Opening Statement

Saturday 31 December 2011

And A Happy New Year!

It's hard to believe this is the last day of 2011! Time flies, that's for sure. It seems my life used to drag on and on for years. My 20's were a write off. I mean I had a great time kicking around and all, then belatedly going to university, but I wasn't going anywhere in a hurry. My 30's and 40's were the years when I struggled getting where I wanted to go with my career, raising family, paying off the mortgage, putting in my time.

Since I've turned 50 I think I feel the most relaxed, and comfortable. I've pretty much paid my dues so it's not so much a struggle anymore. I know myself very well. For better or worse, I suspect the former, I don't suffer fools gladly and am not into putting up with a whole lot of guff anymore. The clock is ticking, I know I won't last forever, I can definitely sense my own mortality unlike when I was a lot younger. Maybe it's because my family and friends are growing older too, but thank God I sill have my health.  Nowadays there's lots of things I still want to do, as opposed to things I have to do, so I'm pretty upbeat. I swear if I could retire tomorrow and live to be a hundred I don't think I'd ever be bored. There's still just so much I want to dedicate my time to and experience.

Anyway, I`m ending the year on a very good upbeat mood. Christmas was pretty low key for Janet and I. We just relaxed at home. We did an early Christmas with my mom and sister up in Sudbury around the beginning of December. I wrote about that. Christmas day we went to Janet's brothers home for Christmas with my in-laws. Then there was the annual huge Fujiwara family gathering, this year at the Imperial Banquet Hall out in Scarborough. Other than that though, we lounged around the condo, went shopping and on outings. Had friends over and so on. No school. No union work. Janet has been off for the last week or so too, so it was a very nice, loving respite, a little breather, just us doing our own thing. I haven't written much lately, plenty of time for that in the year ahead.

What did I enjoy best about Christmas this year? Well I collect music, and I added plenty to my collection what with the sales. Got some good school clothes too. Janet and I each bought each other a carry on luggage bag for our trips. Nothing much. That's all materials stuff though.

Spiritually Christmas is always uplifting. We avoided a lot of the commercialism and hoopla, which was a real blessing. The big Christmas productions are for the kids. Our two sons and all the nephews and nieces have  pretty much grown up now and are either in university, starting up jobs and marriages etc. etc. etc. Not lots of babies yet, neither of us are grandparents anyway.

What I liked best was just the two of us sleeping in, lieing around in bed, or cuddled up on the couch, talking, relaxing, reading, watching t.v. movies and so on. With outings pretty much as they strike our fancy. Yup.

Today we have a few errands to run. Will pick up some Chinese food and come home to relax, just the two of us. No big deal but it's a big two thumbs up! A well earned rest.

I wish all my readers a very happy New Year, and many blessings in all your trials and tribulations during the year ahead. I really appreciate all of your reader visits, comments and insights, mostly just as I go about doing my everyday school and union thing here in Toronto. A special best wish must also go out to all my foreign readers. I`m glad you visit here a lot too.

I`m ending the year at 8550 reader visits, as of now. That`s since I began my blog in late March. Just under one quarter of you are from abroad, the rest here. I`m really glad if you like my blog and or it challenges and brings out the best in you. If it makes you mad, well you either probably don`t get it, or deserve it anyway. So there! ;-)

I will post some of my cellphone pictures from the holidays. Just some impromptu snapshots of our life in the big city at Christmas. I've got some interesting blogs still on the back burner. I think I've mentioned them or given you a hint before. So please do drop by and keep checking me out. I've got one more week of holidays. I most likely will post another blog or so. Then it's back to work with everything in full stride for the Winter Edition of my blogsite. Here`s to another great blog year ahead!


Friday 23 December 2011

Merry Christmas Everybody!

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Have a great Solstice. The Christmas Edition of my blog will continue after Christmas, or boxing day. Have a great holiday everybody! We sure earned it this year!

Schools out! Enough of that for now. Coming Soon: "Maya A Go-Go: The End Is Nigh?" at David Chiarelli -Christmas Edition. Also a Best of 2011 slide show from my personal archives, and your usual fun and games or whatever comes across the old scanner......

Sunday 18 December 2011

A December Update + Summary

Here it is a week before Christmas. I'm not too heavily into the festive spirit of it yet outside of maintaining the Christmas decorations and decorum at this site. Such is the teaching life. School and union have been keeping me mighty busy. Oh well, there will be plenty of time for Christmas during the holidays ahead. For the juicy stuff you can scroll down 5 paragraphs. Otherwise with one week of classes to go until our two week break, let me provide a more complete mid December teacher and union update for you:

The Social Media and Confidentiality Agreement issue has certainly been a long hard fight! As of Wednesday's staff rep meeting it seems official. We heard that the two are not one and the same. Likewise it seems clear the Social Media Protocol will be thoroughly researched and developed by due process using a wide variety of resources and input. A revised Confidentiality Agreement is now available for signing as I have pointed out.There no longer seems to be an impossible to enforce stipulation that you must sign it before you leave the office or else. This much better acknowledges our members existing sense of professionalism in these matters, and of course our basic right to read it over carefully, and ask questions at your leisure and satisfaction before it is signed. Since there is no apparent emergency requiring us to act otherwise, I still remain very uncomfortable with the frequent, hurried, and immediate executive demands for this to implemented without all these considerations being taken into careful consideration first, during the last month or two.

We know what can happen when hastily half thought out and produced political initiatives are rush pushed through TSU without careful thought and deliberation. See my blog on "In School Voting: A Pig in a Poke?" [May Blog Archives]* for a good example. I don't think that's the type of future leadership our members will be seeking come our TSU spring executive election this spring. I certainly hope not. Hopefully we can all learn from past mistakes and avoid the mis-steps and chaos that will inevitably follow any such supposed politically motivated "strategic" thinking.

I know my blogsite remains controversial among some readers and most certainly at our executive table. I respect that and have volunteered to be involved in helping develop our unit's new Social Media protocol since I know it will apply to me too and I want it to be reasonable and constructive, so it will work. I encourage others who are active and experienced in using the many new forms of electronic communication so commonly used today, outside of TSU anyway, to also get involved. I still firmly believe this is a freedom of information issue. Politically speaking it's just plain good, transparent and responsible executive representation and accountability as your duly elected third VP too. See my "Blogspot Manifesto Revisited" [Nov. Blog Archives]* for a more indepth explanation.

My blogspot readership has certainly seen a big increase this fall. There have been about 900 reader visits here over the past four weeks alone. Most of the response has been overwhelmingly positive, but I appreciate the constructive criticism, and in fact have often taken it into account to make modifications to this site as need be. I certainly don't plan on going away anytime soon. TSU is not some secret society of castles and kings, nor can it go back to being like that with so many new and exciting means of communicating with each other available these days. So phooey on censorship or any efforts to that effect.

A tip for you: watch carefully at our socials and other various meetings. There are always a few grinchy people working the crowd over, whispering nasty gossip and making up tall tales about myself and a few of the other executive members past and present. No big secret! Quite frankly, it's been going on for almost four years. There's a newbie jumping on board the campaign now too.

The word is I need to be "removed". I'm not sure if this was to be carried out now or during the spring election as a part of some sort of "palace" coup right out of the backwards looking "kings" and "castles" type mindset but no matter. Supposedly I was going to be forced by the president to sign the original confidentiality agreement under the old terms at the TSU office or else. Tsk! Tsk! I wrote about this in my last "Social Media" blog. Anyway, it's easy to figure out who the culprits are, and what's been really going on with all these secret rumblings. 

Listen carefully! Who complains the most about me and about this blog? That would be a double standard! Seems some folks can dish it out but they can't take it, for sure! 

Also consider this: I myself don't hide, back stab, nor do I make things up about others or cry "poor me". Look around and listen carefully. Who does?

Remember, there's a TSU Presidential and a TSU executive election this spring. There will be a lot of members running for office. They are taking sides, and lining up their ducks. What's happening then? Go connect the dots yourself. Very intriguing. 

I know this is kind of negative. Most everybody always says to just ignore them, but I've had enough. Is that really a good way to deal with a bully? Or two or three or.............

In my Blogspot Manifesto, one of the questions I said I'd want to address is:

Can we increase member involvement and more good, positive, pro-active and forward moving union executive renewal over the years ahead on our present course? If so how? If not, why not?

I remain an optimist. There are a still lot of great people on executive doing a lot of great things for our members this year, but nonetheless it seems an especially poignant question to ask.

Leadership? Representation? Or simply personal ambition and naked self interest? You our members will decide in this spring's TSU election. That's what will decide where we go from here. If the present nonsense continues, for me, to be silent would be remiss....'nuff said!

On a much more positive note, here's a brief wrap-up of the committee work I've been helping facilitate as your TSU 3rd VP Executive liaison this fall:

Our Beginning Teacher's Committee [BTC] had a great pub at the Madison in late November. Attention is now turning to OECTA Provincial's BT conference in February. BTC is also working on a few more upcoming events including, among other things, the annual TSU Volleyball tournament, and perhaps a wine country bus coach trip. BTC remains an open committee, which means any TSU teacher 5 years or less at our board can sign up anytime. You have been doing so, and a lot of our plans still remain fluid and open to your increasing involvement and input. Great. BTC rocks!

Our Religious Affairs Committee [RAC] has an ambitious program which we had to fight pretty hard to maintain funding for on budget night this year. See "My Budget Notes [Nov. Blog Archive]*. Many of you came out to take a stand. We stopped and even partially reversed efforts to essentially cut RAF funding to provide more cash for beer at other committee events! Mind boggling! Many thanks to all our TSU members and supporters who spoke out on budget night to resolutely remind everyone to keep the emphasis on Catholic in our Oecta English Catholic Teachers Association Toronto Secondary Unit [OECTA TSU].

With our funding safely in place we look forward to some great social, political and religious RAC events this winter and spring. RAC plans to continue our work with the Respect Life Week Committee [RFL] and Right to Life [RTL] Toronto. Look for news on the annual student leadership conference and the Ottawa pro-life march. I know our support remains controversial in some quarters even though RACs life issues are quite certainly in keeping with the teachings of the Catholic church. My support for RAC's Pro-Life activities and stand was a key platform of my TSU re-election platform last spring. Please see my blog on "Respect Life!" [April Blog Archive]. I look forward to facilitating our RAC goal of rallying increased teacher, student and board support for Respect Life Week in this spring. You can also look forward to a continuation of our RAC Newman lectures, with a few very interesting new tie-ins. The religious cards and some more desktop frames for the BT's are going out for when you return back to class in January. Some of us are volunteering a few hours over the holidays to get the job finished for you. Please contact myself or your RAC chair, Mark Sherlock, if you can help out!

The Ad Hoc Special Education Committee [AHSE] has enjoyed increasing interest and involvement from Special Education teachers and department heads across our board this fall. A survey of your interest and concerns was carried out on survey monkey and is being summarised and prepared for our executive, Collective Bargaining Team, and you our members as I write. The switch over to a series of ongoing "Survey Monkey" studies is becoming key to a number of our TSU committees as an integral part of the research process this year. Yes, there is a huge segment of our unit that "get" the new technology. We've had some delays as we switch gears, and broaden our efforts via Survey Monkey but I believe the effort will prove invaluable in the years ahead despite any growing pains we might be experiencing right now. Hooray for high tech social media!

We will be inviting the Special Education Superintendents to meet with our members after Christmas again to discuss your interests, concerns, and exchange information.This proved a very popular activity last year for both the school board and union members who joined in. More info to follow.

I'm sure we were all pleased to receive Safe Schools Superintendent Rory McGuckin's email announcement  about the new jointly developed TSU and TCDSB Discipline Incident Reporting forms. I also helped work previously on our Joint Safe Schools Committee for two years with the initiative. For more info, please see my blog "Our Joint Safe Schools and Joint Professional Development Committees Work For You" [May Blog Archives].* It did take time to nail down, and I'm glad this year's committee finally got the job done. It shows what can be accomplished when our teachers union and school board work together, as we do on our many joint committees such as Joint Professional Development [JPD], Joint Health and Safety [JHS] and Joint Work Related committees. TSU and the TCDSB are no doubt very leading edge in successfully developing these very important co-operative, consultation and implementation committee initiatives for the good of our students, our teachers and our schools. I know a lot of my foreign readers have taken interest in this. It is certainly another cause for celebration this Christmas season.

Friday night was our [JCM] James Cardinal McGuigan Catholic Secondary Schools staff Christmas party. Our Special Education department shared two tables. We laughed and partied throughout dinner and into the evening with our many school colleagues. It felt so good just to engage in lively chatter and joke around knowing Christmas is just around the corner at last. I am sure all our TSU teachers will share a great sigh of relief next Friday as we head home from a job well done on the teacher front lines.There is so much to do now at home! A nice week off after New Years should greatly compensate for the mad rush! I am sure we all look forward to more of the joy, satisfaction and challenges of teaching and union work once we've had some downtime to catch our breath. Whew!

PS: Sorry about writing the acronyms out in full if you know them all ready. They are necessary for all my readers to understand.

*= My blog archives link is located at the very end of this blog column for your perusal.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Our Social Media Protocols + Confidentiality Agreement

Here's what's new regarding the public discussions on our new TSU Confidentiality Agreement and Social Media Protocols at our Wednesday December 8th executive meeting. A revised Confidentiality Agreement has been prepared. All executive members were to sign it before they left the meeting. All committee members must sign it the next time they come to the TSU offices. This is effectively immediately.

We need some frank talk here. Of course I don't disclose info from our private executive sessions, as abhorrent as I sometimes might feel the very concept can be. There is a longstanding and clear ruling on this. Despite my discomfort with the frequency of these they often are quite necessary for very practical and necessary reasons. For example it would be wrong to share sensitive grievance information. Similarly info about our unit's Collective Bargaining strategy and the like.

Otherwise, I feel it is necessary, as your elected TSU 3rd VP to be able to discuss the important issues you want to know about; the teacher members whom I was elected to serve. Our monthly executive meetings are publicly open to you, just like the information we share and discuss there. It's the same with any other democratically elected body. Most of you can't attend in person during school hours but the info shared and discussed is, repeat is, publicly available for you to read and hear about. Likewise the revised Confidentiality Agreement is now available for you to sign.

You will recall, I wrote quite a few blogs last month about freedom of speech issues, especially in regards to the development and implementation of our new Social Media Protocols and Confidentiality Agreement initiatives. No need to repeat those here. You can review them in my November Blog Archives below this column. My "Blog Manifesto Revisited" might be of particular interest, or perhaps my "Weekend in Late November" blog or even some of the political satire in my "Just Supposin' - A Bloggers Christmas Tale", should you wish to revisit these on your own.

Anyhow, let me update you on what has since transpired. President Jansen assured me before the December 8th executive meeting that the Social Media Protocols and the Confidentiality Agreement are two separate, and not inclusive documents. As such, I would find neither particularly controversial  in and of themselves. For example, at the top of the TSU Confidentiality Agreement, which all members of executive and committees are now required to sign,  it states that the information covered refers to "confidential, private and sensitive data", such that;

TSU and OECTA maintain and handle confidential, private and sensitive data. In order to safeguard this information TSU restricts access to information to those who have a legitimate and approved need to access, it is required that all who have access acknowledge that information  will be accessed for legitimate business reasons on as-needed basis only.

Of course this has always been the case for a lot of TSU business when we are representing the member's private interests, be that with documents or "in camera" private committee discussions. Again consider the example of grievance and collective bargaining strategies and sensitive information. These have never been freely and publicly shared without very specific and necessary restraints. That's common practise for any large organisation such as our own.

If it's just a formality to codify this with a new "TSU Confidentiality Agreement", who could argue or complain? We are dealing with very specific "confidential" information that can't be justifiably shared and quite reasonably so. This is of course perfectly fine and acceptable. I'm not aware of this being a particularly pressing concern at TSU as of late, but if that is all it's about then so be it. But why then the dire, pressing need for every executive member to sign the new revised copy before the end of our last meeting? Likewise why require every TSU committee member to sign it, effective immediately, the next time they come in the office? Something seems out of proportion here.

At the executive meeting I explained to President Jansen, that I never would sign ANY document that was just handed to me without having ample chance to consider it thoroughly. This would apply to a commercial contract, a board form and now similarly a union agreement. As I prepared to leave the executive meeting I assured him that I would afterwards look it over, seek clarification if need be, and then if it was acceptable, hand it in at my earliest convenience. I got the impression he seemed to think this was perfectly reasonable, and the problem was solved. No more issue here I thought, or was there?

Unfortunately, the ugly gossip mill was going full tilt at Thursday night's Christmas Pub at the Crooked Cue. Most of us are above it but invariably there is always somebody or other going around from table to table badmouthing somebody else, usually for political reasons. Rather ironic I should think considering the issues at hand. The latest is that I was being called into Rene's office next day. I was going to be given an ultimatum. I must sign the confidentiality agreement before I left. Of course our members immediately came to ask me what this was all about as the story crept across the room. Sigh. Alas. Such is public life.

As a political figure, I expect this from time to time and was quite amenable to address the surprise story for anyone whom might ask. I must admit I was very disappointed that it was being shared in an unbecoming, backhanded, gossipy manner. The person in question never identified themselves to me, though of course everyone else told me who they were. I was somewhat surprised especially since she didn't even ask me first if it was true. But such is gossip. This isn't the first time, nor do I suspect it will be her last. Vague apologies and excuses quickly grow wearisome.

Please note; with my blog any "information" I share is upfront. It's not secret information that would even be covered by our new agreement. What raises my ire is unnecessary secrecy within our union affairs.I believe that should be challenged. Here it was now, in the whispered words and cold stares behind my back. Creepy or what? If I had been called into the office by Rene for a private talk on the alleged issue would such confidential information be covered by the agreement? Also consider, what purpose does such gossip serve? It's highly unethical and suspect at best. It does not provide good, useful, informed and honest service to the members who have elected us. So who is being served?  What's really going on?

Of course the gossip isn't true. At least I received no such request from the president, nor did I see him, or have any plans to meet with him next day. All of our discussions have been perfectly amicable, even when we disagree, as far as I am aware. I think so. So as I continue to be very suspicious about the kerfuffle over the need, haste and gossip mongering involved in the writing up and enforcing of our new Confidentiality Agreement, well now you know why.

Equally puzzling was the much heated public discussion at our Wednesday executive meeting about how to enforce the new Confidentiality Agreement. In fact, there are no provisions in place for disciplining members like myself or anyone else who chooses not to sign it upon demand.

Vice President Bruno seemed quite perturbed. He quite publicly exclaimed he might very well have to go to the school board to complain if our new TSU policies are not enforced. I am afraid this left me at an utter loss. My understanding is that the Social Media Protocol and the Confidentiality Agreement are not one and the same. In his comments he mentioned both, most specifically in the case of Social Media Protocols in direct reference to executive member blogs. Whose blog could that be? TSU's confidentiality issues in regards to the Confidentiality Agreement being discussed haven't been violated. Why then is this all back on the table again? Also as any teacher unionist should know, union issues are dealt with at the union level, and not through adverse reports about members or policies to board management. There are names for this but I won't repeat them here. It should be very interesting to see where this might all now lead from such a unionist perspective!

It's very interesting how Social Media actually figures into all of this. My understanding from the meeting and my talks with Rene is that Social Media, such as blogs, email, cellphones, Twitter and Facebook, will be covered separately by a new protocol our executive will develop for our unit. OECTA Provincial is currently developing a Social Media policy that we will certainly want to consider. I was quite satisfied earlier in our meeting, when it was made clear that a wide range of other existing materials on the subject could also be consulted and discussed. I've eagerly offered to contribute to the effort and abide, of course, by the new protocol. To the best of my knowledge I'm the only TSU member with a blog but if any of the rest of you have any particular knowledge or interest in the wide range of social media that is being used so much to communicate these days, I would certainly hope you are consulted in the process too.

You elected me to serve you. I will not violate TSU confidentiality, as I now understand it, but quite clearly a lot of clarification and debate will need to follow, especially I would think, as each of you on our committees, from Staff Rep, to Beginning Teachers and everyone inbetween, is told to sign our new Confidentiality Agreement, or perhaps even more so, as we develop our Social Media Protocols in the months ahead.

We have a lot to consider. Many if not most of us have a cellphone. Then there's Facebook, Twitter and at the very least you have email. The list of social media to consider goes on and on. Our younger teachers have grown up with it, our hardcore teckies of all ages live by it. It is everywhere, and like it or not it is how people increasingly communicate these days. For better or worse, it is not a genie we will be able to force back into a bottle, or contain by the old methods and rules.

The Supreme Court of Canada is currently bracing for a wave of appeals on the use of electronic media and challenges about how to make our old privacy laws fit the same modern day high tech scenarios. Quite clearly a TSU executive with  nine teacher members will not be able to do so on it's own, in private session, nor simply with our own immediate resources. The challenges can only be expected to increase and become more widespread and diverse in the years ahead. As Toronto lawyer Scott Hutchinson, grappling with the issue, recently lamented;

"Rules made back when we talked about kings and castles do not work when we are talking about mobile devices and information technology"
Clearly Social Media Protocols and Confidentiality Agreements are not something that can be created in secrecy, or enforced with a similar old school approach to rules. The future is very divergent by nature. You need to be in the know, and we need your help. Let's see if we can rise to the challenge wide eyed and aware within our TSU teacher's union!

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Holding Hands

Sunday night in Sudbury sitting in the dark back seat of my sister's car. I'm with mom, heading to the airport to catch a flight back to Toronto. She is 80 now and her memory is going. Some days are better than others. We will drop her off at the nursing home along the way. She seems confused. The later in the day it gets, the more confused she becomes.

Every few minutes she asks the same thing,

"Where's you father?"

"He's dead mom."

"When did that happen?"

"Almost 4 years ago."


A minute or two later she will ask the same question and I will answer her again, the same way, as I always do. She holds on to my hand. Her's is old, thin, with a slight tremble. I squeeze her hand in mine, fingers intertwined.

"Well, at least I got you and your sister", she says."

"Yes mom. Don't worry. You do."

She seems somewhat relieved but doesn't let go, and so we drive through the dark, just holding hands. Hers in mine. She holds on tight.

I use to explain at length dad's death.Sometimes in her more lucid moments she says that perhaps it's just too sad to remember. I sometimes would try to help her, but she always forgets. 

Flashback: It's the middle of the night. Mom runs to our room. Dad is having a heart attack! Our family gathers around him. We are all grown up now. Our children too. Mom holds his hand. As I look into his eyes, he dies. The end?

We were all brought up Catholic. Dad very much so. I believe too, but perhaps in a more contemporary way. I really don't know what if anything happens next. No one can, but you have faith.

As we leave the nursing home and are getting back in the car my sister says she thinks maybe we lost mom the same time we lost dad. Married fifty years. Always together. They were set to downsize the family homestead, it had been sold, and the move was to take place later on the same week. So in a couple of days mom lost her husband, her home, and now her memory is going too. 

If she wasn't so nervous worrying about things all the time, perhaps it would be okay. She is comfortably set up in a nice nursing home with family near by. A phone. A nice room mate. Otherwise? 

She out lived everyone. I suppose the rest of our family and all her friends would have been grateful if they could have lasted as long as she has, but they didn't. Small consolation. Not necessarily a happy surprise. Not necessarily a good topic to broach. At least she doesn't seem depressed anymore.

Driving through the blackness of the night again, to catch our plane. It's cold, rainy, the treetops and smokestacks of Sudbury half buried in the fog. I open and close my now empty hand. For a moment I slip back, way back in my seat. Remember: I am a young boy again. I'm crying. I don't know what to do. There's mom. Young. Happy. Understanding. She takes my small little hand. I can feel it in hers.

"Don't worry," she says.

We begin life holding hands. We can end it that way too, if we are lucky. There's really not much more to say. As a little boy I was holding tight, and now mom is too. We come full circle. Life goes on.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Our Ad Hoc Special Education Survey

It's December! A little snow arrived here in Toronto yesterday. It melted in a few hours, but was a fitting way to end November. The snow is rather late this year. Fine by me. Now Christmas holidays are just around the corner!

Ad Hoc Special Education [AHSE]: Our survey went out to the Department Heads today. It's in the form of an internet link to Survey Monkey so it can be filled out quickly and conveniently on line. It was sent by the main office to all of our secondary school Special Education Department Heads.We are asking the heads to please share the Survey Monkey link with the Special Education teachers at their school. It basically just asks you to prioritize a Special Education [SPED] list of the issues that are most important to you in your departments and within the classroom.

I am the executive liaison for the committee again this year. This blog is not an official union communique but I'd like to share some public  information with you because the work of the committee is so leading edge.We got off to a good start last year. Our Special Education teachers and Department heads seemed to find our meetings with the board superintendents here at the union office a good chance to directly and informally talk and share information we all need to know. The meetings were set up and run according to Robert's Rules of Order to maintain a sense of decorum. They seemed to go over very well. The dialogue was very interesting, informative and constructive. The superintendents seemed to find it useful too, and will be invited back, if possible, for more meetings, between January and the end of the school year.

These are the official terms of the AHSE committee:

To gather classroom and Special Education teacher input on trends and concerns in Spec Ed. 
To outline developing trends, patterns and issues/concerns from TSU members in the field. 
To determine implications for classroom and special education teachers of Ministry direction and policy in Special Education. 
To determine implications for classroom and special education teachers of TCDSB direction and policy in Special Education.

To create an  Issues, Trends + Concerns paper on Special Education with recommendations for TSU executive and our membership.
We have not had a union special education review now for some time. There have certainly been a lot of changes, with the new policies and directives from the Ministry of Education and the school board increasing our current activities far beyond the Special Education services we were providing our students even a few years ago. My foreign readers may not know this but in Canada, all our students are entitled to a free elementary and secondary school education. This includes all of our exceptional students, regardless of their exceptionality. Our committee will be reporting back to the executive, our Collective Bargaining Team and our members, on the grassroot concerns of our Special Education teachers and Department Heads. After we survey your issues, trends and concerns we will make a number of important recommendations.
I would really like to see  a Joint Special Education Committee put in place between our teachers union and the board in the next contract. We have them for Safe Schools, Professional Development. Why not Special Education? It could help us better co-ordinate and implement our programs to best help our students. Well, I am just the facilitator  of this process. The committee, the union executive and our teacher members will decide which way they want to go with the summaries from our research, but it's certainly something do-able, timely and constructive to consider.
The first step of our research for the 2011-12 school year has been sent out to your schools now. It is due by 4pm next Thursday December 8th. If you don't get it in your email please ask your department head. The more we get back, the more reliable our summary can be. More in depth surveys and other forms of research will soon follow. Please get involved. Fill the survey out today.

Friday 25 November 2011

BTC Rocks The Madison Pub!

Friday night TSU BTC [Beginning Teachers Committee] totally rocked the house upstairs at the third floor party room in the Madison Pub! Everyone seems to love the Madison. If you grew up in Toronto, or went to university here, you probably used to go to the Madison, or maybe still do. It undoubtedly proved to be an excellent place for the BT's to hold a pub night.

TSU Social Director supreme Theresa Oakley helped with the food orders and drink tickets but otherwise it was very much the BT's who were running the show. The party was very well organized. BT'er Sasha designed a brilliant flyer which was distributed to all our schools. It featured a group of BT's from Dante. It was definitely one of the best BT party invites I've seen yet, as BTC executive liaison. Chair Helena Suite has been working on updating our BT lists, and making sure the flyer was distributed on three different occasions, hoping everybody would get the word. Marie and Lori joined us at the ticket table, and like Mariko made the rounds helping to greet all our guests. We nicely filled the party room, it was cozy, and intimate -a great way to start the weekend. Teachers came from Dante, Percy Johnson, St. Joseph College, Fraser, Marshall McLuhan, St. Mary's and St. Mike's. The list goes on and on. If I missed your school name as I was going about having the pleasure of meeting you all, please let me know and I'll add it too.

Everyone had great fun lifting glasses high, and enjoying the chicken wings and other snacks. Our beginning Teachers are any TSU teacher with five or less years experience at our school board. This also includes our occasional teachers who meet the same criteria. The BT pub is always great because it allows our new teachers to network, meet each other, and exchange tips and tales from the classroom with your peers. These will be the colleagues you will be working with for the rest of your career teaching at our board in some capacity or another. Maybe you will be teaching together some day, or fulfilling different roles within the board; administrative or union. This way you have an opportunity to meet each other "back in the day" as you first start out as a group. The BT's also got to mix and mingle with the TSU executive to chat, ask questions, and find out more about our OECTA TSU teachers union.

It's especially great when we get a top notched organized BTC like we did again this year. Our committee members have tripled since September, and they were able to basically set up and run the event themselves. There is hope yet for the TCDSB [Toronto Catholic District School Board] it seems!

I will share a hot tip with you: The committee is looking into setting up a BT Bus trip to Niagara Wine Country in the days ahead! You could sample the wines, pick up a few bottles and have a lot of fun with your BT colleagues on the bus. Sounds like a party for sure. Stay tuned for more details from your BTC. It's still not for sure but everybody seemed quite excited about the idea and the committee members have been shopping around for some good package deals. Hooray BTC!

Also if you haven't emailed in your application for the Beginning Teacher's Conference, which will be held in Toronto this year, please do so asap. It's turned out to be a very worthwhile and popular event over the years. Everyone from the Premier of Ontario to our Education Minister has come to meet with you and answer your questions. There's lots of great workshops on topics of interest to beginning teachers. Please email in your application today! The last day to apply is December 5th and can be completed online. It was sent out by email from the main office a few weeks ago, and basically just asks for your name and a few questions on why you would like to go. Don't miss out!

Some photos from tonight are highlighted in the slide show on the top left side of my blog screen. Enjoy! If you took any of your friends or group, please forward them to me and I can post them too.

Sunday 20 November 2011

A Weekend In Late November + More

I suppose like most of my other secondary teacher colleagues out there in cyber-land I find mid to late November a very busy time of the school year. Mid term report cards are due. Then there's parent teacher interviews. With my AU-DDME [Autistic Developmentally Delayed Multiple Exceptionality] students it's somewhat different. They can't read write or talk, so the assessment is often heavily based on checklists, and a lot of teacher observation. After about 26 years in the classroom I can pretty much tell you intuitively how they are doing but of course administration always requires paperwork. I talk to the parents on a regular basis, so the report itself, let alone the parent teacher interviews isn't much of a big deal anyways, they all ready know what's going on. Our class had two big changes, first coming back to school from the holidays and then a room change. Routine is everything, but they seem to be settling down nicely now. I'm still working on all my other paperwork but basically with all that out of the way we've now just got to wrap things up for Christmas. Then get two weeks off to catch up with my own life. Whew.

By the way, for those of you who`d rather just get to the blog ban scuttlebutt, please scroll to the bottom of my blog. I`d rather ruminate a bit today, rather than just jump back into the melee. More time for that later. But please, be my guest, if you would like to cut to the quick. I understand.

It's been a mild autumn this year in Toronto. By mid day the temperature has often hit the low teens and we've had a lot of sunshine. Most of the leaves  have changed colour and fallen off the trees. I've got my long winter coat out, my woollen winter hat, and my winter boots. I am wearing them all ready. It's a pretty bleak and barren landscape outside our condo window. Gone are the birds and the bursting green foliage of summer. I'd sit then, out on the balcony with my morning coffee and paper. Maybe post a blog about how wonderful it all looks. Now? No. I'm always out and abouts during the weekdays coming and going from work at school and union. More evenings are spent cuddling up with Janet on the couch maybe watching movies or t.v., if we don't have errands to run. Or I'll just retreat to my man-cave, the back music room where I've got all my cd's, records, books and electronic equipment. Relaxing in my easy chair or just working on my music collection. Life is not without it's own late fall charms, when everything moves back indoors and we begin to hunker down for the long cold months ahead. Very Canadian I suppose.

December is perhaps my favourite winter month, even though the season doesn`t technically arrive until the solstice towards the end of the third week. One can expect the first snow, a gentle blanket of white covering the ground, the trees, the rooftops and landscape four floors below. There`s the steamy breath as one steps outside into cold. The slow drive into work. Everyone, especially the kids are usually quite happy and delighted. It all seems so fresh and new and of course Christmas is just around the corner. We`ll be off for holidays, returning in January. The winter blahs will settle in within a month or so after that with the short days, the snow piling up, the tedium of work, school and just getting by dragging on and on. Then and only after that will there be any hopeful sights of spring once again bring everyone and everything back to life. Maybe it isn`t the same for everyone, but I am a summer person with a lifetime of Canadian winters behind me and probably still more than a few to go. I suppose it shows.

So on Friday night Janet and I met downtown. I had a doctor`s appointment during the day. Then I got a haircut, checked out the music stores and met her at Winners by 5pm to clothes shop. Empty nesters, but not yet grandparents, we can just buy for ourselves now. After we walked down Yonge Street to Dundas Square, which can be mercilessly barren and windswept this time of year, stripped of it`s summer delights. The Christmas lights are going up everywhere along Yonge Street, thousands of tiny shining stars in the night, strung through the trees, up and over the street poles, the store front windows, well practically everywhere. Dundas Square is still just basically lit by the huge LED screens on all the high towers that surround it, flashing out their non- stop advertisements to buy buy buy. Rather ridiculous scantily clad models  models advertise the latest fashions on a cold late fall night. More ads for cars. Electronics. Trips down south.

We walked west to Chinatown and the Spadina Gardens, my favourite Chinese food restaurant. Big plates of chicken in peanut sauce, beef in black bean sauce. Bowls of steaming rice. We dig in with our chopsticks just talking about work and mostly the weekend ahead. Then amble over to the University Line to catch the subway north to Wilson Station where our cars are parked in the vast expanse of freezing cold parking lots. It`s easier than driving and trying to find parking downtown anymore, especially during rush hour.

 Saturday was more errands but that`s okay. It`s our routine. We drive about north Toronto going here and there and then returning home for the luxury of a late afternoon nap. We had tickets to go down to Harbourfront to see a Japanese Drum Troupe, the Nagata Shachu Taiko and Music Group perform their yearly Toronto showcase performance. They are locals who tour the world throughout the year. There`s a pretty small Japanese community in Toronto. Seemed everybody in the crowd was somehow related or knew each other and the band members. Janet is pure Japanese, 100%, but truth be told her family has been in Canada a few generations more than my side has. In talk, dress, and  mannerisms, she is 100% Torontonian. Asian women are so beautiful, and the Japanese Canadians are especially well cultured, polite and very friendly in a down to earth manner too. It was a very nice crowd and a great two hour show with one short 15 minute intermission. The drummers are very strident with an incredible sense of beat, playing solo and with and off each other. The arrangements and moods created were fantastic. There were the wind and stringed instruments, very light but vibrant. The backdrop was a flat screen of evening hues, changing slowly and delicately together with the atmosphere of the music. It was an incredibly moving performance.

Sunday finds me cleaning up at home. I went through all my clothes, putting away the last of the lighter stuff til next spring. Organizing my clothes closets for home and school. Getting together a few bags for Goodwill. I`ve put on a few pounds and don`t like anything snug. Come January I plan to shed some weight, but with Christmas just around the corner, it`s pretty pointless right now. Janet went out with her girlfriends shopping for gifts at the  big Christmas sales. We don`t have much we need to buy anymore, once we are all adults it seems rather pointless, but it is fun just the same, for her perhaps, not me. I had a nice nap, spaced out in my man cave and am waiting for her to get back so we can make supper, and cuddle on the couch watching t.v and wasting away the last of our weekend before we go to bed. And so goes a day, or weekend rather, in the life of this blogger, come late November. I suppose it`s not without it`s own charms and contentment. I hope everybody else is doing okay too.

And now it`s time for the news. I will be posting some more about the blog ban. Seems now it`s been downgraded to a Appropriate Protocol for Social Media or something like that, whatever that's supposed to mean. No matter, the devil is always in the details. I would think the Confidentiality Agreement with all its restrictions including sharing any TSU information on a need to know basis and through the main office is where that will be found.

2nd Vice President Frank Bruno was very adamant that he wanted it signed by everybody, executive and members alike at our last executive meeting, effective immediately. That or they'd be kicked off all our TSU committees, maybe even executive. Make any sense to you? Me neither!

Nothing is written about that in our by-laws. I would like to see the exact motion as it was approved made public to our members asap. At any rate, this was all said at our public November executive meeting, outside of the all too frequent private in camera sessions we have these days. Most of you would have been in class anyway. Seems to me that most everything is like a big secret this year. I can understand an info ban on grievances or collective bargaining talks, we have always acted accordingly anyway.

I've told President Jansen if he wont put a stop to the rest of this malarkey then I will give it a good try. Maybe its high time for a little whistle blowing so we can actually get more important work done, and leave the nonsense for those who would like to head out to the local watering hole later. This is not the TSU I know, love and where I have worked to serve you. Well, there will be time enough for this debacle later. I hope you had a good weekend and are getting braced for the school homestretch to Christmas. Cheers!

My fortune cookie. Not much new.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

My Blogspot Manifesto Revisited

Dear Readers;

This "Blog Manifesto" is my statement explaining why I have set up my blogspot, and where I am going with it. This blog was first posted in June. There has been a fair bit of controversy on executive about member use of social media including, but not limited to blogs. I am reposting my manifesto for your information and consideration should this controversy explode with some surprise announcements in the days ahead. I like informed debate. I don't support top down decisionmaking, especially when it is done in private. If you have any questions about my blogsite please don't hesitate to direct them to me personally.

Many, many of you follow my blogs. This site now has had well over 7000 reader visits, as the counter at top right shows. We truly live in a "Global Village" as Marshall Mcluhan once said. I appreciate those of you who have personally come up to me to say you like it. I am truly honoured. I look forward to continuing my teacher and union dialogue with you the members I serve through social  media. Of course there is also Facebook, Twitter, Text Messaging, email, skype, cellphones with cameras and voice recorders. The list goes on and on. Here is why I like blogs best.

 I will also be adding a "Readers Comments" box on the side column where you can reply or post your own views in the very near future. Freedom of speech only seems democratic to me.

Please stay tuned and see below:


Welcome to the 21st Century! A Blogspot is very easy to set up and maintain. All it takes is the latest social media technology, which is everywhere nowadays. A little imagination and creativity also helps. It provides a direct ongoing dialogue. In my case that's with you, the TSU members who duly elected me to serve once again as your 3rd Vice President.

This will be my fifth term on your executive, and my twenty-fifth year teaching with our board. My resume is posted with my background qualifications and experience on the blogspot for you to see. I believe it's essential for me to be able to speak directly to you in an honest, forthright manner about our teacher issues and union business. It's not just a free speech issue. It's also about service and authenticity. Let me explain.

I was elected to serve you, so of course I will provide the information you need to know. I want to do so in a contemporary, understandable and even enjoyable manner. I owe it to you. Other elected officials including MPP's, MP's and even city councillors have their own newsletters. Mine is electronic. These allow us to communicate regularly and directly with our constituents long after the election is over. That is just good, plain, honest political representation.

My David Chiarelli TSU 3rd VP blogspot contains my teacher and union news and views as your elected representative. It focuses on our public issues, our public political figures, our unit procedures and our teaching profession. These are unfiltered. They come directly from me to you, as I see it, from my 3rd VP's point of view.

The postings aren't the official voice of the TSU executive or any other powers that be. I have never attempted to represent my blog as anything else but my news and views as your elected representative. Make no mistake, I have always clearly stated so even on the masthead of my blogspot.

You can read Highlights for the official TSU status quo position on union and teacher issues. Highlights has always done so through successive executives, including the two quite different ones I've sat on. I've written and appeared in Highlights for many years. Highlights serves its purpose, and can be very well intentioned and correct. I don't question that. Still, articles can be arbitrarily edited, deleted, or ranked in importance to  fit. Now with social media, there is an alternative medium to speak directly to you, the members who elected me. It is through my blogspot, David Chiarelli TSU 3rd Vp. This important freedom of speech issue will not be compromised.

My blogspot is not party-speak, rather it is direct speak, from me your TSU 3rd VP to you, the members who have voted me the privilege of representing you. It comes without all the old traditional filters and layers which can sometimes turn teacher union talk into some sort of stodgy if not Orwellian gobbledygook.

I entered TSU politics as an independent voice representing you. Let me reassert that in no uncertain terms. I am an elected independent member on your executive. I do not belong to any TSU party so to speak, nor am I here to represent any one particular interest or group. TSU is not a registered brand that any of us own, or can actually control, even if one wanted to. It doesn't really work that way in practice, try as you may. I don't. I represent our members as a fellow teacher. As an independent duly elected TSU 3rd VP I intend to be especially clear about that over the next year or two.

As always I will work with and support any other executive members whom share the common vision of making this unit work best to serve you. I oppose others when they don't act accordingly. Still, we don't live in a black and white world. There are many coloured hues. I'm not this team colour or that, except on an issue by issue basis, according to what I am here to do, which is to serve you.

I spell out my guiding principles in my election materials each year. Now I can even more specifically continue to do so here on my blog. We can discuss complex ideas and issues in a much more in depth way than has ever been possible before. And if you disagree, come next May you can vote me out.

Let me be quite frank. I can retire in two years. I don't want to rise further up the executive ladder. I like it here as 3rd VP. Come election time again next May I will decide whether it's worthwhile continuing my union work. My political decisions have never been tainted by my own personal ambitions on TSU executive. So far, I've been able to contribute quite effectively to see my vision of a better TSU being implemented with other like minded executive members. I continue to hold similar hopes for the year ahead. As long as that continues, I will consider running for office again.

If not, I won't run. It's as simple as that. I would equally quite enjoy just spending one final year in class with my students and colleagues at school minus the extra union duties. Then I could retire to pursue my other interests. If I could retire tomorrow and lived to be a hundred I swear I'd never be bored or at a loss for something to do.

Right now I have two passions; teaching plus working for, and serving you, on our teacher's union. Still, it would be great to enjoy more time with all the great colleagues I've met through TSU on a more personal level, rather than mostly just while attending to union matters. That happy alternative is possible if I decide not to run again too.

As your 3rd VP, I'm not off on office release time. I still enjoy teaching at it's most grassroots level with my autism class at James Cardinal McGuigan Catholic Secondary School. I can do that on or off executive. Despite being very, very busy most of the time wearing two hats, I'd like to remain on executive. I'm happy to teach and to serve you. But if I don't run or am defeated I can just as readily stay in school for one more final year. Either path is fine by me. I could even stay on a few more years if all goes well too!

So you see, the news and views on my blogspot are shared freely without an eye on whether I am re-elected or not. They are not just from a status quo perspective. I've been around too long for that. I will discuss our teacher and union issues in a challenging, perfectly straightforward, open and honest manner. And before I move on, I would like to share the important lessons I have learnt as your 3rd VP in hopes of helping you better understand what our union is really like and how it works. I plan to be positive and constructive but if need be I will not spare any punches.

Over the years I've accumulated quite a stack of personal archives, some of which would certainly make the eyeballs pop out of your head. Many of you all ready know about the "scab letters" I was sent. Would I post them? I don't think so. I'm never the first to start a fight, nor do I always react immediately, but then again I do know how to end one. This shouldn't be a forum for that. There are much more important matters to discuss. As a teacher I educate. Politically, I have been attacked and provoked many times, and discovered some pretty nasty truths. Politics can be a blood sport, and a fascinating one at that, despite what our better instincts as teachers might suggest. My blogspot will appeal first and foremost to those higher instincts. That is what I always seek to do first.

These then are my blogspot focus and goals.There are quite a few pertinent issues that arise from time to time which will need to be addressed. They can provide a case in point for a lot of what I might want to say. There are also a few large elephants in the TSU tent. These are huge issues, but it's like most everybody usually pretends they aren't there. These could include but are not limited too;

What rights and protections are available to you as a teacher from our provincial office, and your local unit? Realistically speaking, how far do they actually go? What are the limitations? What can you do?

Can we increase member involvement and more good, positive, pro-active and forward moving union executive renewal over the years ahead on our present course? If so how? If not, why not?

Can we actually provide teacher safety, safeguard teacher professionalism, and help set higher school standards with the tools we have as a union? Why or why not?

How can we protect our rights as teachers in the shifting political climate within our province especially during and after the fall election? Will Ontario become like a "Wisconsin North" with government attacks on our union, our profession, our students and our schools? Or are such claims just fear mongering? Either way, what do we do?

Are we experiencing the decline and fall of our publicly funded Ontario Catholic School system, on our watch as teachers? Why or why not? What can we do to as a Catholic teachers union to help make the situation better? In school? With the board? The church? In our government and public relations?

I hope you will continue to read and follow this blogspot. During the summer it will remain active but on reduced hours as I provide live blog reports from Mexico and Cuba. I'm going diving along the Mayan Riviera in Mexico. I will also work and teach at the Cuban schools in Santiago de Cuba.

In the fall I plan to provide ground coverage of the provincial election live from the campaign trail. Then there are the Blogspot Manifesto issues I've outlined above, and whatever else comes across my scanner here in cyber blog space. So please, do continue to drop in! I promise to be interesting, informative, and always first and foremost to serve you our members well!


David Chiarelli
TSU 3rd VP

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Just Supposin' -A Christmas Blogger's Tale!

Welcome dear readers! All of you! The teachers, the curious, those who just like the pictures, flash games, feeding Steve the Spider and so on!

At school and the union office papers pile up on my desk like the leaves in November. Reports. Marks. Reports. Reports. Marks. More reports.....A teacher knows the routine. We begin to huddle down for the long cold Canadian winter ahead. The trees will soon be barren, and the sun mostly hidden from the sky. Brrrrr. The crisp snow will be nice at first, then turn into dirty black ice as we slip and slide through the school year until Spring provides hope of brighter days ahead. Sob. Sigh. Alas! Summer where are you!?! I miss your sunny promises! Where are the birds chirping in the trees? The sandy beaches? The swaying palms? The Tropicola on the rocks with a twist of lime? Yes all this and more mon amis. All this and more. Gone.

So maybe it's time to light a few logs in the cyber-fireplace, and spin a few tales, to amuse, inform, mortify, or delight. We settle in for the long winter nights ahead. My mind drifts off to places improbable far, far away in space and time. Just supposin' type places. Like just suppose, and we are supposin' here, that there was a little Santa's village unionized shoppe, way way up near the north pole. "Ho ho ho?" you say? No! No! No! Most of our own union shops are usually pretty happy places, as you probably gathered from my last post. But here lots of the lil' elves are beginning to tremble in fear that this might indeed become.......yes! THE YEAR THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS!!! .

"Huh?" you say, "How could that be!??" Well you see this Christmas way off in never never land even Santa was getting worried! Now Santa, as we all know, is usually a pretty jolly old soul. He loves his pipe, his bowl and his fiddlers three. Everybody loves Santa. Me too, when I'm not feeling grumpy. He's usually just a very likable and affable fellow. Somehow though, things had changed since last year. The Grinch suddenly arrived to everyones surprise at this far out Santa Claus Village. Yes, it was the Grinch! A real bonafide Grinch! He'd seemingly learnt his lesson now, and was one of the good guys, you see.

The Grinch had promised the elves that he knew how to make Santa Claus village the best little union shop in the whole wide world! The elves held an election. Guess what? The Grinch won by a vote! Now some say it was too smugged with soot to really tell but these things happen up north sometimes what with all the burning yuletide logs and what not. Who can really say? And so the Grinch arrived to live and work with all the happy elves, preparing for Christmas day.

"Move over! Move over!", the Grinch growled as he stretched out and began to make himself feel at home! Now nobody ever gets too grumpy in Santa's village. Maybe Davey the elf when he was feeling fit to be tied, which wasn't wasn't too often but often enough these days. Still the Grinch was a pretty big union man as he was oft heard to say, so all the other nice little elves just kept moving over and over again until finally, yes, somehow there was nowhere else to accommodate the Grinch except right in Santa's palace.

Contrary to popular opinion, Santa actually has an executive suite. Pretty nice digs but nothing fancy. There was Claus, Mrs. Claus, and an elf or two or six. Turns out that five was just enough votes for the Grinch to get them all to play his games late into the autumn night. Games, games and more games. It was enough that the elves had to make games in the workshop every day, but now there were even more when they came home, mostly the Grinchy kind. The games were agreed upon by secret ballots, rather than having elves just say out loud what they wanted to do. The Grinch assured everybody this was more democratic. He'd smile a lot, a big dumb grin after an non-alcoholic eggnog or two or three at the Santa's village watering hole. It was odd but for awhile the Grinch seemed appeased, and everyone sighed with relief. All was well again. Or was it?

Before you could say "Trick or treat" October was over. Everyone was very busy now getting ready for the big day. Still, Santa was feeling antsy. Things had somehow changed in Santa Claus Village. All day at the workshop the Grinch went on and on about how he just wanted to improve the way things worked. He had all sorts of ideas that he'd whisper into Santa's ear and those of anybody who'd listen. He  knew what to do, if only everybody would just listen to him!

One typically busy day, Santa looked about the workshop for the Grinch. "He must be a very busy man", he thought, "for me to have to do all this work on top of my own just to keep up with him. He never seems to get tired like I do. Oh boy! The phones aren't getting answered, let alone the Christmas letters from the little children, and the orders for more and more toys just kept piling up on my desk!"

Santa managed a small smile. He watched the little elves. They'd had been happily saving up their union wages to buy these newfangled IPhone, IPads, cellphones, netbooks, laptops and home computers. Kool? Perhaps but Santa also was beginning to worry a bit. What if these darn computer wifi social media thingamabobs were burning away their brain cells, right up and out into cyberspace, hither and fro? Sometimes it seemed everything was changing so quickly nowadays that Santa didn't quite know what to think about all these new fangled gadgets anymore. Twitter. Twitter. Text. Blog. Text. Tweet. On an on it went, all day and all night, here, there and everywhere. Social media this, and social media that, on and on and on.....

"Blog. Blog. Blog." went Davey the elf, who was usually quite a nice boy, except when he was grumpy and fit to be tied. Lately he'd been getting sent to the corner quite a bit. "Blog. Blog Blog." 

Santa couldn't stand it anymore! "Enough!", he cried as he slammed down his fist.

The Grinch quickly stuck his his head out his otherwise closed office door. "Psssst! Santa!"

"Yes Mr. Grinch?", said Santa.

The Grinch frowned out of concern for Santa who seemed rather perplexed. "What are they all talking about? That's what I'd like to know! When we talk around here it should be private. The other elves up in the palace think so too. If anything is to be said it should be from you big guy. We  must speak with one voice!Now what with all these new gizmos....who knows how in blazes to control it anymore?"

"Well, Mr. Grinch, a lot of info is public information. And even the greatest minds in the world don't quite know what they can do, if anything, about the elves social media thing. It's just not something anyone could simply Christmas paper over anymore!"

"Don't you have something? Is there nothing you can do to stop this now?, the Grinch hissed. " Quite frankly, I am feeling harassed," he tapped his foot, "If the elves are concerned about something they can talk about it amongst themselves nowadays! Why they can even share village information with each other!! So what if it is of common interest and concern? They are not hearing it just from us. What is a Grinch to do anymore, let alone", he snorted, "Santa Claus and the other elves up in the executive suite!"

"Well", said Santa, "I do have this generic confidentiality agreement form. It would need to be applied to all these new social media things, and then there's the freedom of speech issue and...and..and...but..........oh I don't know what to do!"

Santa and the Grinch sat down at the table to rest. They gazed absently at the elves. "Who knows what they are doing with all those cellphones and things?", Santa wondered. 

Yes. The Grinch felt the momentum for change seemed to be building. He could feel it in the air as they gazed over the terms of the paper in Santa's hand. Information on an as needed basis only? Appropriate approved access only? No otherwise divulging any records, reports, list and notes except in the performance of assigned work?

"Maybe I can tweak it a bit and everybody will be asked to sign it", Santa said in a tired almost managerial voice drained of it's usual union charm and rigor.

"Yes! Yes!" laughed the Grinch, "Get the secretary to change it now and have everybody sign it right away."

"And if they won't?" wondered Santa out loud.

"We need discipline", the Grinch jeered, slamming his fist on the table "Surely we all agree. If anybody won't sign it they can be immediately kicked off of any elf committees they belong to. We could  shut down this darn social media thing right now", he mused, staring over at Davey, who sat in the corner fit to be tied and blogging.

"But....but...but? Where's our secretary?" said Santa."I can't get this done by myself right now. Woe is me. Maybe you can give me until Christmas? Nobody else has even seen the approved motion from our private meetings at the executive suite yet. We could still hand our form out to the elves at Christmas and tell them they must sign it then or else! "Santa paused for a moment in dismay, "Even still, what if any of the elves at my place won't sign it either"

"They must! They must!" cried the Grinch, leaning over Santa and breathing down his neck.

"What if........"

"It does not matter. Hurry!" the Grinch sneered, the eggnog heavy on his breath. "Get writing it now!"

"Blog. Blog. Blog," went Davey.....

"Ring! Ring! Ring!" went the office telephone....

"Fa la la la la la-la-la-la-la,", sang all the unknowing elves toiling away merrily in the shoppe.....

What next?!?! Santa's Big Christmas Surprise?

Coming soon but not too soon to an elve's workshop near you....?

Or maybe this blogspot if it's still around....?

Please stay tuned!!!

Yeats: "A bang not a whimper?"

Monday 7 November 2011

Why Do We Need A Teacher Union?

Why is OECTA TSU important to you as a teacher? We belong to a union. In Ontario the public school teacher affiliates all have unions [OECTA, OSSTF, ETFO, AEFO etc]. The union is first and foremost responsible for collective bargaining. That of course involves negotiating your salary and working conditions.

It's sometimes difficult for teachers to think of ourselves as unionists because we are not labourers or trades people. We consider ourselves to be professionals. We belong to and have a majority vote on a professional governing body that licenses our teaching certificates, the OCT: Ontario College of Teachers. Doctors, lawyers and other professionals have these licencing organizations too.

Teachers know we need to have a good pedagogy to teach effectively. Not everyone can teach. Just because somebody is an expert on this or that doesn't mean they can effectively share and pass on their information in a meaningful way to others. Therefore on the professional level OECTA, your union, is also involved in professional development in the form of seminars, online courses and additional qualification courses. Our government relations department has had a very good consulting arrangement with the Ontario Ministry Of Education, under the current Liberal government for the past eight years. The Ministry consults with OECTA extensively and value our input because of our members expertise in education.  We have often asserted ourselves as professionals, especially since the attack on public education during the Harris years in the 1990's.

Politically speaking OECTA is also a  provincial education lobby group. Our agenda is to protect and forward the cause of our profession, our students and our schools. We also advocate important social justice and labour issues that effect the families of the children we teach. We know that students suffering from poverty, abuse and so on, don't learn well in school. Add to that our professional pedagogical expertise in education and you get our 2011 provincial election campaign, where as teachers we ask the public to vote for an education friendly party candidates "Who Speaks for Children".

You probably saw and heard our OECTA ads on billboards and radio. That's really another topic I've all ready dealt with in my fall provincial election blogs. Check my September and October Archives below this main column. Suffice to say that because you have a teacher labour union to negotiate your salary and working conditions as public service professionals you have gained a lot better work conditions and benefits commensurate to your position than would otherwise be the case. It is highly unlikely that without our unions the powers that be would've given us these strictly out of the goodness of their heart. Our hard fought union gains include but are not limited to;

-Pro Rated salaries or paid summer vacations. Until the 1970's teachers were usually laid off for the summer and often had to find other summer work, perhaps flipping burgers or serving beer. Our salaries were also  considerably less throughout the school year year than they are now, even discounting inflation. Our teacher unions fought for higher wages, spread across the year at an even rate as a part of our salary terms, to reflect the seasonal holidays and highly educated standards we are required to meet as teachers. Before the 1970's the janitor often earned more than you because they apparently did more hard work while all we did was talk, sit or work at a desk, according to the powers that be. We appreciate the hard often unrecognized work they do at school too. Still we now enjoy good pay, benefits, and working conditions for the important professional services we provide thanks to our teachers union.

-Maternal and paternal leave: Women Catholic teachers who got married automatically received pink dismissal slips even into the 1970's because it was assumed they would stay home from now on to have as many babies as possible. Maternity, let alone paternity leaves, where the father can stay home with the children instead, were another hard fought union gain!

-Just Cause Dismissals: The school board had the managerial right to dismiss you without first providing just cause. They did not have to provide a proper warning or a chance to remedy the situation first, if they wanted to fire you. This was an especially hard fought battle for our Toronto Secondary Unit during the 1990's!

-Legal Representation: OECTA retains a legal department to represent teachers who are treated unfairly or accused of breaking the law in carrying out their duties. They also can help us to grieve situations where administration or the school board makes arbitrary decisions that violate our contract. Contract violations still happen, as we all know, but perhaps less well known is that OECTA quite often wins these cases if they go to arbitration! Important new precedents are being set to help all of us avoid encountering these same problems time and again. If it weren't for our unions few of us could afford to challenge contract violations, nor would we have even have a negotiated contract to start with.

-Self Directed PD Days: OECTA TSU just negotiated these for you. You can now access the Professional Development money, in the form of release days, that was provided by the Ministry of Education. It was supposed to be spent on teacher PD, not just inservices on Ministry and school board initiatives. If this is not used up in the short time remaining this school year, the left over funds will have to be rolled over to your union for your own PD use as you see fit!

Currently a small fortune remains in the fund. Each of our teachers are entitled to two release days this school year to organize or attend PD activities on your own. Some teachers set up their own conferences and seminars. Others use them to visit different schools to learn first hand how their program has been implemented elsewhere. Teacher's know best what our own professional needs are and have now been provided, with the help of your union, the paid release time to pursue PD activities decided upon by you, not just the school board, or the Ministry of Education.

-Health and Safety: OECTA successfully lobbied the Liberal government to put teacher safety in our schools under the MOL Ministry of Labour just like any other worker, for protection from assaults, harassment and other workplace hazards. The Safe Schools Act set the practices and standards for student safety. Most of  us don't realize that the new Health and Safety Act has done the same for teachers at school. Hopefully most of us don't work in unsafe or unhealthy environments, but if you are assaulted, harassed or suffer any type of workplace injury know this: The MOL can investigate and take action to guarantee your workplace safety. This has all ready begun to happen in some of our more challenging inner city schools here in Toronto. Look for some precedent setting settlements in the days ahead.

Health care: We only have a national public health care system in Canada because the unions pushed for it. As a TCDSB teacher you have an excellent package of health benefits, which were further topped off just last spring. We also know none of our students can be turned down or have their parents pay bankrupting medical and hospital fees when sickness or injury happens. Everyone is entitled to schooling in Canada regardless of whether they have a physical or mental handicap or not. This has been another example of the big way our unions have helped advocate for a social net to provide for everyone, not just the wealthy. In  many other well developed countries this is not the case!

So the next time you hear somebody lamenting "big bad fat cat unions" in conversation or in the media please know that it is business and administration that stands to benefit most from that mindset, not you, as a teacher professional, or other workers who like us belong to a union. Most of your officers, chairs and committees members, like myself, work strictly on a volunteer basis to serve you on the union. Such claims are even quite insidious when you consider all the important gains our unions have made to protect the dignity of labour, our profession and the working families in Canada. As a member you have a vote, on everything from electing your executive to debating our important issues at our Unit and Provincial AGM's [Annual General Meetings], to approving your contract. One could even argue that in regards to direct member involvement we are more democratic than most groups, including the political parties who often criticize us the most. Unfortunately a lot of us don't exercise our vote. Next time you hear about a OECTA TSU meeting, activity, seminar or event, please come to participate. You will be pleasantly surprised how much your union reflects your interests as a professional and a union member, if you will only stand up, speak out and have your say.

Communist Girls ARE More Fun!

Communist Girls ARE More Fun!
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Communist Girls Are More Fun #1

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Communist Girls Are More Fun #4

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A careful analytical study!

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Help! I Have No Arms!
Please scratch my back.

I can't find my underwear!.

I can't find my underwear!.
Have you seen them!

Weee! I can fly!

Weee! I can fly!
Look! I can crawl thru walls!

I have a headache!

I have a headache!
And a broken nose.

I have a square hole in my bum!

I have a square hole in my bum!

Here try this, it's very good!

Here try this, it's very good!
No. You have a bird face.

I have an ugly baby!

I have an ugly baby!
No I'm not!

Let's save all our money + buy pants!

Let's save all our money + buy pants!
OK but I need a new hand too!

Oh no! I got something in my eye!

Oh no! I got something in my eye!

You don't look well.

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No. My head hurts +I have a sore chest.

Would you like a bun?

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Chichen-Itza: Lost Maya City of Ruins!
The Temple of Kukulkan!

Gotta love it!

Gotta love it!
Truly amazing!

Under Reconstruction!

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Temples + Snakes!

Temples + Snakes!

The Snake!

The Snake!
It runs the length of the ball field!