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Published by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation

Local association leaders want to put students at the forefront of discussion

Posted: 02/14/17 9:00am CST
presidents forum
Local association leaders from throughout the province gathered for Presidents’ Forum to ponder how to most effectively advocate for the teaching profession and publicly funded public education in the future.

Invariably in these rather uncertain times of potentially unprecedented changes to the education landscape in the coming weeks and months, there is much to ponder.

It was against this backdrop that those from around the province who gathered for the President’s Forum did their best to not only anticipate what might be the outcome of the governance review process, but also what might be the best course of action.

Jeff Perry and Melissa Gerlach, president and vice-president of the Regina Public School Teachers’ Association, respectively, voiced their concern that by all indications the provincial government is trying to find simple solutions to what is a complex issue.

“The thing is they [government] are looking for an answer to something that is so multi-faceted and it’s not that simple to break down as to just trying to find cost savings. There’s the potential to have so many impacts in each classroom,” Gerlach said.

Perry concurred, adding that he’s not convinced that the likely ripple effects are fully understood “and no matter how you look at it, depending on how far this goes, it’s going to affect kids and teachers without any question. So, there’s no way it won’t have a major impact on student learning down the road.”

According to Perry one of the most troubling aspects is that there seems to be a misunderstanding between equity and equality in contemplating amalgamation, which he said could have serious repercussions.

Perry and Gerlach both indicated that in the future, teachers and the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation need to change the conversation somewhat when it comes to advocacy.

“I think the message has to be out there in the public that what is being talked about is the students and their future. As teachers we know better than anyone what their needs are. This isn’t about teachers in isolation. It’s not just financial; it’s about the supports that teachers need in working with their students,” Perry said.

“Teachers care so much about their students and we know it’s in their DNA to do more to make it work. But at some point we won’t be able to continue like this. The bottom line is we need help in terms of support and we can’t do it alone.”

Gerlach added that there’s a significant increase in anxiety levels among teachers and inevitably when the stress levels affect teachers it will also come to affect students. “There’s going to be a pushback if there isn’t enough support for teachers, even if we continue to try to do the best job we can. We need to come together and build the profession.”

As they contemplate perhaps going forward with a new message, Perry insisted “that doesn’t mean leaving everything behind in terms of how we do things and not the core philosophy, but we have to be responsive to the new challenges.”

Scott Young from Buffalo Narrows said advocacy is an ongoing issue and is a balance between new approaches and historical context. “Advocating for our students is a big part of what teachers are about,” he said, referring to himself as old school.

Young said having this opportunity to compare notes with colleagues from around the province is invaluable, adding that it makes him much better prepared when it comes to sharing with colleagues at home in terms of what other local associations are experiencing.

“It’s always good to get those different perspectives and we need to hear that and it’s good for us to get our voice into the discussion as well. Some issues are more intensified in certain associations, but overall our issues in terms of advocacy are quite similar and we have some challenges ahead of us.”

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