CTF membership has its rewards

April 24, 2012
Calvin Fraser, Secretary General, Canadian Teachers’ Federation

It is only natural for teachers to question the value of membership in the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), as the Federation is one step removed from direct service to teachers. So, what does CTF do for you as a teacher? By way of an answer, let me highlight a few areas of work CTF does and the tools needed to carry out that work.

1. Coordinating knowledge and activities—CTF is a clearinghouse for sharing information and material among member organizations (the ATA is one of 16 members). CTF provides analysis and adds authority to the work of member organizations. CTF’s research benefits all members and, through CTF’s contacts with ­national organizations, disseminates teacher values and teacher-based information in ways that garner support and value for teachers.

2. Influencing directions in education—Many bad education ideas that originate in national organizations, such as the ­Fraser Institute, or outside Canada ­affect education in every ­province and territory. CTF monitors and influences the effect of these ideas through its involvement with other groups, such as the ­Conference Board of Canada. CTF also is proactive in working with national groups around the world to limit bad ideas. Currently, we work with the National Education Association (3.2 ­million members) and the American Federation of Teachers (1.7 million members) to reverse the information flow from the U.S. to Canada by sharing the strong positive practices of ­Canadian teachers. This work is beginning to show success.

  • Advocacy: CTF lobbies the federal government on matters of interest to teachers that fall under federal influence, such as taxes, copyright and criminal law. One long-standing campaign is to protect educational access to published information (especially from the Internet) for classroom use. Despite strong lobbying from the corporate sector to cut off free educational access, every version of the copyright act to date has maintained education’s special status. Another success is maintenance of the section 43 protection for teachers in the Criminal Code of Canada. This year, CTF has been working to protect teachers from injustices in the criminal record check procedures.

3. Solidarity is priceless—CTF and its member organizations provide a strong and united front against special interest groups that continue to attempt to subvert public education in favour of private interests, to insert corporatism into pedagogy, to restrict pensions, unemployment insurance and health benefits, to control or profit from assessment, to press for unfair evaluation practices, and many other goals contrary to teacher interests and values.

4. International representation—CTF speaks for Canadian teachers on the world stage to oppose public–private partnerships (P3s), the creep of institutional assessment and the influence of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and ­Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Canadian teachers are active and forceful in this forum. Canadian teachers outside CTF have no voice and no way to participate on the world stage. In a global economy, an international voice is increasingly important.

5. International service—CTF’s Project Overseas is one of several international programs run jointly with a member organization (Alberta is an active participant in Project Overseas). Project Overseas provides rewarding and life-changing experiences for Canadian teachers and their overseas partners. By working through CTF, the effect of ­member organizations’ funds is maximized, redundancy is eliminated and value is enhanced.

CTF is a small organization; direct service to members is provided by provincial and territorial teacher organizations. CTF provides support and service to the member organizations based on priorities set by CTF’s board of directors on a three-year basis.

Important tools to get the job done include the following:
 
1. Networking at political and staff levels: Three times a year, teacher organization presidents and general secretaries from 16 member teacher organizations gather to discuss, plan and coordinate action that benefits every teacher in Canada. These national meetings provide an important way to see both how other provinces handle issues specific to education and how these issues are part of the larger picture. These meetings are supplemented with seminars on pensions, employment insurance and other critical topics. This summer will see the fifth annual CTF President’s Forum, which will explore the different perspectives on quality education.

2. CTF research: Research provides powerful national statements for member organizations. Recent examples are a national teacher survey on student mental health, class size and student diversity; a survey identifying teachers’ out-of-pocket contributions to their classrooms (average of $453 per teacher per year); and a survey of teachers’ use of summer vacations to further their professional growth. Information is obtained through polls, focus groups and other research tools. Relevant research conducted by member organizations is disseminated through CTF to its members, which results in pulling ­together common threads and analysis that avoid duplication and redundancy. A private, members-only section of CTF’s website provides organizations with access to information on collective agreements, pension agreements, private research and topics of professional interest, as well as the ability to compare and contrast information locally, between provinces and/or nationally.

3. Lobbying: CTF provides briefs and appears before federal committees, such as the federal justice department, Heritage Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the House of Commons and the Senate. CTF’s direct contact with MPs provides opportunities for all provincial and territorial teacher member organizations to influence the elected representatives and ­members of the Senate. Lobbying is proving to be increasingly effective at the national level.

4. Relationships and partnerships with national organizations: CTF works with numerous national organizations, such as heritage groups (Assembly of First Nations, Encounters with Canada, Media Awareness Network and Canadian Museums Association), language groups (Official Languages Commissioner, Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers, Canadian Association of Immersion Teachers, Canadian Parents for French, Canadian Association of Francophone School Boards and Canadian Association of Francophone Parents), health groups (Public Health Canada and Canadian Mental Health Commission), and lobby and special interest groups (Conference Board of Canada and Canadian Council on Learning). The complete list is extensive and the reach of CTF’s work is enhanced by being national. For example, millions of dollars were spent on cyberbullying programs in several provinces and territories.

5. Relationships and partnerships with global ­organizations: Education International (EI) is the global teacher union. CTF is represented on the EI executive board and is active and influential in virtually all key decision-making situations. Thanks to CTF’s efforts, EI’s quadrennial World Congress will be held in Canada in 2015. CTF is a partner of the 54-country strong Commonwealth Teachers’ Group and the Comité Syndical Francophone de l’Education et de la Formation. We have strong working relationships with other teacher and education related unions from the U.S., United Kingdom, the Caribbean, Uganda, Ghana, Guinée and Senegal. These partnerships give Canadian teachers a strong international voice. Three to four times a year, through the public education network in Canada, CTF shares information and updates with many other national education-related labour groups.

6. Communications: CTF’s print and electronic publications are popular and powerful at spreading teacher values. Our flagship publication, CTF Perspectives, is free and provides information on educational research and events. CTF publications are used in university classes, with other national organizations and to coordinate teacher values within member organizations. Effective use of the CTF website has expanded the reach of publications as a way to share research. CTF publications are popular also for sensitive topics, such as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender and queer issues. Most publications are available free of charge (visit the CTF website for information). Our social media reach is vast and growing.

7. Financial support for social action projects: Teachers receive financial grants to engage students in citizenship and social action activities in their communities through CTF’s Imagineaction program. Recent examples include Listen, I Read, in cooperation with the Council for the Arts, Canadian Commission for UNESCO and Indigo; digital citizenship, in cooperation with the Media Awareness Network; and the Aboriginal School Twinning Pilot Project, in cooperation with the Assembly of First Nations. Another program initiative currently in the works will focus on defenders of human rights in Canada, in cooperation with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Assembly of First Nations and Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights. For more information, visit
www.imagine-action.ca.

At a time when recognition of the special expertise and influence of teachers within the system is challenged by powerful multinational organizations, it is critical that teacher organizations receive support from each other through the Canadian Teachers’ Federation. Teachers derive great value from CTF at the current fee of little more than $2 per month per teacher.

For more information, visit CTF’s website (www.ctf-fce.ca) and subscribe to CTF ­Perspectives or sign up to follow CTF on ­Twitter.

Calvin Fraser is secretary general of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation and former coordinator of the ATA’s Member Services program area.