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.

 

 

 

there are no rules

“As long as you’re dancing, you can
break the rules.
Sometimes breaking the rules is just
extending the rules.

Sometimes there are no rules.”
― Mary Oliver (A Thousand Mornings)

It’s something I’ve heard all my life age is just a number.

I didn’t actually believe it until recently. Like the last seven or so years. No coincidence that has been since I turned 50.

In ten days or so, one of the youngest, most active people I know turns 60. In the last couple years, he’s done cycling adventures that included riding from Vancouver to Whistler, to the highest peak in Taiwan, and, just for fun, 100 km on a Sunday. He has rebuilt docks pretty much solo.

He’s breaking the rules all the time – or perhaps extending them so that people stop thinking that age is anything other than a signifier of the passage of time.

I met that guy when he was a few weeks short of his 22nd birthday. It floors me to think that we have spent 38 years together. Not because we haven’t done a lot, but because he seems to be Benjamin Buttoning his way through life – he got older and now he’s getting younger.

I guess Mary Oliver is right cause hubby is showing that there are no rules.

Put up and shut up

There is a term – armchair anthropologist – which refers to scholars (think colonialists) who would sit in their comfy chairs and read books or examine artifacts and draw conclusions about ‘the other’ – the ‘exotic’ – think: non-white, non-European. This lead to real errors in teachings and entire belief systems were developed based on no field work or actual observations.

I thought of this term rcently as I read comments following a guest article by an Educational Assistant, Laura Walton, who is also the president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions. Walton was explaining to Toronto Sun readers the reasons that education workers and teachers likely would be taking job action this school year (and by job action she did not necessarily mean strikes, but most people don’t get that). Walton laid out the concerns of people working in the system and why the public needs to get onboard to fighting cuts to education.

The comments that followed were ridiculous. Many, many, MANY of the people threw out the usual tirade about how teachers are overpaid and have three months holidays and don’t care about students, they only care about wage hikes, yada yada. (Other commenters repeatedly pointed out that Walton is not a teacher which prompted a remark that Walton should go back to school so she could get a ‘real’ better paying job.) Others repeated the Ford government’s party line about pouring money into the education system and that there were no layoffs happening.

If you are a person who works in education, you’ve seen and heard it all before.

So here’s the tie in to armchair anthropology. The vast majority of people in the province have had some sort of intersection with education. They attended a school, they may have children or other younger relatives in the system, and/or they may know an educator. But unless you have done the work, really been a part of the system, you don’t have enough information to say what any particular education system role does and does not entail.

People do not have the knowledge to know about how funding cuts are affecting students and staff.

I worked closely with teachers for over a decade and I couldn’t tell you all the details of their role because it is much more than just what happens in the classroom. I could not tell you all that the clerical staff, the custodial staff, the psychoeducational staff, or the multitudes of others do everyday. Frankly, I cannot tell you what ever educational assistant does. Each role is too different.

Why does Person Q Public feel that they can sit in their comfy armchair and confidently comment about education? How can they believe they know better than teachers and other education workers who are speaking about their workplace and how funding cuts are detrimental to students?

The Education Minister, the Premier, any member of government who are making decisions about funding – are any of them educators? Who is making the decisions?

Minister Lecce – communications expert. Premier Ford – businessman (high school education).

You know who does have a PhD in education? MPP Jill Andrews from Toronto. Sadly this perfect candidate for the position of Education Minister is with the NDP, not the governing party.

I know I am spitting into the wind by saying that people need to stop criticizing what they don’t know. I know that I am walking into a brick wall to encourage politicians to step into classrooms for a whole day, or better yet a month, to get a sliver of a clue why job actions are likely to happen.

And yes, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: wages. When I left my full time role in 2014, I was taking home less than $30000. Yup. I “had summers off”. Unpaid. Yup, I had Christmas and March break off. Unpaid.

I also have life long injuries from being kick, hit, and punched. I was not entitled to enough WSIB compensation to take the time and therapy to recover fully.

Wages are part of the equation, but they are not all of the equation.

So, to those commenters I say: don’t sit in your armchair and tell an educational assistant that she should put up and shut up. Person Q Public needs to get out and do their field work before making assumptions about Walton and other educators’ motivations.

One of the keystones of a good educational assistant is their observational skills. We have a lot we can teach the public. Here’s the first field research question: What is the antecedent to the behaviour of members of the education system and what is the consequence of the negative actions of the province?

 

prompted by reading

I’ve read a few (or many) books about writing and one theme that comes through is that you will learn a lot about yourself by writing. I think I learn as much, or maybe more, from reading. Not only the words, and the way people use them, but the memories and self reflections and subsequent knowledge that some words provoke.

Case in point: Cheryl Strayed compiled some of her Dear Sugar advice columns into a book. One of the columns was prompted by a query from a young woman musing about writing. Strayed used one line which struck me: “You have to tell us what you have to say.” Strayed had much more to say to the woman, including telling her to find humility and stop being so melodramatic about what it means (and doesn’t mean) to be a writer.

But it was the line about telling what you have to say that gave me pause. I know I need to write – not like I need to breathe or eat or sleep (talking about melodramatic), but I have ideas ALL THE TIME that I need/want to explore. I come across old writings and they surprise me. Not because they’re profound (talking about humility) but because of how far I have progressed, how much I have learned about how much hard work it takes to write and which ideas are worth pursuing.

Art and literature and design – all these things are subjective. To be acknowledged as a particular type of creative, you need to create something that someone will assist you in putting out into the world.

And yet, you have to tell us what you have to say. I cannot write in hopes of saying what someone wants to hear, but appreciate that it is within the uniqueness of what I have to say, that is where the value of my writing exists.

(Not to say that I don’t check my inbox everyday for that elusive response that someone has found that uniqueness interesting enough to publish!)

letter to Education Minister

Minister Lecce,

As your government is in the midst of the beginning stages of negotiations with education groups across the province, I implore you to not take your fight to media. I implore you to research and get a thorough understanding the roles and realities of education in Ontario.

By taking your fight to the media, you are working to destroy relationships and skew perceptions. There are people who believe everything the government says simply because you are the government. With that comes great responsibility. Do not take it lightly. Remember, your role is to fund and support a system with one goal: EDUCATE CHILDREN.

When you vilify teachers, you vilify the entire system. To many, teachers are education. And that’s okay – if you treat them with respect. But your predecessors and most certainly your leader has made teachers (and therefore everyone in the system) out to be money grubbing, uncaring, pampered people.

They are not. The jobs within education are too hard to do if it’s only about the money. People in education do the work because they want to EDUCATE CHILDREN.

To all those who doubt, I ask one simple question: have you done the job? Have you done a thorough set of research to increase your true understanding the job? Teachers and people within education want to do their jobs: EDUCATE CHILDREN.

And, surprise, there are so many more people in the system than teachers. Teachers do not solely educate children – they are supported by administrators, custodial staff, psychologists and speech therapists, teaching assistants, secretarial staff – the list goes on and on. By attacking teachers, you are attempting to divide these education groups to be an elitist group (teachers) and others – you are making it so that people within the system have to choose sides when they are all meant to work as a team to do one thing well: EDUCATE CHILDREN.

Your leader has also placed a wedge firmly between the education system and parents. A good example is a recent announcement. Rather than providing full support to the system to implement the new health curriculum, to encourage dialogue, your government has stated that parents can opt out. Not enter into discussions about the importance of educating young people about the critical topics within the curriculum but opt out. In a public system, there are expectations to complete all the curriculum. There is a place for accommodations, but not an outright opting out. You are creating a wedge – again – forcing people to choose sides, rather than supporting relationship building so that parents and the education system can meet the one goal: EDUCATE CHILDREN.

I recently left education after more than 15 years – I was a teaching assistant working the most vulnerable students. These students had physical and cognitive disabilities. They had behavioural difficulties – they all needed help to be part of the system. They needed significant supports to be successful and part of the educational community. Over the past many years, funding has changed the way teaching assistants support students. No longer can we take the time to support students and teachers in the previously meaningful ways to ensure that all students can reach their potentials. Funding meant that we were only able to support students in two key areas: personal care and personal safety (theirs and others).

Basically, they are there to toilet, transfer, and help with mobility. Teaching assistants ensure that students do not harm themselves or others, including running away from classroom situations which are beyond their abilities to engage in. Children who act out are the responsibility of classroom teachers/DECEs and teaching assistants but helping them learn to cope and learning skills to better manage their reactions to stresses on their abilities? That task, which used to also fall within the purview of teaching assistants, is no longer an expectation because there is not enough time, not enough funding. There are some teaching assistants who only have time to toilet all the children in the school and then start again – toileting all the children in the school.

So, the relationships with students suffer. Teaching Assistants no longer get to build the relationship necessary to get a student to trust, learn and be successful. The teaching assistants are so busy doing the tasks of personal care and personal safety – they can’t be part of the classroom in the meaningful way that students need. And these people – good people, people interested in EDUCATING CHILDREN – have so much to offer students. Don’t dismiss them any longer.

In the upcoming negotiations, remember Teaching Assistants. They are the ones doing the work that supports vulnerable students in very important but challenging areas: personal care and personal safety. Remember that they deal with violence and injury at a higher rate than other employee groups. Remember that currently a large majority of Teaching Assistants need two or more jobs to make ends meet because their salaries are not sufficient to keep up with rising costs or even the current cost of living. Talk to these frontline workers: you would not believe the levels of stress and injury that are currently being experienced. Because if you did, you could not, in all good conscience, continue to underfund these roles.

There are not enough people to meet all the needs of all of the children when it comes to ensuring they can access education, whatever that access looks like. Children with special needs are children within your community – they are children who deserve what all children deserve. An education. A meaningful education. Not a peripheral view of the system, but a meaningful engagement with education. They are not one size fits all. They are not all able to access it within the same framework as a neurotypical or physically typical child.

By cutting funding, you are cutting access for children. In 2018, the Ontario Human Rights Commission reported:

In a recent survey of parents of students with intellectual disabilities in Ontario, 53.2% of parents surveyed reported that their child was not receiving proper academic accommodations; and 68.2% of parents reported that schools were “meeting half or less than half of their child’s academic needs.” In interviews, parents emphasized “the devastating effects of low expectations and lack of opportunity for engagement.”

Do you know who can assist children to have opportunities for engagement? Teaching Assistants. Do you know whose positions are so woefully underfunded they cannot provide those opportunities? Yup. Teaching Assistants.

The current funding model does not meet the requirements of Section 8 of the Human Rights Code which states:

…education providers have a legal duty to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities who are adversely affected by a requirement, rule or standard. Accommodation is necessary to address barriers in education that would otherwise prevent students with disabilities from having equal opportunities, access and benefits.

Yes, it states education providers have that legal duty. But it is not possible for education providers to do that without the appropriate levels of support from their funding source: the government. Passing the buck is not acceptable. Funding has been cut – and no amount of creative accounting presentation can change the fact that the funding has not kept up with the needs.

So, please. When it comes to the upcoming negotiations, take your responsibility seriously. Do not lay the blame for the system failures at the feet of teachers and/or education workers. Accept responsibility for paying people within the system in a manner to acknowledges their value to their key role: EDUCATING CHILDREN.

And please, please, please – provide appropriate levels of funding and keep funding growing along with the greater demands of students and education in this province.

Paula Turner

 

the long goodbye

April 1, 2003, I began my career in education with the Peel Board.

My love of public education and being around small humans started sooner than that though.

I began volunteering in 1994 when my oldest began kindergarten. I often brought my youngest into the school library and would help out teachers by preparing activities for classrooms (read: cutting out hundreds of shapes). I ran bake sales and play days with all the other stay at home or flexibly scheduled parents. We did goofy sketches at assemblies and made meals for Teacher Appreciation Days.

I was hooked.

At one time, I planned to become a teacher. In 1985, when hubby was finishing up his degree, I was planning on going back to university and get a degree and then go to teacher’s college. Times were tough for new teachers (relatively speaking), but I viewed it as a stable profession. Hubby was supportive, but some of the extended family was not. As I was known to do, I caved to the pressure to not commit to a career.

I began having babies a few years later. I was/am/always will be hooked on that choice.

Maybe my love of all things education began even earlier – in high school, when I attended a Catholic high school as a non-Catholic student. I was exempt from religion classes if I did community service. I found a daycare for children with Down syndrome and their siblings to fulfill my requirement. My high school was ‘self teaching’ (hey, late 1970s, your flexible education ideas are calling!) so I could spend as much time on any subject as I needed. We didn’t have classes, no one took attendance. (Not surprisingly, many people took 5 or more years to complete the three required years of high school in this model.)

I began spending all my time at the day care – and only going to school one or two days a week. I graduated 5 months early so I could spend even more time at the daycare.

I was hooked.

So, yes. I may have been hired by the Peel Board on a snowy April day in 2003, but the seeds were planted back in the late 70s.

Education today is not anything like it was in the 70s and does not even remotely resemble my first permanent role with the Board in 2003.

I began working one on one with a student who had physical and cognitive impairments. We had oodles of time to do his physiotherapy and occupational therapy exercises. We worked hard to overcome his anxiety about doing work (which manifested itself in such stress he threw up. Every day. Usually on me.) and by the end of the year, he did participate more.

I thought it was a tough year. But it was nothing like my last full time year, 2014.

That year I was working with multiple students in multiple classrooms. The province and the Board had moved to deeming Teaching Assistants as necessary only for personal safety and personal care. There was no more supporting students with curriculum expectations – we were the front line between success and failure within a very narrow scope.

Today, Teaching Assistants work with at least 3 students. Those three students are very high needs – that why a TA would ‘only’ have 3 at a time. If the students have been deemed to have lesser needs, that ratio goes up. One TA to 4, 5, 6 or more students.

It’s not the same world at all.

In 2014, I returned to university. My long goodbye to working in schools began.

I occasionally went into the schools to do supply work until I returned full time in 2016. After years of being hit, pinched, spat on, punched, and ducking various projectiles, alongside lifting students for toileting, I began to think my body wasn’t up for the task. I took a role at the Board main site. In an office. By myself.

By the early spring, I decided to ‘retire’. I needed to accept that I wasn’t going back in the classroom. Those years away had made it feel like too daunting a task to return. Alongside that, I had begun working on a research project at McMaster. The possibility of doing my masters hung in the air.

The long goodbye got serious – there was a retirement dinner and notification that I was too young to start drawing on my pension.

In early 2018, after floundering around for a few months, I took a short term job at my union’s office. After that, I stayed on the supply TA list, with a minimum requirement of one day of supplying a year.

I didn’t fulfill that requirement this past school year. I worked full time at the university and was advised that I shouldn’t risk my bum knee in a special education setting or classroom. I made a half hearted attempt to get an exemption from my one day a year requirement.

Yesterday, I opened an email that said, You have been terminated.

The long goodbye is over. I think I’m okay with that.

Not 100% sure, but yeah. Probably.

The opportunity to volunteer at my local school still exists. And as long as the chance to occasionally hang out in the world of education and interact with small humans still exists, all is good in the world.

celebrating love

A year ago today, we celebrated your love.

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You walked into the day together.

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You embraced each person, bringing us into your love.

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You are two very unique, very independent, very amazing people.

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Your love is one.

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Untitled by R.M. Drake

You will be the clouds
and i will be the sky.
you will be the ocean
and i will be the shore.
you will be the trees
and i will be the wind.

whatever we are, you and i
will always collide.

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Love Sonnet 17, by Pablo Neruda

I don’t love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
Secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I don’t know any other way of loving

but this, in which there is no I or you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.

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