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…And Still We Rise Conference 

At ETFO’s 2009 …and still we rise conference, Margaret  Trudeau  received  a  standing  ovation  from  the  500  participants and  brought tears to the eyes of  many. Trudeau told  the story of her life as the wife of a prime minister, mother, and life-long sufferer of bipolar disorder. Trudeau was 22 when she married Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a man 30 years her senior. She was, she said, unprepared for life as the prime minister’s wife and described 24  Sussex, the official  residence  as “the  crown jewel of  the federal penitentiary system.” Trudeau called bipolar condition a “lifelong sentence… 80 percent depression and 10 per- cent mania.”

“Ten years ago I was a defeated woman. I lost my son (Michel died in an avalanche) and fell into a deep well of despair  that was more than grief.” Trudeau described her confinement in  psychiatric wards and  experiences with  a variety of  treatments. Today she advocates for more openness about mental health issues.

Rona Maynard, author and former editor of Chatelain magazine,  reminded  participants that it is never too late to change as she shared her personal journey from “intimidated  over-reactor”  to  a  “confident,  consensus-minded leader.”  Luba  Goy,  of  the  comedy  show,  Air Farce, said one her teachers played a key role in encouraging her to participate in public speaking.Yvonne Oswald,author and communications trainer, emphasized the importance of framing “self-talk” positively.

The conference theme was “Connecting Caring Citizens in Schools and Communities.” Participants heard from a broad range of community leaders and were entertained by Gemini nominated singer-songwriter, Kellylee Evans, and the Collective of Black Artists. Participants also took part  in workshops  organized  around  the  themes  of  social  justice advocacy, health and well-being, curriculum, and strategies for success. Previously open only to ETFO members, the  conference was open to women from across the country for the first time this year.

ETFO Attends Ontario NDP Leadership Convention

Over the March 6–8 weekend, ETFO representatives attended the Ontario NDP leadership convention that elected  the  party’s  first  woman leader,  Hamilton  Centre  MPP Andrea Horwath. On the Friday evening  Horwath,  along with  other  leadership candidates,  visited  a successful hospitality suite  hosted  by  the Ontario  Teachers’ Federation  and  its four  affiliated  federations.  The  suite was the perfect gathering place for the numerous  teacher delegates, including an impressive number of ETFO members, who wanted to talk politics and share  views about the pending leadership vote.

ETFO’s  booth  at  the  convention provided  delegates with information about  the  federation’s position  on a number of issues, including the fundraising gap for elementary students,  our  model full-day  kindergarten, and our members’ concerns about the effects of EQAO testing.  The  booth   provided a great opportunity to  raise  ETFO’s  profile and to discuss education issues  with  NDP  activists from across the province.

ETFO provides some financial support to members who attend provincial and federal political conventions as delegates. For details about this support, look for the information about convention  subsidies  in  the  Political Action section of the ETFO website. ETFO executive and staff attend the political conventions of all three main political parties as part of the federation’s ongoing monitoring of Queen’s Park and the political process. ETFO  also  attended  the  Ontario ProgressivConservative Partconvention in Niagara Falls in February.

ETFO  executive  members  David Clegg, Sam  Hammond,  Barbara  Burkett, and Hilda Watkins joined representatives of OTF and the other affiliates to host a busy hospitality suite at the convention. More than 1,000 delegates  are reported to have registered, the  highest  number  in  years.  Since that meeting PC leader John Tory has resigned after losing his bid for a seat in  Haliburton-Kawartha  Lakes-Brock. The Tories will select his replacement at a leadership convention in June.

Occasional Teachers Focus on Special Education

Twenty-five occasional teacher (OT) members are  attending  a  series  of  day-long  sessions throughout  the  school  year  focused  on  students with special needs. With their enhanced skills these OTs will help fill the need for teachers who can step into special education classrooms on short notice. The program is the result of a partnership between the Hamilton-Wentworth Occasional Teacher Local (HWOTL) and  the Special Education/Student  Services  Department  of  the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.

Sessions  take  place  on  learning  community and professional development days, when all  of  the  board’s  teachers   are  involved  in professional  learning. This  allows  occasional teachers to  attend  without  having to  forego an assignment.  In fact, successful completion of all modules of the program results in the member receiving regular pay. Participants in the program appreciate its hands-on focus and the broad range of issues covered. Jane Kuzmichuk notes that the work she did in her Special Education 1 AQ course was “mostly theoretical. Here, half the session is spent working in small groups actually doing tasks.”

“The  session  on  differentiated instruction helped me a great deal,” says Johnna Haight. “It was not something that was covered in school.” One of the benefits of the program is that presenters are specialists in their particular area, says participant Laura Arnold: “In school, a professor taught the course; but here you have practitioners from individual more specialized areas, autism spectrum and assistive technology, for example.”

Participants also have access to these specialists once they take on assignments. “They have provided their contact information if we need their help in the future; they are an ongoing resource,” says Arnold.

Stephen South notes that the program “gives us knowledge so that when we walk into the classroom we have tools to  assess students and form strategies on how to work with them right from the start. Many of these strategies work with all students. As a result there is less student frustration and thus fewer behaviour issues.”

Participants also  like  having the  time  to  understand the  specific terminology of  special education and learning how  to deal with the paperwork involved. “One of our instructors provided us with a list of acronyms and what they stand for;  that alone was incredibly helpful,” says Haight.

“Now I feel much more confident when faced with reading an IEP. I also have a better idea of what it means for the student,” adds Arnold.