Toronto teachers stage protest to answer the public’s questions about education cuts

Teachers, wearing signs that read "I'm a teacher. Ask me what I’m doing," sat grading papers on
 Saturday at Yonge-Dundas Square as part of a "grade-in" to bring attention to education cuts.

Teachers usually educate students, but on Saturday they took to one of Toronto’s busiest street corners to inform the public.

About 30 of them wearing letter-sized signs that read “I’m a teacher. Ask me what I’m doing,” staged a “grade-in” on the southeast corner of Yonge and Dundas Sts.

“We’re trying to raise awareness about the cuts in education,” said Rauli, an elementary school teacher at Lescon Public School in Toronto who didn’t want her last name used. She sat grading student papers in the hot sun, while her two kids, 8 and 10, sat in the nearby shade of an overhanging sign.

Rauli said schools are overwhelmed by cuts, including ones to education assistants, special needs assistants and secretaries.

“There are so many cuts happening,” she said. “There is less money for supplies, for activities for the kids to do, things that we can bring in to the school to support their learning.”

Members of the public, who were taking the invitation to talk seriously, stopped to ask questions and offer support. “All the best to you,” said one man. “I hope you can keep the kids educated.”

Organizer Tim Heffernan said the sentiment was pervasive among people who came by.

“It’s been really positive. I haven’t had a negative reaction yet,” said Heffernan, who got the idea to stage the grade-in after reading about similar protests in Chicago and Los Angeles.

The teachers were located close to the sidewalk on the only piece of real estate in Yonge-Dundas Square not crammed with booths and stages in anticipation of the NXNE music festival.

“I didn’t know what to expect. It’s the first time we’ve done it,” said Heffernan, a high school social studies and history teacher who has taught for 37 years. But he said the public was sympathetic because “most people know teachers work beyond the classroom and spend time working at home.”

The province announced recently that it wants teachers to take a wage and salary grid freeze as well as lose a perk that allowed them to cash out unused sick days when they retire.

The Toronto District School Board recently managed to avoid cuts to special education, student services and local school budgets by closing school cafeterias and hiking user fees for anyone using its facilities. But in the spring, the board approved $50.8 million in staff cuts, including 430 education assistants, 134 school secretaries, 17 vice-principals, 200 high school teachers, 10 caretakers and six hall safety monitors.

And Peel’s public school board, facing a $10-million shortfall, eliminated 28 literacy coach positions, eight high school secretaries and cut back on school maintenance.

“Schools are complex institutions. To lose any staff anywhere in the system, whether it’s an office secretary, that has an impact on an entire school,” said high school teacher James Campbell. “There is work that isn’t going to be getting done. And that has a big trickle-down effect. It will make it harder for everyone to do their work.”

Campbell says the province is “taking out the economic recession on the backs of education workers, on the backs of students.”    (thestar.com)


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