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.

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