As a teacher with the Rainy River District School Board, I am disheartened with the way that occasional teachers are being treated in their attempts at a fair contract settlement.
These teachers are a necessary part of the education system, filling in for absent classroom teachers in every school in the district.
Some of our occasional teachers have 30 years experience and continue to impart a wealth of knowledge into the classroom setting; others are new teachers developing their craft as they wait for the opportunity to be hired, hopefully with this board, to work in the classroom on a full-time basis.
Let me tell you about one young teacher who is working as a long-term occasional teacher at my school. Although his present situation allows him the opportunity to make the same salary as a “regular” teacher, he is not entitled to any benefits, he has no job security, and if he was to have to return to the list of occasional teachers working on a day-by-day basis, he would not be paid the same salary.
Yet, this young man has been involved in coaching two sports teams, volunteered to be involved with my school’s “Outers” program, chaperoned dances, planned two field trips that involve taking students out of the town on overnight trips, and is available for extra help before school, at lunch, and after school.
His car is usually the first one in the parking lot each morning and one of the last to leave at the end of the day—usually long after the administration and most of the regular teachers have gone home.
As a new teacher, he is not familiar with contracts and negotiations, and is bewildered by the events that have unfolded this year, Nor does he, with his present schedule, have time to be involved in contract negotiations.
All he wants is the opportunity to teach in his home community while being treated fairly by his employer.
Hearing the board say that they want to retain the right to negotiate the whole contract with this bargaining unit amounts to a form of bullying at times. Yes, presently, the occasional teachers are blessed to have in their ranks someone with more than 20 years of negotiating experience, but most years, they are a mixed crew of old and new teachers with no or very little negotiating experience.
Most new teachers are intimidated when called in to the principal’s office to discuss their long-range plans; how do you think they would feel facing a block of experienced negotiators across a table?
The occasional teachers have seen the effects of their “David and Goliath” relationship as their salaries with this board have moved from one of the best in the province to one of the worst.
Tying their salaries to the regular teachers’ grid would allow them some peace of mind knowing that if they have someone in their ranks willing and able to face Goliath again, they might make some progress in other areas of their contract rather than spend all their time trying to maintain a respectable salary in comparison to other occasional teachers in the province.
If they are again placed in a situation where no one has the time or experience to negotiate with this board, they still would receive the same compensation increase that the other qualified teachers receive who work for this board.
It needs to be understood that occasional teachers do not simply “sit at the front of the room and read a book,” as one person was heard to say. They are required to keep a class functioning—even in subjects where they possess no experience.
They are required to keep the students on task, answer questions, offer solutions, provide guidance. They must maintain discipline, leave instructions for the returning teacher, and, sometimes, mark assignments. Occasionally, they might read a book—to a group of students as part of the lesson.
They do not have the benefit of knowing what went on during the previous day’s lesson sometimes, and many times are surprised to discover what the day presents.
As a regular teacher with this board, I know the occasional teachers allow me to attend professional development opportunities, mentor with other teachers, attend workshops, fill in for administration who are absent, take part in extra-curricular activities, take the occasional sick day, or even have a baby—knowing that my classes will continue to be taught by qualified, enthusiastic occasional teachers.
They are a much-needed, seemingly under-appreciated group of dedicated men and women, and we need them.
The occasional teachers are not asking for something new; they are asking for something that is becoming the standard around the province. It might not have been settled in all contracts, but it is the way of the future.
I hope this board and its new director continue to be progressive in its dealings with its employees. Let’s bring the future to Rainy River District now, and show the province that this tiny board appreciates and recognizes the worth of all is employees, even its occasional teachers.
Atikokan High School