The Minister of Education has said that the Association is proposing to impose new hard caps on the minutes that teachers work in a day and that even where caps do exist, they do not adequately address the issue of teacher workload. Is the Association proposing new hard caps? Is it pointless to have caps if they are ineffective?
No. The teachers’ proposal would extend, for the duration of the agreement, capping provisions that have been in place in several school jurisdictions, but these are not new caps. In some cases, these have been part of teachers’ collective agreements for decades.
The Association proposal does provide for school boards that are not subject to caps to reduce teachers’ instructional commitment over the four years of the agreement toward a 907 hour-per-year norm, but these are not hard caps in the way the Minister suggests. This reduction would happen over time, and if it were to prove impractical at a particular school site or require changes to staffing or assignments that are undesirable, then a variation could be granted that would allow the board to exceed the standard. This would be administered by an exceptions committee composed of a teacher representative, a school board representative and a third party acceptable to both. Note that teachers would not control the exceptions committee.
The reason for moving toward a soft norm of 907 hours per year is that it is more flexible than the limit on weekly minutes of instruction currently in place in several jurisdictions. It is important to remember that scheduled instructional time is only part of a teacher’s workload. Teachers are also assigned noninstructional tasks such as supervision, classroom set-up, maintenance of technology, completion of administrative work, student reporting, planning individualized programs, consultation with parents and service providers, staff meetings, board-directed professional development, updating online communications sites, assigned marking and the like. As well, teachers must also commit additional personal time for critical tasks such as lesson preparation, selection and creation of learning resources, marking, consultation with colleagues and external support staff and extracurricular activities. On average, a typical teacher’s total workload amounts to about 56 hours per week.
One thing the Minister is right about is that limiting the amount of time that teachers are expected to instruct students is not a magic solution to the issue of teacher workload. However, in four months of meetings, the Minister and his officials have been unable to come up with a better solution. Government says that the issue needs to be studied and so there is a provision (3c) in the teachers’ proposal to do just that.
But when the Minister is talking about the need to provide education at “any time, any place and any pace,” and with school boards resisting any limit on their ability to assign teachers additional duties, it is entirely reasonable for teachers to want some minimal protection against unrestricted increases in their instructional loads, increases that would ultimately undermine the quality of their work with students. Even if the teachers’ proposal is not a perfect solution, it provides a minimal safeguard against abuse.
If government can come up with a better solution, teachers would be very receptive.