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Column: No teacher would leave a classroom for nonsense

An opinion piece discusses the challenges teachers are facing and the recent job action province has experienced.

There were the days when I spent hours telling auntie – a teacher with over 40 years of experience (back in St. Petersburg) – all about the local public school system.

She's always loved her profession, but our conversations often started with her sharing about how her school life looks. It was just her per classroom had 30-plus students, a third of whom had special needs, with no educational assistants or any other support except for a principal (considered a last-resource punishment) and a school counsellor (one per school, and they are mainly focused on consulting other staff and parents, rather than working with kids).

Anything a teacher needed on top of basics was their task, which they could address themselves and/or in co-operation with parents. Most schools are understaffed, so teachers are seriously overworked. And with all that, if not for uncle's income, auntie probably wouldn't be able to make it.

All of that could have been considered hazards of the profession in a particular region if not for one big difference – kids over there mostly hated going to school, while here all of my friends' children usually couldn't wait for breaks to be over. And that, I think, changes absolutely everything.

You can have the most progressive and interesting programs, the best facilities, and all of the science in the world backing up the approach and methodology, but if teachers don't have the support they need, nothing's going to work.

I'm no expert in what schools and teachers really need here and how well they were doing, but when Saskatchewan decided to cut the budget for the education sector some time ago, even I had a feeling that it was going to hurt everywhere. It was just a matter of time before we got to a boiling point.

We finally did. 

For the second week, the entire province has witnessed teachers and school staff hitting the streets trying to get the government to commit to a more long-term and sustainable education growth plan. It's not just a clash of interests, but it's a combination of concerns that resonate with our educators.

Large class sizes, limited resources and an increasing workload are challenges that, if unaddressed, could cast a shadow over the quality of education provided in Saskatchewan. (Saskatchewan is fighting for our role and place in Canada and around the world; we can't afford a weakening education system.)

Those concerns hit home with almost everyone, as they are not only about the well-being of Saskatchewan teachers and their families, but also, and mainly, about what today's and future kids will be able to glean from their school years.

Again, from talks with auntie, I forever remembered her feelings about missing school days. In other professions, you often see people get excited about extra holidays. With her, every extra day missed for any reason was always a strong disappointment and a source of stress.

So to me, it always felt that for a teacher to leave a classroom is something almost impossible. Monday was already the second day the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation was on the streets of communities.

And while the Canadian Taxpayers Federation pointed out earlier that claims that education funding has been "cut" aren't absolutely accurate, as funding has increased 24 per cent since 2017, I don't think there is a teacher that would miss work due to some minor inconvenience. The struggles they are facing are serious. And they are doing their best to deliver that message.

In Estevan this Monday, teachers supported by other unions and kids circulated up and down Fourth Street, as drivers blew their horns. I don't know about other places, but that scene here definitely didn't look like a battlefield. It rather seemed like collaboration, but unfortunately not with the government yet.

But collaboration between the government, the STF, parents and students is what's needed the most. We all play a crucial role in this narrative. Through open dialogue, understanding and a shared commitment to our communities' well-being, we can transform this challenge into an opportunity for Saskatchewan to lead the way in fostering a harmonious education system.

Our teachers play a vital role in shaping the future of the province. Hopefully, we are to see that future, where the echoes of today's collaborative effort resonate through the hallways of our schools, creating a lasting legacy for generations to come.