Emma Sheppard is a writer and an English teacher
During the 5 weeks of the Ontario College Teacher’s strike, the anger and frustration of the thousands of students across the province that were locked out of their own learning grew louder. Even after we’ve returned to class, that frustration remains. And rightfully so, but every time I see a student’s frustrated post, I get a little nervous. Because I hope they know what we have been fighting for. And I hope the arguments don’t get drowned out.
My anger and frustration was growing stronger too; I was equally locked out of my classroom. But I know what the striking teachers were fighting for, and my frustration comes from the fact that, even now, we still have not been listened to. I have been contract faculty in Toronto Colleges for the past 4 years, bouncing between different institutions, and often juggling multiple contracts, as so many do. As I write this, I want to make clear that technically, I was not on strike. I was sitting idle as my colleague’s and friends freeze out on the picket lines everyday, feeling a pang of guilt every time I saw their social media posts. Why wasn’t I on strike? Because my type of contract (I’m currently part time, but this would be true if I had my usual type of contract, which is called “sessional”) is in fact not covered by the union.
As much as I wanted to be back in the classroom, I supported the strike and continue to support the demands of it. Why? Because even with all of my teaching experience, and my years at the college level, I am one of the least experienced teachers out there who is forced to apply for job after job every few months, who doesn’t know where their next contract is coming from, who has to move from school to school. The union has been talking a lot about the struggles of a four-month contract. Often, in ESL, my contracts are eight weeks long, and I often don’t know whether or not I’ll get a new one until the day before classes start. And most of the time, I don’t think about it that much — I love what I do, whatever form the contracts take. But when I step back to think about it, the inequities are staggering.
And so what does this mean for students? It means that your teachers, no matter how committed and dedicated, are often juggling multiple jobs, so that they don’t have adequate time for planning, marking your essays, meeting with you. It means that for many of your teachers, all of that work is unpaid. And it means that, because they don’t have permanent positions, they are not involved in the planning of curriculum or the developing of courses. And you better believe that effects the quality of the education you’re receiving, not because they don’t want to give you their best. But because their best is constrained by the system.
The strike is now over and we’re all back in the classrooms teaching and learning. But we are still left hoping that the teachers standing in front of the classrooms can gain more job stability, more ability to grow in their careers and achieve permanence, and more academic freedom to impart their expertise to their students. The students deserve it. And so do we.