is.  The preparation, the marking of quizzes and exams, the doing of grades, are all done outside of that 40 hours.  When or where do I/we do that?  After or in-between classes, of course, in the faculty room, in the library, anywhere.  If worse comes to worst, which usually comes to worst, we bring it home.  I do all my preparations, from my lesson/learning plan/packages to my lecture slides (which I compulsively design), check quizzes and exams, read, comment and mark essays, at home until the wee hours of the morning.  And then, I wake up around 6 in the morning regardless to repeat the day, from Monday to Friday.  (I do all that excluding the duties I have as teacher-in-charge for culture and arts.  That’s another monster to tame.)
Why do I do that?  And I am sure I can speak to the many, if not most or all, of the teachers back home, why we do that.
Simple.  We understand the necessity of education, what it means to the future of our students, to the future of our nation (Philippines).  With this, teaching becomes not only a profession.  It becomes a mission.  A duty.  It becomes a duty bound to our students not to the school or institution or council that governs us.  Although their duty, that of the school, institution or council, is bound, in this particular issue, bound to the teachers, first and foremost (not even to the Union).  I know the going can get really, really tough.  It is difficult but that’s because the future of our students depend on us.  I’ve often said, and still insist on the principle that, to be a teacher, we have no future, really.  Our future is with our students, in the lives they live.  That’s why we just have to empower them in all aspects to be better than us.
That is the reason why I am deeply troubled by this issue.  The critical issues the OPSEU proposed were grounded on ensuring quality of education and fairness.  That is right.  Take note: grounded on ensuring quality of education and fairness.
But can the strike ensure quality of education?  Is there no other option but to cancel classes, the very duty we have to our students?  Can we go on strike, take turns in the picket lines, so that classes, our duty to our students, continue on?  AS the critical issues proposed were grounded on ensuring quality education and fairness, can or will this ensure quality of education?  Is this fair in all aspects?  Is this fair to the students, to the ones we are duty bound?
I know.  my focus is not on the teachers but on the students.  But where else?  I am sure we did not become teachers, first hand, for ourselves, hoping that it will enrich us, that we will have the best life ever.  That would be delusional.  We would have pursued a different profession.  We became teachers because we want to teach, I hope, because we know the purpose and meaning of being a teacher and of teaching.  It should go deeper than just wanting even; worse, needing to be one.  Teaching cannot be about or for one’s self.  It becomes a misnomer.  It is absurd.  We have to ask ourselves what is a teacher, what makes us teachers, and why we are teaching.  The answers can go so far.  But if we really dig deep, it all goes back to losing yourself for the sake of the student, the learner, the human being you are commissioned to empower.
This is why I am troubled, upset, that I could not sleep.  As passionate as I can be.  Because as we insist on our wants and needs, on our rights as teachers, we have trampled on the very essence of these rights, in the first place, why we demand for these things.  Our students.  Our status, our security and academic freedom are all grounded on our being teachers; and so, in the long run, on our duty to our students.  The Ontario Employee Council has a duty to us, yes.  And so, we demand what can better our lives, our performance, our service.   But as teachers, we have a duty to our students.  The cancellation of classes, affecting more than 500,000 students from 24 colleges, simply perpetuates the vicious cycle of unfulfilled duties.  Fortunately, the students have not demanded from us their due.  But what if?  How do we stand caught in the middle?
In one of the articles I have ready, it said that the students understood their teachers cause.  Good.  And they are willing to support them.  Other than it is asymmetrical when it comes to teacher-student relationship, to expect understanding or support from them, their understanding, even their support, does not permit us to fail on our duty to them.
I learned from my teachers before that my rights end when the rights of others begin.  Propriety.  Quality of education is one of the many rights of students, of everybody, in fact.  Our demands as teachers should end when theirs begin.  Cancelling classes curtail their rights.
And so, one final question, is it possible that quality education goes on as we take turns in the “picket lines” (of any form)?  I think it is possible.

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