|Danica Izzard says anti-teacher blowback is becoming a common denominator in public debate. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI AGENCY).
Danica Izzard didn’t even know her.
But somehow the woman who set upon her in the gym change room knew she was a teacher. She walked up to Izzard and told her she thought it was “gross” that she was entitled to so many sick days and that she was paid so much. She told Izzard teachers should stop “crying about everything.”
“She said ‘You should just take whatever the government gives you.’” Izzard said, recalling the unexpected confrontation recently. “I was just really taken aback by it. I was really in shock. I said to her that’s your opinion and this isn’t an appropriate place to have this discussion.”
Izzard, who teaches at a school for at-risk students in Toronto, said it’s an example of the anti-teacher blowback she has experienced as talks between the government and provincial teacher unions reach a boiling point.
The province has demanded teachers take a two-year wage freeze, accept a cut of their sick days from 20 to 10 and give up a system which allowed them to bank unused sick days over their career and take a payout upon retirement. The Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association has accepted those terms and inked a deal with the province, but the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario and Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation refuse to sign.
The province has threatened to use legislation to impose the contracts, saying it would be done to avoid potential teacher strikes.
Izzard said the message coming from the provincial government implies teachers aren’t willing to do their part to bring Ontario’s $15-billion deficit under control. It’s not true, they want to bargain and the heightened rhetoric from the government spills over into rank and file teacher’s lives, she said.
“It seems like, in many ways, they’re vilifying teachers,” she said. “It’s really disappointing.”
St. Catharines high school teacher Bill Huizer said he understands why the government is asking for restraint.
“The last thing I would want is for us to get this raise in a time of economic disaster, especially in Niagara. I’ve got friends who are losing jobs. I’m not demanding the government give the raises they gave on the last contract.”
Huizer said he doesn’t understand why Dalton McGuinty, the self-styled “Education Premier” would so suddenly turn on people he once considered allies. It was system both sides seemed happy to build peacefully after the turbulent Mike Harris years.
“When things first started to come out that talks weren’t going well, you could just feel this sense of uneasiness coming over staff and other teachers I’d talk to,” he said. “There is a real sensitivity about it with our older teachers, especially with what happened in the 90s.”
Huizer said he doesn’t look to many people for sympathy. Many of his friends look at his pay and vacation entitlements with envy and they let him know he has it good, he said.
“Because times are so tough no one is going to feel bad for us because we still have it better. My friends will say, ‘So you lose your sick days, big deal, I don’t get them. You shouldn’t get them either.’”
Roy Evely, a business teacher at Toronto’s Humberside Collegiate, says government threats to legislate is destructive.
Evely said teachers are being asked to bear the cost of expensive programs that the McGuinty government has created like full-day Kindergarten and stuck with despite the difficult economic times and advice to the contrary. And while the rhetoric may have reached a fever-pitch, he knows where teachers want to be come September.
“No one is talking about going on strike,” Evely said. “No one is talking about withdrawing services. There is no danger of the school year not starting on time.”
Cathy Stavrakos, a veteran teacher of 27-years in Orleans, an a Ottawa suburb, said she long-ago gave up trying to reason with people when they criticize teacher pay or benefits. A lot of people have made up their minds about teachers long ago, she said.
“I have parents and teachers who appreciate what I do. I know that. So, it’s just not worth the heart ache.”
But accepting that and willingly seeing benefits earned through years of collective bargaining stripped away is another thing. Stravrakos said what many people don’t understand is that entitlements, like the sick day bank and pay- out, have been earned over successive rounds of collective bargaining.
“The things we have, we’ve given other things up for in fair negotiations.”
Huizer said the conflict as cast a shadow over the start of the school year and damaged teacher moral. Regardless, he will be ready to return to school this fall, he said.
“We’re going to remain professional with the kids. When I’m in class in September I’m not bringing this in with me. It’s a matter of bringing my best, but it’s a lot easier to do that when you feel good. We’re going to remain professional, the last thing you have is your integrity.”