This September, will Highschool Students be going Back to School?

Other than exams, the university strikes in March also left us with a bittersweet end to the school year. Missed classes, postponed exams and cancelations felt awkward and unrewarding. Talks upon talks between professors, T.A.s and head administration yielded few results and resulted in calling upon an arbitrator to solve a problem that should have been handled by the university itself.

But then summer happened. My little “I heart TAs” button now sits on my desk, thoroughly ignored. The thoughts of protests outside of OISE and Sid Smith have been replaced by the gifts of summer. And while it goes by all too fast, I must admit that I am ready for a new school year, happy despite the fact that summer is coming to an end (and not just because fall is my favourite season). The city, the lectures, the note taking, I am a school-enthusiast - can you tell?

But as much as I'd like to wax poetics about my love for school, the problems aren’t all solved. Come this September, it seems that only University students will be starting their “First Day of School” routine.  

Most recently, the news proclaimed that Provincial mediators and teachers across Ontario will be meeting to discuss the current strike they are on. I was absolutely shocked upon hearing this. This has been going on since last year, much longer than our just-over-one-month T.A. strike that felt like eternity. And with the great vigor we witnessed in front of Sid Smith and OISE for that one month, one can only imagine what’s been happening in elementary and high schools throughout the past year.

So, what’s the issue at heart?

Accusations have been flying back and forth, and ultimately the province was seen as not taking things seriously, causing unions to call it quits to talks at the provincial level. The province stood its ground, saying that money for higher wages has to come from somewhere. Later on, job action consisted of walkouts, discussions, and culminated in teachers going back to school but without any report cards or comments – something essential in the communication between teacher and student. Since that time around June, nothing has happened since. Well, at the very least the media lacked coverage of this tedious fight. 

Months later, we are witnessing a tentative agreement, the closest thing in about a year to a full contract between teaching administration and the province. This one considers raising wages and increasing class sizes (though it seems that this won’t be happening in the end). Nobody wants clawbacks (taking something away from a budget), and nobody wants to spend more money. But there are some schools taking action upon themselves, trying experiments throughout the average school year. And I think this is what needs to be happening – schools themselves need to take a step forward and figure out a plan that can be taken to higher levels of government. Show the policy makers that the policies come best from the ones who actually live them.

Regardless of this tentative contract, some schools are expanding the school year by starting in August. This not only spreads out breaks more evenly throughout the year (instead of a 2 month gap in-between), I think it adds to the quality of learning. Teachers can have lessons with more profundity and reap the benefits of having breaks from the stressful year that are more than two days long. Students, with a smaller gap between the previous and upcoming school year, can reflect on and remember more about their educational experience. But this is a long shot away.

I believe that standing up for education is a job that should be a top priority for the government. This job isn’t being done that well, but with tentative deals in the news, it’s a start. The unfortunate series of strikes starting back in December 2012 seem to emerge as a consistent pattern, and creates a profound loss for students everywhere. The beginning of a new school year is a good time to think about the different approaches to education, and how the very definition and structure of teacher-student roles are changing.

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