Teachers' 'temper tantrum' no way to bargain, Ottawa parent says

CBC has heard from supportive parents and from the teachers themselves, but as this Ottawa Morning interview proved, not everyone's onside.

Ottawa Morning interview shows not all parents are onside as job action continues

Pickets march outside Elgin Street Public School in downtown Ottawa on Feb. 5, 2020, the first of two consecutive days of strikes by elementary teachers with the city's largest school board. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

It's now been more than two months since Ontario education workers staged their first one-day strike.

Three of the four major unions representing teachers at Ontario's English-speaking schools — the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) and the Ontario Elementary Catholic Teachers' Association — have held walkouts this week, closing schools across the province.

Teachers with the largest French union, the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), are working to rule.

The teachers say they're doing it for the children, who are facing larger classes and dwindling resources thanks to government cutbacks.

CBC Ottawa has heard from supportive parents and from the teachers themselves, but as this Ottawa Morning interview proved, not everyone's onside.

The following are excerpts of the conversation between host Robyn Bresnahan and parents Victoria Scharf and Justine Bell, whose children attend elementary schools within the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, where ETFO has just announced teachers will walk off the job for another two days next week.

Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Education strikes 'short-term pain for long-term gain,' union head says

3 years ago
Duration 0:47
Elizabeth Kettle, president of the Ottawa Carleton branch of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, says even though the strikes are "difficult" for parents, it's important for teachers to fight for the future of public education. 

Scharf: I just don't think that the reasons for striking and prolonging these talks are appropriate.

As soon as you introduce wage increases into negotiations, I feel like it right then and there becomes not about the students, and more about selfish reasons.

I tell my children that this is not an acceptable way to handle things. If you're not getting your way, it's not appropriate to just take a temper tantrum and walk out.- Victoria Scharf, parent

I don't think that [teachers] are selfish in requesting it and negotiating. I do think they're selfish in their job actions and walking away from the students.

I don't like the message it provides to my children.… My child thinks it's a vacation. He's happy that they're on strike.

I tell my children that this is not an acceptable way to handle things. If you're not getting your way, it's not appropriate to just take a temper tantrum and walk out.

Bell: I definitely echo the frustration, but I would say that it's not about the teachers when we're talking about the education system writ large.

    We've heard over and over again the system is incredibly strained, and those teachers are at the front lines of that system.

    They have an influence on our children that is going to last a lifetime.… I would say that no, this is not a temper tantrum.

    These are people that are advocating on behalf of our future citizens.

    Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, joined striking workers in Kitchener, Ont., on Jan. 27, 2020, as part of an earlier one-day strike. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

    Scharf: I think that there are other ways that they can start looking at ideas and implementing them that … reduce costs instead of increasing costs. At the end of the day, Ontario is in a major deficit.

    If you want to see all these increases happen and you just keep putting more money into it, we're going to get higher taxes.

    Bresnahan: From the union's perspective, they're saying that compensation for teachers is a part of this, but they're also looking at things like class sizes

    How many students does your son have in his class right now?

    Scharf: I would say about 26.

    Bresnahan: Do you feel like a bigger class size would affect his ability to learn?

    Scharf: No, I don't think so, because I look at our neighbouring province in Quebec that has an average class size of 30.1 students, and their test scores show that they're excelling.

    So I do believe that the education system is broken, but I don't think that these are the measures that we need to put in place to fix it.

    Victoria Scharf is a mother of two children in Ottawa's English public school board. (Submitted by Victoria Scharf)

    Bresnahan: What, in your opinion, would fix it then?

    Scharf: I hear … that there's a lot of violent children.

    You can start looking at adopting other things, for example in [an Irish school] they started scrapping homework for a month or two and replacing it with acts of kindness homework.

    That doesn't cost a single penny. It's not putting extra pressure on our children. It's fun, it's engaging, and if you keep practising acts of kindness, then you're gonna see a decline in violence.

    Bresnahan: Do you not think that maybe there's a connection between bigger class sizes — teachers not being able to give as much one-on-one attention to students — and this rise in violence?

    Scharf:  I don't think children should need one-on-one [attention]. I think in the real world nobody is holding their hand as they get older in college and university. You're getting to bigger classes as you move along in life. 

    Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, seen here in October 2019, took part in three days of talks with ETFO last week. The negotiations ultimately failed. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

    Bell: In my particular experience in bringing my daughter into junior kindergarten over the past four months, I've learned very quickly that kids have temper tantrums, but this issue of rising disruptive behaviours and violence is real.

    As much as we want to give them homework on acts of kindness, at that age group it is the teachers that have to demonstrate that.

    It's very difficult for teachers when you're having a child demonstrate these types of behaviours to be able to focus on teaching the other students.

    Bresnahan: Victoria, I want to come back to you on the point of special education funding, because this is something that directly affects you and your 10-year-old-son. Does that worry you?

    Scharf: Well, it's not clear. I don't know how special education is being impacted at this point.

    What does that mean? Does that mean not putting more money into it and they're not in fact cutting? Are they taking away more staff? It's not clear right now.

    I do think that transparency during this negotiation is needed. 

    The public needs to know what exactly is being proposed and what's being rejected to fairly judge who's being reasonable and who's not.

    Bell: I think bargaining 101, in order to have an effective strategy and effective outcome, both parties recognize that the negotiations need to not be public.

    We don't actually know what exactly they're pushing and pulling back on and we shouldn't know, because that's  part of effective bargaining.

    With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning