Misinformation and negotiating

The misinformation/crafted truths that are swirling around the labour negotiations related to education in Ontario is mind boggling and feels like a case study for how life has become in the World According to Trump.

Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education in Ontario, has nothing on Trump for tweets that make no sense, but only because Leece presents his misinformation in a more palatable, less ranting way.

Here’s a fascinating tweet from today: Standing with parents to keep the focus on their children, not union compensation (December 10, 2019)

Two issues: parents have overwhelmingly shown, in public consultations, that they are not happy with cuts that the government has proposed, including increasing class sizes and insisting on e-learning courses. Lecce is the person who keeps bringing focus to ‘union compensation’ as a diversion to discussing two other main issues that OSSTF has insisted be addressed: class size and e-learning. 

And yet, another tweet from Leece today states: We prioritize investments in class, not compensation. If you are increasing class sizes and insisting students take e-learning courses, you are not investing in classrooms. Plain and simple.

Pro-government followers would point out that the government has addressed class size and e-learning. The government proudly thump their chests and say that they have changed their class size cap demands from 28 to 25.

Since class sizes were at 22 prior to these negotiations, it is misinformation to act as if this was a win for unions or ultimately students.

And e-learning – there were no mandatory e-learning courses prior so again, not a ‘win’ for anyone.

And certainly not for students.

Although some aspect of these two issues relate to job security for teachers, unions are fighting for the issues because they actually do believe in fighting for what’s right for students and all education workers.

Teachers (the people in the classrooms) know that smaller classes mean a better chance to provide the appropriate learning environment for all students and the wide range of learning levels present within the class.

Students also do better and have deeper learning when they are in classrooms with other students and with a teacher at hand. The biggest issues that I see regarding e-learning are that it is an expectation that discriminates against students who do not have access to a computer and/or the internet and it discriminates against students with learning differences.

Given Lecce’s constant focus on compensation, I am curious how he feels that he can claim this is the biggest issue when his government has passed a Bill that holds compensation to 1% per year (unless you are in the government itself in which case you can get a 14% increase to your salary and a further 20% rental housing compensation increase because rental prices have risen – but apparently only for government employees???).

Many people on Twitter have picked up on Lecce’s compensation focus and are singing the same song. When people bring up salaries, the usual negative comments are made – teachers have summers off, they only work a few hours a day, yada yada. Teachers do receive compensation for their work – it is hard work, it is the work that impacts the future of any society. Teachers are in front of their students for a five or so hours a day, and no teacher only works for those hours each day. Teachers do prep work, supervision, planning with other staff, connecting with families and services for their students – and they work from home. Teachers have to provide materials for their classrooms because not enough funding is available for all the consumables and materials needed. I do not know any teacher who does not have a significant classroom library and learning materials collection. And yes, teachers do not work in the summer (unless they are teaching summer school or upgrading). But they are not paid for the summer. They are paid for the months they work; their salaries are spread out over twelve months.

Then there are the other education workers – secretaries, custodians, special education teaching assistants. I cannot speak to all those roles, but as a teaching assistant, my salary never netted me much more than $30,000 a year. I did not have sufficient sick days for being injured and I did not get paid for summer, Christmas or March break. As a group, we cannot spread our salaries over twelve months because there is not enough of it. So, teaching assistants are, unlike teachers, entitled to apply for Employment Insurance benefits and like any laid off person collecting those benefits, we are required to look for other work during the summer months. Few people can secure other work because few people want to hire someone with our skills for only 8 weeks.

Every educator I know is in the field because of students. They stand with students, actually in the presence of students, every day. They know, from their work, from their experience, what works best for students. They are the experts. They are capable.

And yes, they would like to be compensated for that work, at a level that is at the very least in line with the increase to the cost of living; otherwise, the government is asking education workers to effectively take a pay cut.

So, sure, Minister Lecce, focus on compensation. That’s not the whole story by a long, long shot, but if people are going to behave like sheep and follow you into that hole of misinformation, there’s little chance I will be able to convince them that there are bigger issues on the table.

Cause you know me, I’m simply an educator.

Done and done

(Full disclosure – photo has NOTHING to do with this blog post. I just loved finding this birdhouse.)

Yesterday I sent off my final assignment for my Fiction class and the day before, one for Creative Non-fiction.

Big sigh.

I am heading into the final stretch of my certificate in Creative Writing. One more course then the Final Project. A little 20000 – 25000 word project. No biggie.

Big lie.

I’m loving this opportunity to write all the time. It’s a dream.

And I’ve learned so much. My classmates are kind and generous with their feedback; my instructors are supportive and clear in expectations; and, my writing is definitely improving from all this love and attention.

I could do courses indefinitely- and I will because this is a big field to learn about. But for now, I’m feeling capable. Capable of writing good stories, essays with meaning, and revising them without feeling that I’m in over my head.

So as we enter the last month of my year long blogging challenge to write weekly, thanks to everyone who has followed along. I’m glad you’re on the writing journey with me.

little darlings

In all my writing courses, there are two pieces of advice that bubble up again and again:

show, don’t tell, and

kill your little darlings.

The first piece of advice is exactly what it says: as a writer, I need to show you, through rich descriptive writing, an emotion, a scene, an event. I should not list off the physical characteristics of a person or tell you my emotional response – I should show you.

Example:

I poured my tea. The sound was surprising. 

versus

I heard the tea pouring into the cup, filling the silence of the house. I had made a thousand cups, but that was the first time I noticed the auditory beauty of the ritual. I smelled the mint of the tea blend and was mesmerized by the spin and whirl of hot water into a cup, like an eddy in a pool of still water.

(Hopefully you ‘saw’ the tea more clearly in the second example.)

The second piece of advice sounds a bit like a call to action against someone we love – kill your little darlings. As a matter of fact, the first person giving this writing advice stated it even more violently:

If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings. (Cornish writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, pen-name Q)

Stephen King, being Stephen King, states, “…kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” Kill three times in a sentence is rather severe.

But what the heck are one’s “darlings”?

When writing, often in early drafts, there can be some really brilliant phrases or single words that come out of one’s brain, through our bodies and on to the page. And we are convinced, completely and utterly, that our work will be diminished without those words.

Judith Claire Mitchell, author of Reunion of Ghosts, sadly parted with a self-description her main character used, stating she was “negligible as an eyelash”. Mitchell was deeply saddened by the loss of these four words, but less so when she saw another writer use them. In the end, her darlings were apparently not so darling.

Now, four words, not such a big deal, maybe. Perhaps. But some people ‘kill’ entire pages, entire bits of stories, entire characters, settings, etc. Because for whatever reason, those pieces of writing simply do not work in the larger piece.

One of my instructors equated the idea of having to make these type of choices to knitting. You have knitted a beautiful sweater and proudly show it to a friend. The friend admires the work and all the fine stitches. But then, the friend points out how the neon green is gorgeous, but it doesn’t seem to go with the rest of the overall piece.

Knitting means unravelling all the work after that neon green section and reworking the sweater. Often, taking something out of a piece of writing is the same: the writer Marian Palaia (The Given World) tells of having to not only cut a few words, but a third of her first draft, including a main character, Cam. The ultimate kicker is that the first word of the novel at that point was “Cam”.

That certainly would be a large chunk of unravelling.

Sometimes little darlings are truly ‘little’ – a word or phrase here or there. But when you have fallen in love with the sound of those words or phrases, it feels impossible to imagine your story without them.

There is a solution – and that is also something I hear with each class I take. Create a file for your ‘little darlings’ – whether they are words, or phrases, or entire stories. And kill them for the sake of your story.

A better analogy might be that you are engaging in literary cryogenics – merely putting them on ice until the right environment comes along to resuscitate them.

I have a file of little darlings – and big darlings. Stories and paragraphs, sentences and words. They lie awaiting the day when they too can shine.

forgetting and being mindful

After I Fall Down the Stairs at the Golden Temple, by Mary Oliver

For a while I could not remember some word 

    I was in need of,

and I was bereaved and said: where are you,

   beloved friend?

There’s so much going on in this poem – I was first struck by it because of the endearment of beloved friend in reference to a word. I do so love words.

But it is the idea that the word is forgotten that I am struck by more.

It’s hard to watch as someone becomes a regular patron of forgetting.

Forgetting a question just asked.

Forgetting what they ate for dinner.

Forgetting a comment just made. Again. Again. Again.

And on the flip side, those around the person need to be able to forget dealing with the forgetting. Not for days or weeks. But for a while.

We need to be able to go sing at the top of our lungs in a karaoke room the size of a phone booth. (Best five dollars and twenty five cents ever spent. Just sayin’.)

The effect of spending time with someone who is forgetting makes you mindful – to be present. To appreciate life for what it is, in this remembered now.

 

Mary Oliver and comfort

Thank you to Mary Oliver for her words; they have sustained me more than usual of late.

Fall

the black oaks fling
their bronze fruit
into all the pockets of the earth
pock pock

they knock against the thresholds
the roof the sidewalk
fill the eaves
the bottom line

of the old gold song
of the almost finished year
what is spring all that tender
green stuff

compared to this
falling of tiny oak trees
out of the oak trees
then the clouds

gathering thick along the west
then advancing
then closing over
breaking open

the silence
then the rain
dashing its silver seeds
against the house

 

Goals and bumps in the road

Yesterday, I completed my eighth half marathon walking race.

3:05:31 to complete 21.1 kilometres.

I’ve always said, I hate training but I love finish lines. I’m not usually a fan of the actual race either.

I know, right? Why do it?

I do it for my heart, my lungs, my muscles, my brain, and, to be perfectly honest, my guilt. I like food. And not all of it good and not all of it in the right proportions. When I’m training, I am much better about my eating and hydrating.

And so, I train, and I race.

Someone asked why don’t you just exercise and not race?

I find a goal is the best way to keep me getting outside. The eternal optimism that if I train properly, I will improve my results and not have such a hell of a time during the race.

And by that, I mean mentally as much as physically. A half marathon is a physical challenge, but I struggle as much or more with the mental challenge. Without fail, at some point during a race, I start to beat myself up. I berate myself for those times I did not get outside to walk. I tell myself, I can’t do this. I start to figure out my escape hatch. Where will I bail? My wall is usually about 16 km in.

Then there came yesterday. I decided not to wear a watch. At about 11 km I asked Siri what time it was. At about 11 km, I had a moment.

I realized I was doing much better than my expected pace and I panicked. Weird, I know. Until that point, I’d simply been listening to my music and putting one foot in front of the other. But in that moment, I wanted to set new goals, try to beat old records.

And then, I stopped the mental mania and told myself, trust your training.

I slowed down in the second half of the race, settled back into a closer approximation of my training pace.

And I enjoyed the rest of the race in a way that was different than the previous seven races. I complimented myself at every kilometre. I enjoyed the beautiful day and the amazing scenery (I mean, the finish line was Niagara Falls, so yeah).

I did not break any records. I had my sixth best time.

And my best mental race ever.

Sadly, the stress of the past days and the strain on my body resulted in a rather hard physical crash – nausea and overwhelming fatigue. Thankfully, my personal cheer squad, hubby, was there to take care of me.

Not the planned way to end out my birthday but if nothing else, the past days have taught me, you have to adapt to what’s in front of you.

So, after the drive home, I showered, climbed into bed and slept.

This morning, I’m back at the bedside and ready to meet the challenges in the days ahead.

What are your values?

To the government of Ontario,

What do you value in education?

If recent actions are any indication, it is not students, nor educators.

Ah, yes, the bottom line.

The other day, the Minister of Education went on the CBC and when asked if he thought people in education were taking sick days when they were not sick, he refused to answer simply yes or no. Instead, he stated that the reasons for high absenteeism needs to be investigated.

No need to investigate, Sherlock. I can tell you the reason.

If your government values consistency in the delivery of support to students in the classroom, you will rejig the ineffective, destructive funding model to schools. You will make money available and targeted for hiring (rehiring) staff including Educational/Teaching Assistants, teachers, Early Childhood Educators, speech and language, psychologists, and other specialists.

People are absent from work because they are sick, injured or mentally exhausted, not due to nefarious actions. Staff are being asked to accommodate and support a record number of students with a significantly lower number of staff.

And the reasons for absences are available for the government to see. Boards are required to have Absence Management Programs to ensure that staff are not abusing sick days. Within the context of these Programs, information is shared with the employer (the Boards) that means there is no expectation of privacy regarding employee’s mental and physical health.

So, if the government is unaware of why absenteeism is high and what needs to be done to fix it, they need only look at their own policies and the detrimental effects they have on staff and subsequently students.

Students have a right to be accommodate to ensure they can be successful. Reduced staffing numbers means fewer staff to support students and deal with differences in learning and behaviours. This can result in students acting out, lashing out, hurting staff and potentially negatively impacting their own and others abilities to be successful.

If your government feels that the best way to solve this is to reduce the percentage of pay that CUPE employees receive when they are on short term disability (from 90% to 60%), you are saying that you want to penalize employees who are very often hurt ON THE JOB for DOING THEIR JOB for taking days to recover FROM INJURIES RECEIVED ON THE JOB. You are saying to employees that it is now an expectation that they not only get hurt, but take a pay cut for that privilege.

And let’s not forget: whatever CUPE agrees to, you are setting the precedent for the whole education system in Ontario. Because whatever crap deal you serve up at one negotiation table is the only thing on the menus of every other negotiating table going forward.

So, send your Minister of Education back to school – have him show up and do the work for more than a five minute photo op, and he will see that your government has either created or perpetuated the incredibly poor work conditions that cause high absenteeism rates in schools across the province.

(And tell him to bring soap and water because we’re heading into cold and flu season and there’s nothing like 30+ snotty kindergarteners to make an educator sick and tired.)

Both sides now

Yesterday I was reminded of a day last November – Joni Mitchell’s 75th birthday and her music was everywhere. For me, it was a walk through childhood memories that I didn’t know were there. For me, it was back to 1972.

I heard Joni’s songs and was reminded of putting on records when I babysat, singing songs over and over and over again or dancing on the deck of my best friend’s cottage, or dressing up in her mom’s high school outfits in their Calgary living room, and creating entire stories based on lyrics that two young girls in the early 1970s knew nothing about.

Yet.

Or maybe we never did in the way that Joni was talking about.

it’s clouds illusions I recall…

 

 

words

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was — Ernest Hemingway

Books have always been my dearest and most faithful friends. I reread books – Charlotte’s Web being my most reread book, followed by The Diviners. I have become a Mary Oliver perpetual rereader and quoter.

Words and stories and poems. I feel like I live within the stories – I can smell the barn alongside the animals in Charlotte’s Web. I can feel the unsaid feelings in The Diviners. And I am driven to live life fully by Mary Oliver’s When Death Comes.

I have been fortunate of late to have been fully immersed by several truly moving books. I continue to move through Alicia Elliott’s A Mind Spread Out on the Ground. This book is a game changer, showing me a raw understanding of the effects of colonialism, past and present. It needs to be required reading for everyone living within the borders of Canada.

Michael Crummy’s The Innocents. Megan Gail Cole’s Small Game Hunting At The Local Coward Gun Club. 

These last two books are by Newfoundland writers and I am in love with their unique voices. I felt inside the heads of their characters and felt the cold winds blow as these characters faced adversity I will never know.

I want to continue to learn about words and writing and telling stories in hopes that one day, I can take someone on a journey. And reading is a very big part of that learning.

Thank you to the universe for the gift of words.

training/racing

My instagram profile states:

I hate training, but I love finish lines. 

Today was a tough training walk. What was supposed to be 18 km turned into 19 for sure, but also 20 minutes (meaning several more kilometers) of lost in the woods.

I got very hungry but my food then gave me indigestion. Which is strange because it’s never done that before.

My right headphone stopped working (which given the lost in the woods thing was okay causes you know, the woods. Strange noises.).

My navigation skills are what keep me from wandering far without a map in hand (yes, I know, my phone was what got me out of the mess today!). But I thought I had it covered having been on the trail before.

Wrong.

I hurt all over and I’m hungry but too tired to go to the fridge!

So, I am posting a day late. And I’m whining.