I’ve coached kids for years, so many years now that my first cross-country team is now grown up, starting their own families and looking for ways to get their own children involved in sport. As a young teacher, I did it all: cross-country, volleyball, basketball, and track. Now that I am more experienced and in a large school with other teachers who have their own set of expertise, I can focus on what I know best: running and track.
When my own children were young, I coached their soccer teams. It didn’t take long, though, for them to walk away from the sport. My oldest was a music guy; my youngest simply didn’t have the maturity or mindset to play a team sport. It didn’t make sense to force them to play so our family went on a soccer hiatus as they became more involved in other sports. This year, both are playing soccer again. The Littlest Dude, 10 years old, asked me to coach his team. My oldest shut down that idea.
Whether as a teacher or a parent, I coach because I want to. I don’t keep track of how many hours I have put into selecting and organizing teams, corresponding with parents, running practices and competing; nor do I worry about the unexpected costs that can be incurred, such as buying relay batons for track or gloves for our soccer team’s goalie. The excitement that kids bring to each practice or game and the occasional thank you (yes, thank you’s are far and few between) make it worthwhile. I can’t imagine working with kids in a sport setting not being a part of my life.
Sadly, that is now taking place in my work life. In Ontario, elementary teachers are currently in a Work to Rule situation. We have been without a contract since September 2014, and our union and the provincial government continue to negotiate. Among the issues the union is standing up against are increased class sizes and significantly reduced support in Special Education. In order to show concern to the government, teachers have gradually walked away from tasks which are not assigned parts of our jobs, but have come to be expected. This past Wednesday, all extra-curricular activities have been added to the list. The government’s response was a threat to reduce teachers’ pay.
Like many other teachers I know, I already miss spending time in extra-curriculars, be it a team, an art club or an outreach group. Docking our pay, though, is not the solution. In fact, exactly how do you take money from someone for not coaching a team that they volunteer to run? How do you remove pay from a volunteer? As a parent, I completely understand the frustration that others have over the cessation of extra-curricular activities but it would be far more frustrating to see my 10 year old child in a class with over 30 students. How could I possibly expect any teacher, regardless of youth or experience, to be able to manage a class effectively, plan, teach, assess, and report accurately? Add in all other expectations, such as coaching and other many demands of the job, and our education system will certainly lose strong teachers; it will fall apart.
What we need is not threatening language or complaints. Public support and respectful negotiations are a must. Understanding is essential. Once those are in place, things will settle and we can slowly re-establish the public education system in Ontario.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions above are solely my own. They have not been endorsed by others.