Campaign 200 - Preparation Time For Elementary Teachers

Christine Brown

By now you will probably have seen ETFO’s billboards, listened to our radio advertisements, or heard about the upcoming negotiations. For public elementary teachers, “200 minutes” is about to become a very familiar phrase.

Whether you are a regular classroom teacher, a specialist teacher, or an itinerant teacher; no matter what grade level or subject you may teach; regardless of your level of experience or qualifications - you understand better than anyone the importance of a daily block of preparation time, within the students7 instructional day, in which to complete your professional duties. It would indeed be preaching to the choir to detail here the many ways in which preparation time enables you to do your job.

This article, therefore, will skip the pep talk and provide a history lesson instead - one written for the 21 percent of ETFO's non-occasional teacher members who have teaching experience of up to four years, and for the further 20 percent who have taught beyond that up to ten years. Your older colleagues on staff may remember these events. So too will many of your occasional teacher colleagues, a group which, in many ETFO locals, includes a sizable number of retired teachers.

Building on Yesterday

Attaining 200 minutes of preparation time is often characterized as an ambitious undertaking - which is true. Yet it is also sometimes cast as an unprecedented departure from previous working conditions - which is false. Twelve years ago, the trajectory for negotiated preparation time for public elementary teachers was moving in only one direction, and that direction was up. For the 40 percent of ETFO's teacher members who were not yet in the teaching force at the time when 200 minutes was very much on the radar, here is some background.

In the mid-1970s, there were no preparation-time clauses in any public elementary collective agreements. To be sure, ad hoc, often inequitable arrangements for minimal preparation time existed in a few boards. However, as with any entitlement not guaranteed through negotiated contractual language, these precious minutes could be snatched away at will. As late as 1981, only 18 percent of collective agreements (in 14 of the then 76 school boards) contained preparation time clauses of any kind.

One of the earliest of the large teacher bargaining units to achieve preparation time was Hamilton - which negotiated 60 minutes per week in 1982-1983.

There as elsewhere, this required hard bargaining. These were, as well, more expansionary times. In Hamilton the push for preparation time coincided with pressure to hire more specialist teachers, such as physical education teachers and music teachers. These bargaining objectives proved to be complementary.

Part of the problem early on was a mindset among not only some employers but also some members of the public that the work of elementary teachers, unlike that of secondary teachers, was insufficiently taxing to require professional planning time. It has taken many years of patient explaining on the part of teachers and the unions that represent them to dispel this myth. In reading over the rationale that was proposed in local after local, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that the struggle for preparation time was equally a struggle for professional recognition and respect.

In 1979, Ottawa had been another large local to achieve negotiated preparation time. Windsor followed suit in 1985.

By the beginning of the 1987-1988 school year, 46 elementary collectiveagreements contained preparation time clauses. Not all the successes occurred in large locals, however. In 1987, all Red Lake teachers had 200 minutes of guaranteed preparation time in their agreement.

In September 1987, 9,600 teachers in Metropolitan Toronto went on strike under the slogan “ It’s About Time.” Eighteen days later, a collective agreement was reached which included 100 minutes of preparation time per week. This was raised to 150 minutes in the next round of n e gotiations.

Part of the reason for a protracted strike was the teachers' unwillingness to gain preparation time at the expense of concessions in class size. Provincewide, it was probably the Toronto strike which forced the government to take the issue seriously. In the week after the settlement, the Education Minister of the day, Chris Ward, stated, "Preparation time is something that's recognized by many boards throughout the province. We can establish minimum levels." This intriguing suggestion was never implemented.

A major battle over preparation time erupted in the Lond on local that same school year. As well, in 1990 Lambton teachers went on strike over a number of issues, including preparation time. That strike resulted in an increase in preparation time from 100 minutes per week to 160 minutes, phased in over 19 months.

This brings us to the high water mark of 1991-1992, by which time preparation time was a standard feature in most elementary collective agreements.

By now, eight locals had 2 00 minutes per week, three more had negotiated a phase-in of the 200 minutes for the near future, and a further two had a chie ved that go a l for their grade 7 and 8 teachers. Four other locals were on their way with 180 minutes ... and the list continues. From Atikokan to York Region (both of which had 200 minutes), significant gains were being made with each successive bargaining round.

Today, only Ottawa-Carleton has weekly preparation time of 200 minutes. For other locals, weekly preparation time falls in the 150-160 minute range, though numerous locals have negotiated additional time in the form of extra whole or half-days. What happened? The short answer is a small left hook followed by a massive right.

In the spring of 1993, the provincial government of the day enacted its "Expenditure Control Plan," designed to cut public spending significantly. Teachers and other public sector bargaining units felt the pinch at the bargaining table. This was soon followed by "Social Contract" legislation in the summer of 1993, which imposed wage freezes (by cancelling duly negotiated pay increases and increments), wage cuts (in the form of mandatory unpaid days off), and staffing cuts for workers across the public sector.

Teachers fought to protect their preparation time. Nevertheless, over the next three years 14 locals negotiated decreases in preparation time in order to "pay" for the cost of restoring increments to teachers whose pay had been frozen on the grid. However, a great many of these concessions were specifically negotiated to be time definite; i.e., once increments had been restored, preparation time was slated to revert to its previous, higher levels. In other words, it all might have been just a detour, rather than a change of direction.

However, in January of 1996, i.e., under the next government, then Education Minister John Snobelen very publicly targeted elementary preparation time as a "non-classroom expenditure" that could easily be capped at 100 minutes per week. In response to this and similar attacks on teachers' negotiated rights, 35,000 teachers converged on Queen's Park in a rally organized by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA). Over the next year, the government kept up the attack on various aspects of teachers' compensation and working conditions, with assistance from taxpayer-rights groups, the usual suspects in the media and "academic experts" spinning ludicrous reports about labour costs in the education sector.

Lest we think the employers were innocent bystanders in this provincewide public relations exercise, in November 1995 the Ontario Public School Boards Association (OPSBA) had issued a press release in which it outlined its own lobbying efforts to reduce education expenditures. Prominent among OPSBA's proposals was a plan to have government simply legislate away teachers' rights to bargain preparation time.

On January 13, 1997, exactly one year after the OECTA rally, legislation was introduced which paved the way for the eventual elimination of local school board powers to levy education taxes and which reduced the number of school boards through provincewide amalgamation (eventually reducing the number of public boards from 76 to 31). One over-arching objective of both these initiatives was to reduce education expenditures, particularly that portion devoted to labour costs. Clearly the hope was to cut compensation by forcing pay levels to the lowest common denominator; i.e., salary levels which emerged in the new boards were to reflect the lowest level of the predecessor boards. In the event, this was not the outcome. However, one of several collective agreement casualties in some boards was preparation time.

In September 1997 the introduction of Bill 160, the Education Quality Improvement Act, radically altered the landscape of education funding and teacher bargaining. It also resulted in the largest job action Canada's education sector has ever seen. In the years since the dust settled, teacher negotiating teams have worked hard to restore some of the preparation time which had been lost over the years. In this they have had some measure of success. For example, nine teacher locals bargained successfully for increases to preparation time during the 2002-2003 school year.

The initiatives of the previous government have landed us with a cookie-cutter funding formula which, among its myriad shortcomings, currently funds just 137 minutes of preparation time per week. Yet neither the funding formula nor the Education Act limits the amount of preparation time to that number. While ultimately the responsibility for addressing the flawed funding formula rests with the provincial government, even now funding to cover increased preparation time can be drawn from a number of areas within a school board's budget. As for the Education Act, its formulation for instructional time would seem to provide a framework which fully supports 200 minutes of preparation time.

The more critical support for the 200 minutes, however, comes from you, the teacher. In the com in g months your local negotiating will need the help and commitment of each and every member.

Christine Brown is ETFO's Research Officer for Collective Bargaining.

Campaign 200 Goes Public!

ETFO's Campaign 200 went public this winter with billboards and radio spots across the province. The billboards were posted between February 23 and March 1, for a minimum of 28 days. The radio spot aired for seven days in late February and early March.

Keep up-to-date on Campaign 200 by visiting www.etfo.ca. Download ETFO's specially designed clock screensaver. You can expect to see more media in the future as we^get closer to the bargaining table.

Radio Spot Script*

"The following is a message from the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario.

  • For weeks now, you've seen our billboards with the number "200," and you're probably wondering what "200" means to you as a parent.
  • "200" is the number of minutes elementary teachers really need each week to prepare classroom activities, mark tests, complete report cards, and design individual programs.
  • But right now, your school board is coming up short.
  • 200 minutes of preparation time will help your child succeed in school.
  • Ask a teacher why.
  • And visit our website- www.etfo.ca.

*ln Ottawa, the script was changed because Ottawa teachers already have 200 minutes of preparation time. If you would like a copy of the Ottawa script, please contact Harold Vigoda at provincial office — hvigoda@etfo.org.