Lately in Ontario, it has become common to come across headlines like:
“Ford says teachers' union leaders holding parents, students 'hostage' in labour dispute”;
Education Minister Stephen Lecce says education workers are “trying to disrupt in-class learning by refusing to compromise… but “parents can rest assured this government will not waver in its resolve to keep all students in class, where they belong.”
Anyone closely following Ontario politics might conclude that educators are the province’s public enemy #1.
There are many reasons why governments shouldn’t try to turn parents against educators.
If the profession is constantly villainized, young people are less likely to choose it as a career, worsening labour shortages.
If elected officials treat educators with disdain, mistrust in expertise and disinformation are more likely to thrive.
If teachers are publicly disparaged, how can we ask children to respect and listen to them?
The other reason is that parents and teachers are not, in fact, two separate groups.
Many people know this intuitively. They may be parents and education workers themselves. Their parents may be teachers. Parents of their children’s friends may work at their school. Or, during the pandemic, they may have witnessed a teacher give an online lesson to 20 first graders while rocking her baby to sleep, as I did.
According to census data, in Ontario, 70 per cent of core working age adults (25 to 54 years of age) live in a house with children. This includes couples with children, one-parent families, and other family types, like grandparents raising grandchildren. Whoever they are, more than two-thirds of working-age education workers go home to their own children in the evening.
In fact, education workers in Ontario are more likely to have children at home than workers in any other industry, according to Labour Force Survey (LFS) data.
LFS data also shows that the education sector is the third-largest employer of core working age adults with children. There are more parents working in educational services than there are in retail, construction, or manufacturing.
There is also the broader, and perhaps most important, point that 87 per cent of parents 25 to 54 years of age are working parents. They may not all be immersed in the day-to-day of underfunded education systems, but they understand what it means to have wages suppressed in times of high inflation, to have too few resources to do a job well, and to be expected to do unpaid overtime on an ongoing basis.
Statistics Canada data also shows that Ontario education workers do more unpaid overtime than workers in other industries—and by a lot. In 2021, 26 per cent of education workers did unpaid overtime in Ontario. The average for the second industry on that list is 17 per cent.
Among those who did unpaid overtime, the average number of hours per week is also higher for education workers than it is in other industries (11 hours).
But these are just facts.
The rhetoric coming out of Queens Park is a different story. Listening to it, one would be led to believe that, on the one side, we have education workers who are oblivious to the realities of parenting, and on the other side, we have parents who are magically unaware of the struggles of working-class people.
Worse yet, the Ontario government is using the traumatic experience of the pandemic to divide people. Repeating that the government is focused on keeping kids in school implies that others don’t share the same concern. That’s not true.
Educators and parents also want to keep kids in school, but in adequately resourced schools. Schools are not parking lots for children—just keeping them there is not enough.
Educators, parents, and workers are on the same side. And they are organizing to demand the supports, service and infrastructure students need to learn, develop, feel safe, and thrive.
1. Statistics Canada, 2016 Census of Population (Public Use Microdata Files), 2019.
2. Statistics Canada, 2021 Labour Force Survey (Public Use Microdata Files, January to December), 2022.
3. Statistics Canada, Table 14-10-0076-01 Employees working overtime (weekly) by industry, annual, 2022.