Educators send a message with a day-long strike

School Magazine  – 2019-12-05


Under the banner of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, (OSSTF) some 60 000 high school teachers, speech and language pathologists, social workers, child and youth and other support staff went out on a day-long strike yesterday.

Despite Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s claim that “The onus  is on OSSTF to be reasonable, stay at the table, and to cancel this needless escalation that is hurting children, parents, and families,” OSSTF members saw things differently as Ontario schools have coped with cut after cut,  increased class sizes and arbitrary changes in curriculum along with the  introduction of mandatory “e-learning” which would force to students to take at least 4 secondary school courses online.

Secondary school educators didn’t appear to be in any mood to accept Minister Lecce’s offer to give back a bit of what his government has taken from public education: making it mandatory for secondary kids to take only 2 rather than 4 credits online. They also didn’t buy the gambit of increasing average class size to only 25 when the original plan was to go to 28. That offer alone comes with poison pill, since it allows local school boards to increase class as much as they want.

Here are what some of the folks walking the picket line yesterday had to say:



What are the main issues bringing you out here today?

We’re on strike for public education. We’ve got one of the best education systems in the world. We want to keep it that way. Nobody who knows about public education thinks increasing class sizes is a good thing. Nobody thinks online education as a mandatory imperative is better than in-class education.


The main issues are class sizes-  and Lecce – yesterday he talked about how he brought the class average down from 28 to 25 as if that’s a reasonable negotiation… but what he fails to talk about and sometimes the media fails to remember is that he’s doing that at the same time as he’s removing caps. Before it was 28 average (class size) with caps. And now he’s lowered it to  25 without caps and those caps… (Note: “caps” refers to the size a class may be increased to by local school boards)


No cuts or even the current cuts. We’re against the increased sizes of the classrooms which is happening currently.


We are mostly concerned about classroom sizes You can’t imagine how challenging it is to teach a regular class with 30 kids and then they’re going to 40…  then we’re also questioning e-learning – some students don’t have the means or the maturity to deal with it…


Students are losing out on individual care. We are being stretched really thin, but we’re trying and we do our work.


All these cuts to education. It’s having an effect on kids who having less and less choices…it will only get progressively worse.


The main issues are that they are trying to increase class sizes – class sizes are already bursting at the seams…they’re trying to cut supports from how many EAs (Education Assistants) they have and various education support workers. Also, I have a big problem for their … lack of plan for e-learning. It really doesn’t seem fleshed out; there really doesn’t seem to be a reason why they’re doing it, other than it saves money.


I think they’re kind of manufacturing a budget problem but having a bunch of (tax) cuts for the wealthy and then saying: “We don’t have enough money for schools.”


We’re also fighting for a cost of living adjustment; we’re just asking for our wages to match inflation..allso all of the resources: in OSSTF we have the PSSP workers… the speech pathologists, … our social workers and child and youth workers; so we want those properly funded.


What’s the problem with e-learning in particular?

The mandatory classes makes teachers become redundant – along with experiential learning.


Education isn’t just about learning the facts; it’s about interacting with people learning social skills, how deal with conflict – all kinds of things. Computers don’t do that for you.


It’s not to say that having e-learning, like a summer course is (always wrong). Sometimes you need a credit – especially if you’re graduating and you need a course. It’s just sort of arbitrary that there are these e-learning courses you have to take. It’s nothing but a way to save money…


The Minister has offered to cut back the number of students added to the classrooms to 25. He’s said there will only be 2 mandatory e learning courses. Why do you think this is unreasonable?


Fewer teachers means that their teachables ( courses teachers are trained to teach) are not going to be taught at the schools. Kids are wanting to go to high school; they’re excited about what these teachers are teaching and then we have to move things around. We end up with teachers that have to teach things they maybe they aren’t specialized in in…they’re denying teachers the ability to teach what they love and students to love what they teach. 


It’s like saying first you raise it to 28 and you want 4 e-learning courses and then you reduce it! Well, you’re not reducing it; you’re just raising it by less. The thing is they don’t seem to be negotiating the way they should…they seem to be stalling…


I’d say he hasn’t addressed class sizes…the forced e-learning, not committing to full day kindergarten. If they’re not willing to address those things then they’re not at the bargaining table. This isn’t about our wages primarily; this is about the future of public education


What about the fact that you have such a variety of needs at this level of schooling? How does that come into play with the larger class sizes?

If you have in your class sometimes half of the students in special education… those students it’s very hard to teach at the same higher level. You need to give more attention to those students but then others are suffering, so we need smaller classes- more professionals sitting with these small classes to give a more normal education to these students


If you’re going to have a bigger class size and the have 1 or 2 or 3 educational assistants in there, that’s one thing. But what students need is contact with that teacher. So, beyond the discipline struggles that you might have if you have 30 kids in a classroom…students deserve time to sit with their teachers, ask questions. I teach ESL, so we have a lot of newcomers and that brings some challenges. So, in our school we need our settlement worker. We need somebody who can connect with students on things like: “How do I get a health card?” 


We have a diverse community that we serve and we try to meet the needs of that community….if you have 30 students that gives you 2 minutes to spend on average (per class). Don’t you think having time to send with your students is the most important thing about education? …to have the support of social workers or child and youth workers?


How does destreaming affect this? (Note: destreaming is a move by the TDSB to put together students, who used to be separated according to academic results into one group)

That’s another problem …even if you’re talking about students coming to high school from grades 7 and 8 … they’re coming to high school with a lot of gaps. From one side, the Ministry is asking teachers to teach according to its curriculum and at the same time you can see (some kids) cannot absorb all this material because they don’t have the basics.


We do have a lot kids with a lot of different abilities and next September … we will be delivering a destreamed curriculum in grade 9 …an academic curriculum to all the different abilities in the same classroom. That’s going to be very, very difficult and so if we don’t fight for what’s right now it will only get worse.


How do higher class sizes affect teaching kids with special needs who have Individual Education Plans (IEPs)?

We’re legally obligated to give individual accommodations to many students; sometimes it’s half of the classroom… at the same time the number of students is going up.


Out of 150 students, I have 33 IEPs… it can be a tremendous challenge, because (these students’ programs) need to be individualized


You’re having a one day strike here? If this doesn’t work to make some progress with what you think is needed, what do you think should happen next?

Well, that’s we’re all wondering, because we’re not exactly told… but I take this as a token. It might be extended to more than one day. They have different strategies. We may cut down more services; we’re trying not to affect the services to kids… we’re already withdrawing in the work to rule, (report card) comments


I think it’s great that we’re out today. I think it’s what it’s going to take, really causing that disruption that puts the pressure on the government that forces them to come to the bargaining table. It’s also really heartening to hear all the public support—you can hear that in the background… it sends a really clear message to the government that the public, parents, students and teachers united are against these cuts.


I would just say we can’t back down. We’ve got to keep up the pressure. There are so many different tactics that we could be using. I think the unity that’s developed between the unions is really powerful hearing that ETFO (Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario) OSSTF Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation) and OECTA (Ontario English Catholic Teachers Federation) are all in regular communication and thinking together – I could see rotating strikes…I’d love to see us all do it together…


It depends what happens after this…but I mean clearly we’re showing we’re willing to strike, whether it’s one day or several days…we’re willing to make it happen if we think what’s being done isn’t fair for Ontarians…Thus far, all the parents I’ve interacted with are behind us so I guess in theory we could lose support, but if anything we’re galvanizing and gaining support by showing that we’re sticking up for their kids.