Using children as pawns – a disingenuous narrative

Children are not being used as “pawns” by teachers. A pawn is the foot soldier who is placed at the vanguard because he is expendable.

Far from expendable, children are the very focus of education. Labour negotiations in education are about finding a balance between best practice for the children and compensating the employees who contribute to their learning environment. The fight for improved class size and composition can only benefit children, allowing for better learning environments, more individual teacher time, assignments that can be more “in depth” and collaborative. The benefits of an improved workplace for teachers are shared with students.

The “students as pawns” narrative is disingenuous. Many students miss school for various reasons throughout the year – including trips planned by their parents. Students are never harmed by a few days lost to job action. As a parent, I don’t really worry terribly much about my daughter’s learning if she misses a couple of days of school.

What I DO worry about is her missing out on fun experiences, especially if I’ve paid for them. For example, I don’t want her to miss her overnight camping trip because of job action. She’s my kid and I sympathize with her. If she is sad, I feel sad for her. I would even be more upset if my child had to miss out on a life milestone like grad, for which teachers do the bulk of the volunteer work. But a lost camping trip is not the end of the world.

Teachers are not monks. They love their work, but their work should not be the most important thing in their lives. They have families, rent payments and lives outside of the school. Most are primary breadwinners. We can’t expect them to passively accept contracts that cause them to lose ground relative to the cost of living.

And they are professionals. They care about what they do. They want to maximize their effectiveness with children, and they’re frustrated as hell when their efficacy is reduced by classes that are unmanageable. Teachers, like all people care about doing their job well.

So when a strike happens, we need to have a little respect. Teachers don’t take job action lightly. No one wants to lose pay, and no one wants to have a negative effect on students.

We will have our opinions, and we may even wish to be activist in teacher issues inasmuch as their work environment is our children’s learning environment, but our activism should be based on an understanding of the issues, and not just on selfish concerns for my own convenience. Workers have no recourse but to withdraw their services when their negotiations fail. If they feel so strongly about an issue that they’re willing to risk going without pay, we really ought to give them the benefit of a doubt.

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