An anonymous open letter from an Ontario teacher:

Let’s talk honestly about education in Ontario.

This is an open letter about the education system in Ontario, and the conversation that we need to have. As a Canadian, a mother, a tax payer, and as a teacher I cannot stand idly by without at least attempting to begin this dialogue. This conversation has to examine education from a global perspective, and speak honestly, because we are talking about our most precious resource: our children. Don’t they deserve the best? I believe they do, so let’s talk.

As a teacher, I see every day how education can change the trajectory of a child’s life and the future economy in Ontario. In order to have an effective dialogue, we need to begin with transparency and examine education from all perspectives. Teachers voices have been muted by school boards and unions for far too long. Unions have been able to wield their power and skim off the tops of teacher’s paycheques with union dues. From where I stand the media has tried to shine a light on education in Ontario, but premier Kathleen Wynne glosses over facts, and the media can only report what they know.

Transparency is one of the latest buzzwords that we hear, but all too often something we don’t see. I’d like to see a conversation without sweeping issues under the carpet, and without the fear of repercussions from the unions. It is vital that we have an exchange that involves the accountability of policymakers, politicians, union reps, teachers, parents and students. Our education system and schools belong to all of us. We are all Ontario citizens and we all pay into the education system in Ontario. We all own a stake in what is happening, and we all have a voice that can make a difference.

We are overdue for change, and it’s time that our politicians and unions heard everyone’s voices. While some will question the need for change, others will know it has been far too long. Let me remind you that collective agreements are set to expire in ten months, and almost everyone has an opinion to share about the changes that need to be made. Education is changing around the world and we need to ensure our students can compete on a global scale. Plus, let’s face it, school boards are in debt, and premier Wynne is planning on loosening the purse strings in order to extend collective agreements – which would buy her the next election. Is that something you want to watch happen or will you join this dialogue?

We all know that teachers hold a transformative power to change a child’s life through education. We only need to look back at our own education and recall the stellar teachers that shaped our young lives. In contrast, it’s easy to remember the teachers that didn’t inspire us, that damaged our self-esteem; or the teachers that didn’t put forth the extra effort to teach us in an effective manner. There are countless studies that prove the importance of a good teacher. What parent wouldn’t agree that they want the best teacher shaping their child’s life as well as their academic accomplishments? Good teachers inspire, update their skills through continued education that includes professional development, and they are effective because they are invested in their students. Good teachers understand that teaching is about relationships and communication. The best teachers know that students don’t care what you know until they know you care. Quality teachers feel honoured to be teachers and go out of their way to help every child in their classroom. Plus, the wisest teachers know that we need changes within our education system in Ontario. The very best teachers realize the importance of parental involvement, coaching extra curricular activities, and meeting the needs of our 21st Century Learners. These same teachers work long hours, often taking hours and hours of extra work home after school and on the weekends.

How do we ensure our best teachers are standing in front of our children each day? First, hire teachers based on merit – and not only seniority – by eliminating Regulation 274. This deeply flawed regulation prevents highly qualified teachers from becoming long term occasional teachers and permanent teachers until they have spent years on a supply list. It forces principals to hire from the top of a seniority list of supply teachers. Ask any principal, and they will tell you that Regulation 274 prevents them from hiring the best candidates. Standards are lowered when hiring is based exclusively on seniority first, and neglects those who change their careers, often the best teachers with life and professional experience.

Unfortunately, this regulation also means that when teachers relocate they will be forced to start over as a supply teacher at the bottom of a long supply list. Furthermore, this regulation prevents experienced Canadian teachers from returning back to Ontario to a job within a reasonable timeframe. Even though these teachers may be highly qualified, with years or decades of valuable international teaching experience, (under Regulation 274) they must wait to interview for a Supply List with a school board, and then languish on a supply list for years, waiting for their turn to be a fulltime teacher. Is that fair? Not even close.

Teaching is a profession right? Well, let’s eliminate this ridiculous regulation that wouldn’t be tolerated in the corporate world or in any other profession. On September 25, 2013, the Toronto Star reported that Wynne admitted “the government went too far in making seniority the main criterion in hiring teachers for long term contracts or permanent jobs” and that Kathleen promised to “do everything in our power to make sure we get it right.” But what did she do? Nada, nothing, zilch!

Shortly afterwards, in November 2013, then education minister Liz Sandals told The Star “it will inevitably come up as a topic in future negotiations.” Why was a change to this regulation ignored? Perhaps it was because it serves the unions, or because it would open the door to paying and hiring teachers based on merit, or even actually evaluating teachers. Yes, teachers are evaluated, but let’s be honest, it’s a minimal evaluation at best. Why isn’t anyone willing to roll up their sleeves and make the changes necessary to solve the issue of Regulation? There were so many teachers that were positive Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a former teacher himself, would demand such an unfair regulation be repealed or amended, but alas he has not answered our cries.

And before you cry “nepotism,” it’s important to know that prior to Regulation 274, most teachers were hired in this province based on merit. There was a time when principals and school boards had the ability to hire teachers based on proven dedication and hard work.

The unions and some teachers are reluctant to give up or alter Regulation 274 because they fear a return to merit based hiring would open the door to merit based pay. That is another issue, but one worth discussing. There are teachers around the world that are paid a hefty base salary and then given a bonus based on a long list of criteria. The criteria being that of a top notch, highly qualified teacher. The United States has the National Board Certification process that experienced teachers can complete for an annual bonus. This certification is rigorous and ensures teachers are highly qualified. Perhaps we need to examine such strategies to motivate teachers to be the best at their craft?

Our conversation about education in Ontario also has to be about solutions. For example, how do we evaluate the best teachers so we can hire and keep them? Organizations like the Quality Evaluation Council of Ontario (QECO) or the Ontario College of Teachers could track not only qualifications, but experience and evaluations in an effort to expand transparency in hiring practices and to discourage nepotism.

What else can we do to improve education in Ontario? Well, we can lessen the power of the unions, and I’m aware this is no easy feat. The unions, as we all know, are in bed with the politicians in power, and most importantly, the unions are not actually a true representation of all teachers. Teachers don’t have a choice to not be a part of a union. They are pressured by the unions come voting time, and there isn’t a teacher that would be willing to walk away from their career to fight the all-powerful union. There are LOTS of us that would leave the corrupt union if only we felt we wouldn’t be penalized. Teachers are forced to belong to a union and forced to pay union dues. But here’s the thing: the union doesn’t sign our paycheques, the school boards do. Who do teachers work for? They work for you; they work for every taxpaying citizen that funds the school boards. Facts that seem to be dismissed. Unions had a place in our past, and perhaps they still have a role for public servants in the future, but their power has grown too strong. We can’t sacrifice the education system for all to keep the unions and politicians happy. Let’s face it, teachers are told by the unions which way to vote on certain issues, and this is unjust when it comes at the expense of our children’s education.

So, who has the power? You do! In fact, we all do.

It takes a village to raise or educate a child, which is why some of the things we need to talk about include the need for transparency about what is going on in our classrooms, within school boards and within unions. We need to discuss the merit of teachers being hired and paid according to performance, we need to talk about school boards losing millions of dollars due to human error. We also need to have a conversation about the discrimination the government allows by only funding Catholic Schools. Don’t all faiths deserve funding? Do Catholics deserve a different treatment? Should we allow discrimination by faith? Of course not, and we know this in theory. It also stands to mention that merging school systems would save millions, if not billions.

We teach children to be kind, to be honest, to be fair, and we teach them not to discriminate or judge others based on their gender, religion or heritage. Yet we don’t model that within our school systems. Let’s have a conversation about one school system for all, about teachers being hired and compensated fairly on merit, about individual student growth, and 21st Century Learning. Let’s open the floor to everyone so that we can hear their ideas and experiences. Let’s hear from students, parents, teachers, Canadian citizens, school board employees, union reps and politicians. Let’s get the village talking about what’s best for the students in Ontario and their place in our future economy.

Let’s have a frank talk about the teachers that go above and beyond, and the ones that take advantage of sick leave. Let’s hear about the teachers that don’t even bother to show up for the first week of school, or the schools that only alter class sizes on paper to avoid class reorganizations. Let’s hear from experienced supply teachers and principals with ideas on how to solve Regulation 274, and about the disorganized dysfunctional classrooms that exist. Let’s discuss why some principals didn’t bother to hire teachers until the second or third week of school.

Can we talk about the excellent teachers utilizing best teaching practices and find a way to celebrate these teachers? How we can keep them motivated when they are compensated the same as the teachers that simply show up and teach directly from the textbook and refuse to go above and beyond. You know, the teachers who frankly shouldn’t be teaching, but have the benefit of their union protecting their job. The teachers that show up ten minutes before the bell rings and leave ten minutes after the bell at the end of the day. And yes, let’s talk about the retired teachers who are still supply teaching, or the teachers who are photocopying the same worksheet they’ve been using for 20 years. I’d like to talk about the teachers that refuse to learn about technology, or 21st Century skills to meet the needs of their students in their classrooms.

Let’s talk about education in Ontario. The good, the bad and the ugly, and then let’s make some changes.

It’s easy to forget that we have such powerful voices. That we are allowed to voice our opinions and that we can demand change.

How did Finland become the country with the best education system in the world? They started an honest dialogue and made changes from there.

Let’s talk Ontario. Let’s come together and improve our education system.

We stakeholders have all been quiet for too long.