In his initial address to councillors, recently named Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Executive Director Randy Schmaltz evoked the words of such luminaries as Martin Luther King Jr. and Winston Churchill.
Schmaltz pulled no punches in describing the serious challenges the teaching profession and public education face in the province, while at the same time drawing strength from the traditional twofold role that the STF has fulfilled and will continue to do so even in times of uncertainty. Clearly Schmaltz wanted to assure teachers of his and the Federation’s resolve on the opening day of Annual Meeting of Council.
“Councillors, we know that teachers have some challenging times ahead. The March [provincial] budget did not provide us with good news for education. It is clear that the cuts which were announced on March 22 will affect the classroom, and there will be an impact on our students and on the work lives of teachers. I don’t think that there’s a person here who doesn’t have concerns about the future of public education.
“But at the same time, I believe that we live in a time of opportunity and that the Federation can play a crucial role in the future,” Schmaltz stressed. Recalling the words of Churchill, Schmaltz said, “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
According to Schmaltz, “the Federation has always been a source of strength and stability to teachers and to education more broadly, and this will be no less important in the coming years. This is my vision moving forward.”
Schmaltz contends the Federation can be a source of strength as the collective voice of the profession at all tables, and through the provision of direct supports for teachers so that they can experience economic security and be respected as professionals.
Moreover, Schmaltz offered that the Federation can also be the stabilizing force advocating for publicly funded public education, which is in the best interests of students, the public and the entire province.
Alluding to the STF’s twofold vision, Schmaltz said it is derived from our history as an organization. This simple guiding belief that the interests of teachers, students, the education sector and the province as a whole are not competing, but rather have shared interests.
Schmaltz said the words of Churchill and King both seemed to resonate in the current climate, citing that resolve and determination are required in the face of tremendous adversity as espoused by Churchill or something more inspiring and akin to King’s iconic I Have a Dream speech.
While acknowledging that King’s dream 54 years ago was about racial equality and the injustices of segregation, Schmaltz said he too has a dream.
“My dream is that one day education will be seen as the true path to equality of opportunity for our young people. Education will be not a political enterprise, but a humanitarian one–where citizens value and support it as a means to creating a better society.
“I have a dream that one day schools will be the vibrant centres of vibrant communities. Where people of all ages assemble together to learn and grow, to play and to come together and where knowledge, skills and values are shared and fostered, and arts and culture abound. Where our differences are celebrated and our commonalities are honoured.”
Schmaltz went on to suggest his dream is that one day we rise above the pale excuse of economic necessity and truly invest in today’s education for tomorrow’s children. A time when all sectors, all interest groups and all parties sit down at the table and build tomorrow’s education system. A conversation based on principles, values and possibilities can and needs to occur. We can no longer afford to allow politics and division to distract us from this singular goal.
“I have a dream today. I dream of a system that values teachers as professionals with the knowledge, skills and commitment to make a difference, and where teachers are viewed as partners in the most noble of endeavours rather than reduced to technicians or mere employees expected to deliver on an executive order.
“My dream is that my grandchildren will attend a school where diversity is the norm and differences are celebrated, where teachers are truly supported in creating inclusive classrooms free of judgment and entitlement–a system that meets the needs of all students regardless of race or culture, socio-economic status or neighbourhood and schools that see the potential in all and have the freedom and ability to bring out the very best in each of their students.”
Schmaltz also took the opportunity to praise the efforts of Gwen Dueck, his predecessor as Executive Director.
“Gwen fulfilled her duties as Executive Director with courage and determination during a very challenging time for public education in Saskatchewan.
“With a great deal of skill and integrity, she has worked hard to maintain relationships among the education sector partners. Her vision of teacher professionalism meant that, as a Federation, our voice was heard in discussions on education, from curriculum renewal to educational governance. Gwen’s principled approach to the work of the Federation allowed teachers to mitigate some of the most negative effects of new measures such as teacher regulation. Gwen leaves a legacy of energy, commitment, discipline, vision and wisdom that are an inspiration to me personally and serve as a model to the Federation and teachers across the province.”
Speaking to those in attendance, Schmaltz said, “I have no doubt that everyone in this room knows that education has seen a great deal of change and uncertainty in the past few years and that more change is on the horizon. While some changes have presented opportunities for teachers to express their views on the future of education in Saskatchewan, others have made the professional lives of teachers more challenging.”
He again drew a linkage to the past to make this assertion, albeit that it was somewhat more parochial than previous examples.
“It’s useful to recall the history of the Federation when thinking about the connection between a strong teacher voice and a stable education sector, particularly in the face of today’s challenges.
“So, you have the founding vision of the Federation which still holds true today. We are an association that advocates on behalf of teachers and the economic interests of our members, but we are also the number-one advocate for high standards of teaching service, professionalism and publicly funded public education–one body with two minds.”
Musing about the self-imposed question, Schmaltz said, “we draw our strength as teachers and as a Federation to the composition of a collective group of teachers made up of diverse individuals with many different backgrounds.
“We need to foster the individual energies of teachers into a strong collective voice that advances the interests of teachers. Going through it alone isn’t an option, but moving ahead together as a group of more than 13,000 professionals and 11,000 superannuates will get us to where we need to be, even if it takes longer than we hope or expect.”
Schmaltz said it is important to remember this, referring once again to Churchill’s oratory skills when he said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Schmaltz said that’s the first part of his vision for a strong Federation–a Federation that forges from individual energies a strong collective voice.
“We need to stand strong on the principles and values espoused in our strategic plan, our bylaws and our policies. We need to trust our governance structure as a means to guide the Federation and articulate the policies that anchor us.”
Acknowledging that not all teachers are singing off the same song sheet, Schmaltz said he realizes that there are teachers who question the support and direction provided by the Federation in these uncertain times.
“There are those who want to see us rise up and go toe to toe with all those who oppose us. They want us to position ourselves squarely as a union. I would suggest that these same individuals fail to recognize the value of the relationships that have sustained us over time and those that will sustain us into the future. To be solely a union means to surrender our voice on matters of importance
to teachers. We risk our ability to exert influence on professional matters such as educational policy, professional development, appropriate curriculum and resources, and issues of social justice and equity.
“The doors that are open to us today may very well be shut tomorrow. We take pride in our professional identity; is it something that we are prepared to cast aside so casually? There is no doubt that as a union we could make ourselves heard, but if the only tool we have is a hammer then every problem becomes a nail. I would suggest that there are more than nails for us to contend with, and we need to have more than a hammer in our toolbox.”
Quoting Churchill once more in saying, “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks,” Schmaltz stressed, “rest assured we have a destination.”
He referred specifically to the fact that the STF will soon be entering into collective bargaining. “Let me be clear on this point: I believe that strong collective bargaining is absolutely crucial to a strong teaching profession,” he said.
“This is where we must be strong as a collective and we are fully committed to achieving the best-possible collective agreement for teachers,” Schmaltz assured councillors.