At first glance, the issues of the curriculum and the policing of teacher conduct seem quite far apart.
The former is something that directly impacts every teacher on every day. The latter is something that most teachers will never be directly involved in.
I recall being a young teacher in 2003 — another time when this issue of splitting the ATA was a real threat — thinking, “Why should I care about this? I’m never going to be involved in a conduct discipline matter.”
But it is very important that we recognize these threats, and these two seemingly disparate policy positions, as part of a bigger playbook and an overarching ideology about the role of teachers.
In the curriculum debate, it’s easy to get caught up in specific bits of content. Climate change, consent, reconciliation and LGBTQ2S+ inclusion are important issues. But even if those bits of content get resolved, this draft curriculum will not be saved. There are fundamental flaws.
The problem with the curriculum is a problem with how its creators view the work of teachers and, frankly, the role of public education. This curriculum prescribes a long list of basic facts and knowledge that teachers will diligently and dutifully pour into the brains of children.
There is no room for teachers to instill creativity into how they instruct. There is no room to find depth in the content matter. There is no room to ensure that children engage meaningfully in the content to achieve mastery and to help ensure deeper understanding, critical thought and long-term retention. There is no room to help the students who struggle with that content.
Just teach the facts and move on to the next ones.
The role of the teacher is to shovel content. We are labourers.
This also explains how the public discourse is evolving on this. When teachers — and, moreover, the teachers’ association — voice their concerns, the response is that teachers should not have a say in what is taught, just teach it and do as you’re told (I’ve seen this repeatedly on our Facebook comments). Or worse, teachers — and again, moreover, the teachers’ union — are accused of only caring about what’s in the curriculum because they want to brainwash children with woke ideas, or even worse, communism.
In that world view, teachers are not professionals expressing a professional concern. Teachers are labourers, now getting uppity and not doing what they are told. In that world view, the teachers’ association is not a professional association that is representing the legitimate professional concerns of teachers. No, this is the teachers’ union trying to maintain its tight grip on power over what happens in state-run schools (again, I’ve actually read this in the comments).
So why on earth would you have the self-interested teachers’ union — a labour union with the sole purpose of negotiating salary and working conditions — involved in a role that looks at the conduct of bad teachers? In that world view, it’s the role of management to punish bad teachers, acting in opposition to the union that protects them. It makes sense, in that world view, to see that as a conflict of interest.
The alternative — professional — view is that teachers as a profession have an interest that coincides with the public interest, to ensure that their colleagues are held to high standards and do not diminish the standing of the profession. In this view, the role of professional discipline can be handled only by the profession.
The move to remove the professional discipline function is not a simple administrative or governance switch. It is a move to deprofessionalize teachers and teaching. Splitting the ATA by removing its professional functions and leaving it as just a union is a way to continue to diminish their standing and to undermine their voice as professionals.
In this regard, we should all be concerned. Whether or not you think you will ever set foot in a disciplinary hearing, this decision will have a long-term impact on you as a professional.
We need to push back on it. Please visit www.oneprofessionunited.ca and advocate for your standing as a professional. ❚
Thanks and credit to my colleague Gordon Thomas, whose writing in Viewpoints, opposite, helped inspire this column.
I welcome your comments. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.