First week of work to rule quiet

Teachers across the province wrapped their first week of increased sanctions from the Saskatchewan Teacher’s Federation that nobody says they wanted to see happen. But they happened regardless.

Effective April 8, a withdrawal of voluntary services began, with an indefinite end date. What this means is all extracurricular activities and noon-hour supervision usually undertaken by teachers will no longer occur for the foreseeable future. In addition, STF members are abiding by strict work hours, coming to school 15 minutes before the beginning of their workday and leaving 15 minutes after classes end. The actions are in response to contract talks with the province hitting a snag on April 5.

The effects of the job action has left school boards scrambling for volunteers to fill rolls usually assumed by teachers.

“To assist in maintaining noon hour supervision we are asking any parents who can have

their children go home for lunch to do so,” said Keith Keating, Director of Education with the South East Cornerstone Public School Division in a letter to parents and caregivers of students. “In addition, if you can assist with noon hour supervision, please contact your local school.”

According to STF president Samantha Becotte, the answer is simple: return to the bargaining table and the restrictions will cease.

“Teachers provide a lot of voluntary services because they care about kids, and they want to see kids succeed and know the importance of some of those extra opportunities and how they round out the educational experience within schools,” she said. “So it’s definitely a challenge. No one’s happy to be in this situation, but all really hopeful that we’re able to get back to the table sometime soon. And in that event, if we were able to get back to the table, all sanctions would be lifted at that point.”

Becotte is hopeful that talks will resume soon and is confident that progress is being made.

“I do think that we’re kind of inching our way forward and we are making progress. Like I said, I do hope that we’re able to get back sooner rather than later, but we’ve had the rug pulled out from under us before and so we’re cautiously in some of those hopes, but I hope we stay on the right track here.”

Regarding the work to rule action, the provincial Minister of Education noted his frustration, noting that solutions seem to be missed in favour of job action.

“It is very disappointing that once again the teachers’ union leadership are moving the goal posts and prioritizing job action that will directly impact students and families instead of returning to the bargaining table to reach a fair deal,” Jeremy Cockrill said. “Government and school divisions have found solutions to assure increased investment into classrooms, multi-year predictability for those investments, as well as a framework that would allow teachers to provide feedback on how those dollars are spent in their local school division.”

He also noted a “fair deal for teachers must also be a fair deal for Saskatchewan taxpayers.”

“The teachers’ union leadership’s move to block the opportunity for their own members to have a voice is another example of how this round of bargaining has been more about union control than actual solutions for classrooms,” Cockrill said. “The teachers’ union leadership has also refused to move from their initial proposals, which includes a 23.4 per cent salary increase.

A fair deal for all seems to be one point both the STF and government agree on.

“The act of bargaining, you’re constantly moving goalposts and if anything, we are moving closer to an agreement,” remarked Becotte. “That has always been our goal is to get to an agreement that’s satisfactory for everyone - government, school boards and teachers - but most importantly, students.”

“Sometimes the best agreements are the ones that no one’s happy in the end of it, so let’s just work together to find a place where we’re either all satisfied or we’re either all equally unsatisfied,” Becotte continued. “I want to find a solution. I want to find something that works for Saskatchewan’s context, but most importantly, I agree with the minister - it needs to work for students, and right now the conditions in our classroom are not.”

She also pointed to an education report regarding student enrolment, which found a highly unequal balance of new students to full time teachers.

“It showed that since 2015, we’ve had 15,000 additional students in Saskatchewan, and yet only 10 full time equivalent teachers,” Becotte said.

There’s also been less mental health counsellors, 80 per cent of teacher librarians cut, and fewer educational psychologists.

“All of those extra professionals have been cut,” Becotte said. “The needs don’t go away, but teachers want to support kids. It just makes it almost an impossible situation to do everything for all the students when your classes are growing as well.”

One statistic previous to the COVID pandemic (and prior to our current population boom) raised the alarm that 40 per cent more students in Saskatchewan require intensive support - another point for the STF’s called to increased classroom complexity.

Ryan Kiedrowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator