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The Future of Public Education is in Your Hands ( From the President)

Sam Hammond

Critics,  especially  those  on  the  right, take  pride  in  denigrating  public  education. They want us to believe that our schools – and by implication, you, our members – are failing our children.

We know  that  the  exact  opposite  is  true, especially here  in  Ontario  where our  public school system ranks as one of  the best in the world.

Recent  international  assessment  findings confirmed  that  Ontario’s  students,  your  students, perform among the world’s best. Ontario students ranked above the Canadian  average and, equally important, Ontario is a jurisdiction  where students  from  all  socioeconomic backgrounds perform very well.

ETFO members have a lot to be proud of because you  are  the heart and soul of public education in this province.

In the last eight years many things in public education have  changed for the better. Those of you who were in classrooms 10 to 15 years ago  will  remember  that  teachers  and  their federations were reviled by the provincial government of the  day. We were made out to be unprofessional, lazy people who required strict monitoring and constant re-testing to confirm our professional skills. You will also remember that our  members often said they were reluctant to admit they were teachers.

Pride in our profession is one thing that has taken a huge leap forward in the last eight years. When the current government came into power in 2003 punitive approaches to teacher professionalism  were  done  away  with.  New performance appraisal  systems had  the  goal of  supporting   and  mentoring  teachers  and improving their abilities, not punishing them.

Between 1995 and 2003 under a Conservative government, some $2 billion was cut from Ontario’s  public  education  system. Specialist teachers and teacher librarians felt the brunt as their programs  were called ‘frills’ and slashed. Young people suffered as supports for the most vulnerable were cut. It has taken fully eight years to slowly bring that funding back. We’re not there yet, but the current  government has made consistent and significant re-investments in public education. It recognizes that our children are our future. It has shown respect for our members and knows that education is the key to prosperity.

That’s not to say everything is rosy in all our schools everywhere. ETFO members know there are many challenges: workload and class size  continue  to  be  unreasonable  and  there are  unrelenting  demands  to  test  and  assess students at the expense of deep-rooted, meaningful education. ETFO members have been clear with us that the salary disparity from the last  round  of  bargaining must  be  addressed. We have and will continue to push the government hard on these concerns. But only with an education-minded administration will we have any chance of succeeding.

We have had a provincial government that respects the work we do, that believes in the importance  of   public  education,  and  that  – with the new full-day kindergarten program – has given our youngest students an opportunity for a great start in school.

On October 6 Ontarians will go to the polls. As educators we have an important role to play. We have the chance to vote for a strong public education system that gives our children the best chance to succeed. We  have a chance to vote for a government that believes in us and the work we do.