Thursday, January 19, 2012

JoeyO on... Education

(as posted at

There's talk, yet again, about the lack of schools (at least in appropriate locations) in the province of Alberta. The Minister of Education has publicly pondered about the viability of building them using Public/Private Partnerships, so-called "P3's". The opposition has, predictably, come out against this plan, saying that in a province so awash in wealth, education should be a priority for full, public funding.

I agree with them.

Many Albertans moan about paying education taxes ("I don't have kids/my kids finished school long ago!"), and moan even louder about large government increases in payments to teachers ("they get 3 months off every summer!"), building schools ("put the kids on busses!"), etc. Two of these complaints are, in my mind, short-sighted.

Let's talk about cold, hard reality.

"I've got no kids in the system, why should my tax dollars pay for it?" - the thing I love most about this question is that it's often asked by people who in the same conversation will complain bitterly about the fact that their doctor, lawyer, or nurse speaks with an accent, and is from "somewhere other than here". The reality is, supporting a public education system not only ensures that we will train Alberta's children to hold meaningful and important jobs to make Alberta even stronger, but it ensures that those children, as they grow, will make more, thus contributing more to the CPP, which is the only way you're going to get any money from the CPP if you're in the 45-60 range as you read this. Let's be honest, folks... that CPP money you contributed back in '75 is LOOONG gone... It's the money that 18-year old Johnny Johnson from PEI contributed on his cheque last week that is going to be appearing on your first pension cheque. If we deny children the best possible education, it directly affects your financial well-being down the line.

"Teachers don't need more money, they work 6 hours a day and get 3 months off!" - Those 2 charges, "6 hour work-days" and "3 months off" are both way off the mark.
Let's review: The average teacher shows up to work about 45 minutes before the opening bell, spends 6 hours from (ballpark) 9 to 3 dealing with the students directly. No lunch hour for them, as they have to supervise either inside of outside the school in this age of schoolyard stalkers, zero-tolerance for bullying and liability lawsuits against schools and school boards. They'll then likely spend about 45 minutes to an hour at the school after the final bell, either working with students who need individual attention, running detention, or attending staff meetings or doing some marking. Let's make the point again that this is the AVERAGE teacher - for every one you know of that shows up 10 minutes before class starts and leaves 10 minutes after the final bell rings, there's one who shows up at 7:30am to coach handball and doesn't leave until the computers club is done at 6:00pm.

So, thus far we've got a 7.5 hour workday for Jane Averageteacher. Now Jane's going to go home and do another hour of marking, which is mandatory if she is to do her job well. She'll then spend about an hour and a half planning her next day's lessons and researching the subject matter to ensure she's got all the bases covered. Incidentally, spending an hour and a half planning 5 hours worth of instructional time is BARELY adequate - at least 2 hours is usually required. But, so far we've got Jane working 10 hours. She's been completely embroiled in her work from 8:15 in the morning until 6:30 at night, allowing only 15 minutes to get from the school to her home, and getting no breaks. And much of her Saturday is going to be spent marking and planning for the upcoming week... So, we're talking 50-to-55 hour work weeks. This is without any extra-curricular coaching or activities, by the way. 6 hour days? Hardly.

Now, do teachers get 3 months without dealing with students? Yes. 2 months in the summer, 2 weeks in Winter, and 2 weeks in Spring. True. But, in those OTHER 40 weeks of the year, Jane works between 2000 and 2200 hours, at a minimum. A 40-hour per week worker, who doesn't miss a single day of work all year, takes no vacation, and works every statutory holiday, 5 shifts a week, 52 weeks a year, will work 2080 hours.

So spare me the "they only work 9 months a year" argument, because in those 9 months they work more hours than most of us work in 12.

And these teachers, by the way, are not answering phones in an office or re-stocking shelves at a supermarket - they're entrusted with the minds and hearts of our children. A pretty stressful job, I think we’d all agree. At Mikka Kiprusoff’s job, a bad day at work means a red light flashed and several thousand people were momentarily disappointed - at Jane's, she might scar a kid for life or lead him to a life of crime. Whom should we pay better, to make sure we get people up to the task?

"Why do they need more schools in the suburbs, when they're closing ones downtown? BUS those kids!" - I actually agree with this. If a building is structurally safe, it should be utilized. Needs are constantly changing as technology changes, and we'd all like to work in a new building, but if the money's not there, it's not there. 30 minutes on a bus isn't "cruel and unusual", and there are better things the money can be used for within the system. The $15 million to build a new elementary would bus those kids and pay for enough music or athletic gear for the whole school system... our schools need up-to-date computers, maintenance, supplies, reduced fees charged to the kids' families, etc. Use the buildings you already have, as long as they're safe. Not everyone can walk to and from school – it would be NICE, but there are more important things that need attending to first.

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