I’m showing my age here but there you go. That song came out two years before I was born and it was played in our Norfolk sea-side house regularly when I was very little. It was playing in my head as I read an astonishing email from our local union executive this week where they repeatedly congratulated themselves on the system they now claim to have had a hand in creating in response to the pandemic. This is suprising as earlier they claimed that things were happening without their input or consent, but historical hind-sight lets you rewrite the narrative to make it look like you did something, I suppose.
This self congratulatiory email went on to state that teachers should be assigned a maximum of 225 minutes of student instruction daily, and 75 mins of preparation time. Having never been provided with these things I’m at a loss to explain the rhetoric in any rational terms. So deaf has been our union that I’ve quit as our local CBC representative after numerous emails and calls for clarification and support went unanswered, even when I was advocating for other members. I’m pro-union because I know what would happen if One Percenters had dictatorial control, but our union isn’t particularly egalitarian either, though it likes to make noises like it is. The longer I look at OSSTF the more classist it seems, so I shouldn’t be surprised that their support only appears to apply to certain members.
The problem with the district’s current belief in this fantastic schedule is that it conveniently ignores specific situations where the board doesn’t have the resources it needs to make it happen. I think the board made a good decision under no direction or leadership from a broken ministry of education in setting things up as they did, but we then needed a local union ready to work to protect its members when the specifics of the plan could not be met. What we have instead are a group of self contratulatory district types with a strangle hold on control of our local who are more interested in putting out emails that sound like they were written by our employer than they are in making sure all of their members have access to the same plan in terms of work expected.
What we need, unless qualifications don’t matter, is to agree that any teacher working in a classroom should be familiar with the curriculum and qualified to teach the subject they’re teaching. Ironically, in the same email we were told not to do any writing jobs for TVO’s upcoming elearning program because there is no guarrantee that a qualified teacher will teach that material – that’s exactly what’s happening now in our district and we are waving a victory flag about it.
Someone ignorant to the job might read this as teachers only working 225 mintues a day, but that’s 225 minutes of instruction. You can’t just walk in and do that. You have to prepare what you’re doing and also mark the results. Teaching is more like presenting in media as a DJ or TV presenter – the part you see is only a small part of the job as a whole. When you see radical differences in instructional time the ‘under the water iceberg’ part of the job is also magnified. I’m having trouble sleeping and I’m often up at 4am marking or prepping for my red-all-year schedule because it’s the only time available to do it.
You have to fall into a very specific catagory to luck out and get the union advertised 225 minutes of instruction. The tricky thing about equity is that it needs to be equally distributed. Having said that, even the 225 minutes of instruction is no cakewalk as you’ve got to create two sets of material (one remote and one face to face) and then deliver them in two places at once all day every day. Re-writing and splitting the curriculum into a never-before-taught format on the fly is difficult enough but there are other political factors diminishing the effectiveness of that remote elearning half of our curriculum.
As you might guess, I’ve been given 6 double cohort sections this year and have never once been given a qualified face to face relief teacher. Teaching technology means you need to have a tech qualified teacher or students have to stop hands on work for safety and liability reasons. Hands-on work in class is at such a premium this year (we only have 52.5 hours of it compared to 110 hours in a regular class), that tech teachers are simply staying in class in order to protect what little tactile time students have – of course most tech teachers have small, single-cohort class sizes, but not me. I get capped the same as a university bound calculus class. Before this all kicked off admin said to us that they expected we’d all wave off relief support anyway in order to ‘let our kids keep on learning’. The worst thing you want to be in a pandemic is a unicorn, just as in the song, you can expect to get ignored, left behind and drown in the indifference shown to you by your union.
I’m the only person in my building qualified to teach what I teach and this isn’t an academic subject that might be taught out of a text book. Technology, like French or other skills based subjects, needs to be taught by people who know how to do the thing they’re teaching; you can’t fake it. Usually the union is all over this, but they’re evidently blind to it this year – unless you want to try and escape this nastiness by writing elearning courses for TVO (yes, I’ve applied).
The union has a long term hatred of elearning and have been dismissive of it outright. Elearning is a challenge, and I’ve been involved it in since its germination, but if done right it could offer a differentiated approach to learning that could serve some student needs (that’s what we’re here for right?). What you don’t want to do (that this government is intent on) is Walmarting elearing into a cheap and pedagogically ineffective wedge that weakens the entire education system. You don’t stop that mean-spirited, self-serving narcisism (the Ontaro PC party has donors who are ready to leap in with charter school options) by refusing to participate in it. What we need is a union researching best pedagogical practices in elearning including which students it actually works for, and then advocating for that. The ‘keep everything analogue’ approach is dangerously out of touch and a sure way to make both the educaiton system and the union itself irrelevant.
Union footdragging on elearing pedagogical effectiveness has made a mess of half our ‘class time’ with our students. Double cohorted teachers don’t get to support their own class in elearning. If you’re one of the lucky ones you’ve got a collaborative, technically savvy, qualified colleague who is helping you manage that, though you’re still responsible for all the planning, prep and review of work – though that gets hazzy too as we keep turning down exectations (no new content, no assessment and now no attendance) in our online cohorts.
We aren’t turning off all these aspects of learning in elearning for pedagogical reasons, we’re doing it to lessen the load on remote learning support teachers as per union direction. This means we’re now trying to pack a 110 hour course in 52.5 hours of face to face classroom learning in a dramatically accelerated schedule with little chance for review or differentiation. This is difficult in any course but in tech courses that rely almost exclusively on tactile, hands-on learning and which have been instructed to allow NO HANDS ON WORK remotely for liability and safety reasons, it reduces pedagogical effectiveness to well under 50% just based on time alone, I won’t get into how difficult it has been to get parts in as the pandemic has worn on.
Eleaarning could have been leveraged make this time-crunch work better from a pedagogical perspective. The first (obvious) step would be to ensure that all tech classes or other specialist taught courses are single cohort in order to ensure both teacher familiarity but also provide qualifiied and meaningful remote support, but that would neccessitate a local union that is fighting for all members, even the ones who teach specialist courses. It would also require a provincial union that isn’t intent on belittling elearning as a tool in Ontario education’s toolbox. We’ve got dozens of teachers not teaching and providing toilet breaks for people in the building so the money and teaching talent was there, it has just lacked focus.
The result of this game of smoke and mirrors is a steady deterioration of remote learning expectations since this year of pandemic teaching began. Every time we go fully remote we seem to lose leverage in the remote half of our regular in-school day.
This politically motivated intentional ignoring of remote elearning has resulted in many classes (I’m told by students) who have little or no remote elearning work at all. There are single cohort teachers doing 120 minutes (2 hours) of face to face instruction in the morning and then simply walking away from the remote half of the course. Students in that class are earning credits and grades based on less than half the normal class work and can’t possibly be coming anywhere close to regular curriculum expectations, but when it suits the political angle the union wants to take on elearning, it’s all good.
The other result of this wildly uneven scheduling of work is that some members are being waterboarded by a brutal workload that can include more than twice the instructional time (along with all the prep, marking and logitistical time required for it). When I pointed this out after my first double cohort double class quadmester and suggested I should have lightened remote support expectations in the quadmester where my prep period resided (something we could have worked around with a more evenly distrubuted schedule instead of clinging to the old one), I was told by admin that wouldn’t be fair and everyone has to do the same duties. That’s exactly the moment my union should have stepped in and shown how much extra work I’d already done, but they’d rather pat themselves on the back for a job well-done for a small percentage of their members. The equity must be great if you’re lucky enough to have it.
I don’t think the current situation is a failure of the school board. I think they made difficult choices as well as they could with no support or leadership from the ministry. What we needed was our local union to show up and help mould that plan into something that is actually fair for everyone involved and differentiates based on availablity of qualifications. More supported, credible and consistent elearning expectations should also have been developed and evolved over the course of this year, but our union’s poltiics can’t get out of its own way when it comes to elearning, even when it results in members being hurt by wildly unfair and inequitable work expectations.
I look forward to the next email that looks like an advertisement for my employer and shows no awareness or concern for member circumstances. It’s probably sitting in my inbox right now. I’m pretty sure I pay the same dues as everyone else, too bad the support isn’t equal.
You’ll see green alligators and long necked geese Some humpy-back camels and some chimpanzees Some cats and rats and elephants, but sure as you’re born You’re never gonna see no Unicorn.
This unicorn with his rare teaching qualifications isn’t just dealing with another double cohort double class quadmester. This time around it’s double cohort double classes with stacked multi-grade senior classes, which means even more prep (grade 11 face to face work, grade 12 face to face work, grade 11 remote work, grade 12 remote work), and all packed into a single class capped at 31 students – like a university bound academic class, except my class of 31 includes 10% essential students, 35% applied students and over 50% of the class has an IEP (tech tends to attact students with special needs because it doesn’t expect them to sit in rows reading out of the same textbook). The unicorning going on here is starting to feel less like benign neglect and more like systemic bias intent on extinction, which any technology teacher in Ontario education can tell you is nothing new.