A Slippery Slope

Fortunately, the ark didn’t have to worry about any of
those pesky fictional icebergs…

Over the past couple of days the concept of professionalism seems to keep popping up, usually after it’s been lit on fire.  It began when someone posted a quote on Facebook based on a Twitter storm.  It was described as ‘interesting’ on Facebook and lots of people on there were very happy to prop it up.  I would have called it asinine.  My first instinct was to write back, ‘it’s important to remember that amateurs built the starship Enterprise but professionals built the space shuttle.’  But I didn’t.

Beyond the amateurs-are-really-good-at-building-things-that-don’t-exist thinking, I was more put off by the implicit attack on professionalism.  Ironically, it’s the lack of professionalism in our news that’s accelerating this anti-professional bias.  When you share media created to force an opinion rather than declare facts, you’re pouring gas on the ignorance fire.  From patients spending half an hour on Google and then telling their doctors what their self-diagnosis is and demanding they medicate them for it (self assured arrogance is a wonderful byproduct of everyone’s-an-expert), to shady business men taking over super powers (dido), the idea that we don’t need professionals any more because we all have access to information, and therefore know everything, is rampant.

The problem with our information deluge is that it isn’t vetted.  With no oversight or fact checking, alternative facts become facts when they are repeated often enough.  Opinions become truths when you find enough people to repeat them.  Part of this comes down to the shear volume of information around us.  We’re living in a tsunami of data, and we’re very bad at curating it.

That quote is from 2010.  The revolution happened, but it hasn’t been the touchy-feely future of knowledge that we thought it would be.  Maybe AI can sort it out, because we’ve made a mess of it.

The flood of social media data has us awash in information, much of it crap.  With a waning (professional) fourth estate and everyone on the planet rapidly getting to the point where they can broadcast their opinions no matter how factually bereft, we are living in dangerous times.  There was some hope, early on, that crowd sourcing would help manage this onslaught, but it turns out a large proportion of the crowd doing the sourcing are idiots.

Our willingness to absorb untruths are amplified by the idea that we customize our social media feeds based on our own beliefs.  Doing so turns our ‘news’ intake into an echo chamber of ideas that only support our world view; a sort of self-fulfilling propaganda.  This quickly takes on Orwellian proportions as people who once kept their racist thoughts to themselves suddenly find themselves at the virtual equivalent of a Clan meeting.  Those embarrassing prejudices are suddenly worth broadcasting.  This process is a powerful one, and its tail is wagging the political dog in 2017.

Alternative is right – this ‘headline’ photo is taken from a
2007 HBO film.  Welcome to 2017. 

It isn’t just the alt-right who are happy to take this neo-propaganda and make use of it.  With no oversight, everyone with a strong opinion is happy to take pictures from a film and publish them as if they are news, just to convince people that what they think is right.

Way back in the naughties (’06 I think) one of my media studies students brought in a video that prompted tears and a lot of conversation.  The inevitability of what they proposed in that video caused a lot of anxiety in our class, me included.  At the time, social media barely existed so this seemed like a real stretch, but in the dystopian future they describe in the film the traditional news media has fallen apart, eaten by the internet.  What’s left is a shallow, sensationalist mediascape that caters to the quality of thought most people aspire to.  In the past year I’ve begun to think that this quality of thought isn’t anywhere near where I thought it was.

The description at the end might be starting to feel all too familiar:
“At its best, edited for the savviest readers, EPIC is a summary of the world, deeper and broader and more nuanced than anything available before. But at its worst, and for too many, EPIC is merely a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow, shallow and sensational, but EPIC is what we wanted…”  
It’s what we have today.

We’re too busy, distracted and incompetent to vet and even critically analyze the media that engulfs us, and we’re too cheap to hire people to do it for us.  It turns out we weren’t just paying for information from the fourth estate, we were also paying for critical analysis.  But if we can get sensationalism for free why pay for hard truths?

A philosophical underpinning to all of this is the idea that anyone can do or say anything they want simply by wanting to do it.  Effort to develop mastery in a skill (ie: professionalism) is frowned upon.  We’re told by wealthy people that doctors, politicians, teachers and other professionals are shysters who are trying to take advantage of us, and we buy it!  We idolize the mega-rich who are so simply because of the situation of their birth rather than because of any professionally developed skill.  The lies we tell ourselves every day are part of a vicious cycle made possible by an information revolution that made everything except learning the truth easier.

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Kawartha Highlands Loop

On Friday, July 13th, while thousands of people lined up to get into Port Dover, I left the cottage early (just before 7am) and headed out on my planned circumnavigation of the Kawartha Highlands Park.  It was already well into the twenties Celsius and humid when I left.  The fire roads into the cottage are a roller coaster rally stage of gravel over muskeg and Canadian Shield with tough, weedy firs and birch trees growing in the cracks.  It’s fun in a car but a bit nerve wracking on a bike.

It’s tourist season in the Haliburton Highlands and on the weekends the roads actually have some traffic (like, a few vehicles: Canadian country traffic), but on this Friday morning it was quiet.  I was lucky to see another vehicle pass me in any five minute span when I set out and the cottage road was just me and the bears.

I was out to Lovesick Lake Restaurant just before 8am for breakfast, only to discover it doesn’t open until 9am… for breakfast… in the middle of the summer.  Having not eaten and already on the road for an hour, I was disinclined to hang around for seventy odd minutes.  Fortunately, a couple of years ago we did a family Thanksgiving at the Viamede Resort just across Upper Stony Lake so I figured I’d give them a try.  

I pulled in just as the breakfast buffet was underway.  It was twenty bucks for breakfast all in, but it was all you can drink quality coffee and real juices along with a buffet all you can eat hot breakfast with fruit and all the other odds and ends you’d expect from a high end resort.  If you’ve got the time and you’re up that way, Viamede is a nice way to start a day of riding, and you’re looked after by a fantastic staff while eating a great breakfast in a beautiful environment.  It’s probably cheaper than a lousy hot dog at Port Dover and no line up.
When I came back outside it was heating up but I was full of beans (literally and figuratively) and percolating on that freshly pressed coffee.  Northeys Bay Road east out of Viamede was a roller coaster, weaving through outcroppings of rocky Shield as it worked its way around the end of Upper Stoney Lake.  At one point I came down into a valley only to discover a rafter of wild turkeys the size of sheep standing on a rock outcropping eying me as I went by; it was like riding through a herd of dinosaurs.  Northeys Bay turned onto County Road Six, which took a less sinuous and more  severe route through the woods.  From Six I was onto Forty-Four and the twists were back on again until I got to 46, but even the bigger roads were still constantly weaving, just with fewer gear changes.
With the slower, technical roads around Stoney Lake behind me, I struck north, deeper into the Shield.  46 and the 504 were both full of fast sweepers that seldom had me on the crown of my tires.  I pulled into Coe Hill Cafe about 10:30am.  After three hours on the bike my knees needed a rest, so it was coffee time.  It was me and four tables of retirees all talking politics and telling ‘in my day’ stories (they’d all owned bikes at some point).
A couple of cups of coffee and I was ready to tackle Lower Faraday Road.  This little road out of Coe Hill is twisty, turny thing.  Last time on it two years ago I was disappointed at just how rough it was, but sections of it have been resurfaced since my last attempt and this time I could exercise the sides of the tires a bit.  The top end of it was still rough, but that’s one of the many benefits of riding a ‘big trailee’ adventure bike:  they can handle Ontario’s terrible pavement when it gets rough.
Out the top of Faraday I pushed on up to the 648 ‘Loop” road through Highland Grove, Pusey and Wilberforce.  I was initially thinking about extending the loop through Bird’s Creek and Maynooth, but it was touching forty degrees with the humidity and a swim in the lake that afternoon held more appeal.
I wasn’t on the 118 for long, but once again I was reminded what a lovely thing it is.  If you like fast, sweeping corners through beautiful scenery on well finished roads, the 118 won’t disappoint.  I think I prefer that kind of road to the super tight, technical, twisty roads that get all the attention and usually have lousy surfaces.
From Tory Hill I was dropping south along the western side of The Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, once again on near empty roads.  The Tiger had burned off most of a tank of gas and was light and eager, and after six hot hours in the saddle, I was looking forward to a swim in the lake.  Like that post breakfast section around the end of Upper Stoney Lake, this road felt weightless and easy.  I get to the end of sections of road like that and realize I’d forgotten where I end and the bike begins.
I was back at Nogie’s Creek before I knew it and riding the seventeen odd kilometres down increasingly small and twisty gravel fire roads into the lake…
I did the SMART off road training course a couple of weeks ago and was looking forward to seeing how my usually white knuckle approach to riding on gravel had changed.  I was in and out of the cottage a total of six times over the four days there and never once got a hand cramp.  In most cases I was resting my open hands on the bars and letting the throttle sort out any wobbles.  If you’re anxious about riding on loose surfaces something like the SMART program is a great way to acclimate yourself to it and lose your fear of it.

I was back at the cottage by 2pm and in the lake shortly thereafter.  Once again the Haliburton Highlands had impressed, offering an assortment of interesting roads that are vanishingly rare in the table-top flat South West where I live.  The Tiger was once again a rock star, prompting discussions wherever we went and starting at the touch of a button.  It carried me and two panniers full of tools and rain gear around the Kawartha Highlands while soaking up bumps on some truly awful pavement and feeling like an eager sports bike when the going got smooth and twisty.  Best of all, we managed it on near empty roads with no delays and some spectacular scenery.

Best Friday the thirteenth ride yet!  About three hundred kilometres on near empty roads through picture postcard scenery and not a crowd or line up in sight.  That’s what riding is about for me.

Here are some full 360° images from the ride:
The cottage fire road out of Bass Lake. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

The twists and turns of the Haliburton Highlands. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Lakes, woods and Canadian Shield. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

The on-bike 360 footage was captured by a Ricoh Theta set to auto shoot every 30 seconds, so you can set and forget it.  The images are screen grabs from out of the 360 panoramas.  You can lean how to do this yourself (it’s easy!) here.

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Easy Money

There is a strong undercurrent of animosity about what teachers get paid and a lot of misinformation about teacher average pay. Like anything, it’s more complicated than it appears. Here’s my stab at trying to explain how Ontario teacher pay works, though the people complaining about it probably aren’t interested in any facts:

The latest Ontario secondary teacher salary grid from my board:

To get your foot in the door on this grid you need to have spent 4 years in an undergraduate degree and then another 2 years getting your bachelor of education. If you’ve ever had any trouble with the law you’re already out of contention. You need to have a clean criminal record to be a teacher.Your average cost for a university degree in Canada these days is about $6500 a year.
So you’re about $40,000 in debt before you even get a whiff of that ‘super’ teacher pay. Ontario is (of course) one of the most expensive places in Canada to get your post-secondary education:


So that $6500 Canadian average turns into almost $8000 a year and your Ontario teacher is typically sitting under about fifty grand in debt to get onto the grid.

Six contract sections don’t exist for new teachers these days. From what I’ve seen, you’d be hard pressed to find any Ontario teacher under 30 years old who has six contract sections (full time equivalence – six sections is a full year of work). It’s fair to expect most teachers to take 5-6 years to get to full contract these days, many give up on the process. There are a number of teachers who, for various reasons, never get to six contract sections and are part time throughout their career.

It takes the typical Canadian student 10 years to get out from under student loan debt, so I put that in too – but didn’t count the ongoing debt required to pay for your teacher training.

Remember that salary grid? To get up the sharp end of it you need to have an honours degree in what you’re teaching and then take additional qualification (AQ) courses after teaching experience to earn your ‘honours specialist’ and get into the top ‘level 4’ section of the salary grid.

A number of teachers never get there because they don’t have the university background or aren’t willing to spend thousands more dollars when they aren’t teaching to get additional qualifications. You can look up any teacher on OCT to see what their qualifications are and whether they’ve spent more of their own time and money to get additional qualifications.

So, to get up to the top end of the teacher’s salary, currently $96,068 in my board, you need to have dropped at least fifty grand on university degrees plus another couple of thousand on honours specialist additional qualifications. Most teachers don’t stop there and get other AQs in other specializations as well (I have 2 other subjects I’ve AQ’d in as well as my honours specialist).

Because of all these variables, calculating what the actual average teacher salary is in Ontario is a tricky business, which is why no one has bothered, but I’ll give it a go:

Your first year you’re teaching as an occassional teacher at the bottom of the grid. Let’s be optimistic and say you’re teaching six sections (full time) on a short term contract, but many aren’t. From years 2-6 let’s say you’re getting one contract section a year and are still able to fill up the rest of your time table with short term contract jobs (again, many aren’t). Let’s assume you’ve got an honours degree in what you’re teaching. In your third year you drop another couple of thousand bucks on getting your honours specialist and move up to level four on the salary grid and keep climbing year over year.

That eighty-three grand average is mighty optimistic.  It ignores the endemic under-employment in new teachers these days.  It also ignores maternity leaves and any other family or medical leaves that happen in people’s lives.  I’d estimate that the average Ontario teacher is making something more like seventy grand a year, with many making substantially less.Wild eyed conservative leaning reporters will bleat on and on about how the average Ontarian should rise up against these overpaid teachers, but when you look into statistics around pay and education level, the typical degree carrying Ontarian makes about $85,000 a year. Your average teacher salary is less than that:

Playing that rhetorical game and equating people who have spent years of their lives and tens of thousand so their own dollars to earn a qualification with people who haven’t is a nasty bit of neo-con politics.  The people playing that game are trying to sell you on equality when they’re actually selling the opposite.  We live in a society that rewards dilligence, competence and effort, don’t we?  Maybe we don’t.
The benefits and pension piece are another angle that gets a lot of air play.  I pay almost eight hundred bucks a month into my pension.  If everyone paid that much into a pension plan, they too would have a good one waiting for them.  The only difference between teachers and everyone else is that we’re forced to do it.  My take home pay as a teacher only equalled my take home pay as a millwright in 1991 after fifteen years and tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.  I’ll have a better pension when I retire as a teacher than I would have as a millwright (though National Grocer’s millwrights were well looked after until they broke the union and fired them all).
I’m always left with the vague feeling that there is some good old fashioned sexism in conservative attacks on teachers.  Almost 70% of teachers in Canada are women, and there is no glass ceiling in it because we’re paid equally for the work we do.  I imagine this grates on the nerves of the manly conservative men who are looking for reasons to hate on the job and the unions that enabled this equity, but I gotta tell ya, most of those dudes wouldn’t last five minutes in a classroom.
If you’re able to handle the crushing student debt, the hatred of people who couldn’t or wouldn’t do what it takes to do the same job and have the resiliency to survive in classrooms (stats show that typically about 30% of people who do the degree work drop out of teaching), then teaching is a rewarding profession and one of the few remaining that let you lead a middle class life.
If you think you can handle all that and don’t mind being attacked and belittled publiclly by the very government you work for while producing educational outcomes that are envied the world over, then go for it, but don’t ever assume it’s easy money.  
I just spent most of the day making no money and walking the picket lines
for better learning conditions for my students while we all struggle under
an almost psychotically vindictive provincial government who seem intent
on hurting the most vulnerable students in our system.

Some stats to consider:

Ontario pays less per student for education than most other provinces while producing results that raise us into the top 10 world wide – but this is Ontario so expect to be attacked for that.
Canada is close to the world average in terms of education spending as a percentage of government spending.  Again, Ontario is the largest single system in the country, so we wag that dog too, but expect to be attacked for it.


In terms of cost we’re pretty much neck and neck with the USA, but Canada is top 10 in the world, the US isn’t in the top 30.  If you want to be acknowledged and rewarded for a job well done don’t teach in Ontario.
There has been a lot of mis-information around Ontario teachers making the highest salary in Canada.  That’s not true either:  https://www.narcity.com/life/these-are-the-highest-and-lowest-paying-canadian-cities-for-teachers   Toronto is 4th out of 8 on this 2018 list.  Teachers get paid more in Nunavut, Alberta and Manitoba, and only make a couple of grand more than teachers in Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.  I’m sure you can quickly figure out the difference in housing costs between Toronto and Halifax or Toronto and Saskatchewan…

Still want to earn that easy teacher money?

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