Strike or no strike, I still have lots of reasons to be grateful for Brandon's school experience

A week ago Friday, I rifled through Brandon’s school bag to see what was left by his teacher and found a labour disruption notice. As of Monday, Nov. 12, the OSSTF is in a position to go on strike. This union covers a wide range of services, which I’m going to way oversimplify by saying they are support staff (that’s not even close to being entirely true, by the way). I’m only categorizing them this way because those are the staff that have a direct impact on my son if I understand correctly. According to the letter sent home with Brandon, members of this union will be implementing a partial withdrawal of services.

Brandon’s school’s teachers will be in a position to strike in December. I realized tonight that I haven’t asked about the potential impact this may have on his daycare arrangements. I’m going to choose not to think about that part for now. 

I will say this, though: As a parent, I’m concerned. As a parent of a child who has special needs, I’m extremely concerned. Disruption of Brandon’s routine can be upsetting for him to the point that he can’t function. He loved being at his daycare all summer, but he’s become used to the routine and stimulation that being in school provides. The first professional development (PD) day of the year, I had to leave work early to pick Brandon up. The change in routine was so drastic and even with preparation, he didn’t understand why he wasn’t going to school. Even though he was doing fun activities with his friends at daycare and the daycare staff that he absolutely adores, the change in his routine was too much to process.

Parents have known this entire school year that a strike is possible. I don’t know all the issues that the unions are discussing and I am not qualified to make a judgment as to the union’s motivation. I have no comment on any of that. All I know is that if a strike happens, the losers will be our children. They will miss days or weeks of established routines. Days or weeks of learning. Days or weeks with the social environment. Days or weeks of progress. There’s probably a million things I could name that they’ll miss out on. 

I have no doubt that the Province of Ontario could do a better job with education. 

I remember being horrified the first time I heard about teachers going on strike after I moved to Canada. In Florida, the state constitution doesn’t allow teachers to strike. I’m sure there’s a comprehensive list of pros and cons that can be debated, but I can’t help but think that it’s a good thing that school goes on. In my entire life, I never had to miss a day of school because teachers went on strike.

For me, I don’t think a strike would have been a great hardship. For my son, it could be devastating until he gets used to a new routine. Once school resumes, he’d have to return to his school routine and that would inevitably be a difficult transition.

I have nothing but respect for the job that teachers do. I was a music education major and had to drop out when I realized that it wasn’t the right field for me. It’s unbelievably hard to teach. Good teachers should be valued far more than they are.It may sound as if I am anti-teachers, but I’m not. The gratitude I feel toward Brandon’s teacher - who is a lovely, sweet, wonderful woman - cannot be easily expressed in words. I can’t find the words to tell you how much I appreciate what she’s done for him. It seriously brings tears of gratitude nearly every time I think about it. Here’s just a few examples of why she’s worth at least twice her weight in gold:

  • A one-hour call before the start of school to get to know Brandon’s special needs.
  • Regular emails advising us on how he’s doing.
  • Permission for him to bring a special toy to school while he acclimates to the new routine.
  • Booking us at the end of the day of parent-teacher interviews to allow extra time for discussion about how to help Brandon.
  • Telling us how much she loves having him in her class.
  • Willingness to implement suggestions from Brandon’s therapists.

That last one is huge for us and I have a story about it: I am not a dollar store shopper. I rarely go into them and, in fact, generally dislike their existence. However, at Brandon’s age and since we need to buy supplies for some of the suggestions we get from the therapists, the dollar store is the best option. One evening, I took Brandon with me and let him wander looking for something he wanted to get while I browsed craft supplies. It was after 6pm, just down the road from Brandon’s school - well after school was out for the day.

Who was there? Brandon’s teacher. And she was loading up her basket with all sorts of supplies. Every last thing she had, she pulled out to show me and and told me how she would be using it to implement one suggestion or another from his daycare or therapists. 

I’m pretty sure she didn’t use her school board credit card to pay for it either. 

Brandon’s teacher and principal worked with the school’s educational assistant (EA) staff to find one that could help assist him during his transitions from daycare to school and back. They did this to accommodate his needs, even though they hadn’t anticipated the necessity when budgeting for staff and alloting time for the year.

The school - and especially Brandon’s teacher and principal - have bent over backwards for him.

This is how school should be for every child, in my opinion. Their individual needs met by staff who are caring and concerned. 

So, while some are upset with teachers and perceive them as greedy and uncaring of the children, I know that this couldn’t be further from the truth - at least not all the time. I sincerely hope that a strike doesn’t happen. In truth, I wish that the government would find a way to ensure that a strike never happens again. However, I would not want them to do so in such a way that would suffocate the teachers’ and other education staff’s right to better working conditions and/or pay. 

As the daughter of a special education teacher, I can’t help but support teachers like Brandon’s who exemplify what I’ve always hoped my son would experience with his teachers. I’ve experienced first-hand, from watching my mom, just how hard teachers who care work for their students. I’ve felt the impact of having teachers who are passionate about helping kids learn. I value that contribution to the world at large and I’ll always be grateful when we are blessed with teachers like Brandon’s.