Why elementary teachers continue to fight
Elementary teachers in Ontario have stepped up their work-to-rule campaign and are no longer regularly communicating with parents or updating websites and blogs, and will not be attending parent-teacher interviews. This is on top of the previous job action that saw an end to field trips and report card comments. But why doesn’t the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) just agree to the deal that was accepted by Ontario’s other teacher unions?
Part of the reason is that teaching at the elementary level is unique. Whereas high school students are learning mainly content, kids at the elementary level are learning how to learn, social skills, emotional regulation and a host of other things, in addition to whatever the sub- ject area may happen to be. And even when it comes to subject areas, elementary teachers teach their students a range of subjects such as English, math and science, whereas high school teachers typically teach in just one subject area.
Outside the classroom, elementary teachers also do a range of other activities. This includes regularly communicating with parents, meeting with colleagues and administration, organizing school assemblies and events, planning field trips, maintaining up-to-date student records, as well as running student clubs and extracurricular activities. But elementary teachers are given very little preparation time to do all of this, which is one of the big disparities in the way teachers are treated between the elementary and high school levels.
In an average week, elementary teachers receive more than two hours less preparation time than their high school colleagues, even though they arguably have a much more complex job. The reason for this is both historical and sexist. Historically, elementary teachers were typically women and high school teach-
Sachin Maharaj is a PhD student in educational policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and a teacher in the Toronto District School Board.