scuttlebutt, cornwall, ontario

OPINION: Teacher seniority rule should be looked at

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By Nick Seebruch
OPINION: Teacher seniority rule should be looked at
Teachers during a one-day strike outside of St. Peter's Catholic Elementary School in Cornwall (Nick Seebruch/ Seaway News).

The students of our region had a rare snow day this past week. Compared to recent years, I feel like snow days are few and far between in 2019-2020, the students however, are not missing out on their bonus days off.

The ongoing labour dispute between various teachers unions and their employers and the province seems to have no end in sight. Parents, students, and teachers in our region and across the province have experienced the rotating strikes that each union seems to be participating in.

A strong sticking point between both sides right now is the unions’ use of a seniority list when picking teachers for permanent positions.

The rule states that school boards must choose from five qualified applicants who have the most seniority on the substitute teachers list when considering teachers for new permanent positions.

Negotiations between the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the school boards and province broke down last week after the latter two made a proposal to change the seniority rule.

ETFO President Sam Hammond told a news conference that what the province proposed “essentially gutted the regulation,” while Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the rule “undermines the quality of education.”

I think that the two sides, and the public should be discussing this rule. Hammond of the ETFO says that the rule is essential to supply teachers who aspire to one day get a full-time job at a school board and that this system promotes fairness. Does it though?

I’m sure that for a teacher who has been on the supply list for years, the promise that if they do their time, they’ll get a full-time job must seem promising, and likely encourages them to keep on making themselves available to the same school board.

What effect is this having on the quality of education though? Are younger teachers, with enthusiasm and skill, are they being passed over for their more senior counterparts simply because of their junior years?

I agree with Lecce on this one that the guiding principle of education should be merit and quality. The ETFO and other unions state that the school boards will pick the most qualified teachers from the seniority list from the most senior teachers on that list. It seems that the unions agree at least in part that the qualifications of teachers are important, but why take seniority into account at all? How does seniority benefit students?

To me, it seems like the unions are trying to retain older members in a high demand field at the expense of younger teachers, fresh out of university who are told to wait.

I have heard of stories of young teachers who spend as much as a decade or more waiting for their opportunity to teach kids. I would guess that younger teachers have their own significant student debt to deal with, and that a full-time position would go a long way for them.

I feel that as long as a teacher is qualified, they should be allowed to apply for the position and at least get an interview. This way, the boards will have the opportunity to find the right teacher for the right classroom, rather than looking through the oldest of teachers for the one that mostly fits their needs.

What do you think readers? Should unions get rid of their seniority rule for supply teachers? If no, why not? Email me a Letter to the Editor at nseebruch@seawaynews.media 

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