Opening Statement

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.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

My Budget Notes

TSU Budget Meeting: It was exciting how many different members showed up to ask questions about and debate our financials for this upcoming year and last. Unfortunately there wasn't a full fiscal account of our PAC provincial election spending available, so that we could examine it in detail. We were told this would be provided later on, by the executive liaison. Proposed cuts to our Religious Affairs Committee were reversed in part on budget night, with the addition of an extra thousand dollars, to bring it up to $7000. Member TM enquired why a Catholic group such as ourselves would spend so little of our total budget on religious issues. She certainly seemed to express the heartfelt sentiments of many others who showed up with the same concerns. It was also confirmed that the June "educational aid" donation to Right To Life was withheld in September, and the budget actuals for TSU Solidarity funding were adjusted accordingly. Clarification was sought to the affirmative on whether a new executive can reverse the decisions of a previous executive in the matter of withholding a previously approved but late cheque like this. Attempts to publicly clarify for the membership the who, why's and wherefores of the following statement in our TSU Executive Minutes from September 13th were ruled out of order in that they were not germane to the purpose of this general meeting, only accountability for the monies from the cancelled donation were. The minutes stated:

Solidarity Requests -Follow-up on the request to hold the cheque for Right for Life. The request was made after disparaging remarks about OECTA were seen on the Right for Life website. There will be a follow-up on this inquiry.
After all was said and done a balanced budget was approved for our TSU fiscal year without a whole lot of changes. Accolades must go to our new Treasurer, Rosemary Lavery, for the calm, steady and efficient manner in which she presented and answered our members questions about her first budget. Bravo Rosemary!  Also to our the chair Maureen Riggin for keeping the ball rolling with her admirable knowledge of Robert's Rules of Order.

Right To Life: Last spring, Right To Life Director Paul Klotz enthusiastically thanked TSU for our active participation in promoting and boosting the number of students at the Leadership Conference down at St. Mikes. I'm not sure exactly what was supposedly said on his website since then that was critical of us. As a Catholic community we often deal with some very challenging issues . They can prove difficult  to resolve without a lot of information and debate, but as our Religious Affairs Chair MS writes;

Folks should be asked if they support the pro-life clause, and if so, then work for it. Cooperating with other stakeholders in the Catholic community, even those who have been critical of us, can only be for the good.
This year's Religious Affairs Committee has made promoting Respect for Life Week and the Ottawa March a top priority with both our board and union. Many of our TSU members from the Respect For Life Committee, and other pro-life groups such as Right to Life, and Campaign Life were in attendance Thursday night to support RAC funding. It is of course their privilege as our members. It is an honour to act as executive liaison to help facilitate all our members' RAC activities. With everyone's help we have restored funding closer to the old levels for the committee's ambitious agenda this year. For more info on my Right for Life Spring TSU Election Campaign Platform, please see the blog in the April Archives, located below the main column on this site.

Paid Release Time Help: President Rene Jansen and 1st VP Gerard Ardanaz spoke passionately about the need  for more release time help in the main office with our unit's growing number of service initiatives. Having worked with them both for the past two terms I can tell you, they really are doing more work than anyone practically can to carry the load and help implement the many new and exciting initiatives our executive has approved over the past four years. There are the flurry of often precedent setting grievances, the joint TSU-TCDSB committee work. The list goes on and on. Both Rene and Gerard post an office schedule of where they are on a daily basis. It's always quite full of work, as are their evenings, weekends and even holidays. There's a budget line for an executive office secretary, but the tasks they need more help with are quite separate and apart from that. Members on budget night expressed their concern over phones being unanswered, calls not promptly returned, and in wanting to know what their release officers do everyday. Unfortunately it seems the workload solution must stay the same. TSU will continue to provide other executive officers and knowledgeable members with class time release as needed to assist with the tasks. This has been a quite controversial situation that I know President Jansen is keen to fix for our members in a more cost effective and efficient way. I'd bet the TSU 3rd VP position will be fulltime release someday, though probably not on my tenure. It would be quite fitting for an organization of our size and scope. At any rate a budget line for another release position, even a part time one was not approved on budget night. It remains allusive and the exact job description open to endless debate. I would think the matter needs to be taken to TSU UAGM, our Annual General Meeting for another attempt at resolving it next spring. TSU will need to continue to rely more and more on Rene and Gerard with few members perhaps realizing what is really going on beyond the obvious political wrangling. The $8000 required for the position was moved over to the PD line, which stands to gain up to $800,000 in leftover self directed PD funding next year anyway. Pity.

Upstairs Conference Room: Unless you are sitting at the main conference room table, the acoustics in the large upstairs room often make it very difficult for the many members sitting in the other chairs to hear and understand what's going on. The overhead projector could help make it easier to know the exact wording and terms of the motion being voted upon. Confusion reigned supreme in the back as members voted on an amended bill few could actually hear let alone understand. It ended up settling the RAF funding, and release time funding issues I 've described but not in the way many of us thought. Pity. I was in the back and let me tell you, it was near impossible to tell what was going on by the time the vote was called

Beer in the Fridge: What next? A wine bottle on somebodies desk? I should think not. As a union hall TSU has traditionally kept some beer in the upstairs fridge. It's no secret. Few members have ever abused this privilege. Maybe they enjoy a cool one after a long hard night of debate or to celebrate a special unit occasion, but of course from time to time problems do occur. Nobody would want to see anybody drunk in the office, and surely booze on one's breath is unbecoming, with so much important, serious work and meetings going on in the office. It wouldn't be in our members best interests, that's for sure. I was happy to point out on budget night that of course soft drinks, juice and the like in the fridge are a welcome reminder of this and a pleasant supplement to our trusty old water cooler.

Robert's Rules of Order: Many of our new attendees expressed interest in how these are used to run  important meetings at TSU, including the committees and general membership meetings such as budget night. Others probably just wondered "What the heck is going on?" OECTA Provincial Training Workshops are offered on a pretty frequent basis. You might want to go so you can understand and use the procedures better. Provincial has suggested that we might even want to form our own speakers bureau. It would consist of well trained members who would be available to expertly chair our various meetings. Robert's also has many practical applications at school, in class, and in your other group activities. I'll notify you know here when the next one becomes available. Please apply if you are interested!

Next General Meeting? Resolutions to the 2112 OECTA Provincial Annual General Meeting will be debated and voted upon at TSU on Thursday Nov 24 at 4:30 pm. Resolutions will be due Friday Nov. 10th by 5pm for consideration. These resolutions deal with amendments to the provincial handbook. The Legislation Committee will then review your submissions, and we will meet to vote on which ones to adopt, and forward to OECTA Provincial on the 24th. "E" version and hard copy resolution forms are available from your staff rep. The OECA Provincial Handbook should be available at your school, or check

Many thanks to everyone who came out to this year's TSU Budget Night.

Last spring, TSU helped promote the RFL + RTL Leadership Conference and paid for the student's lunch. TSU members and conference organizers are pictured above at the TSU lunch. It seems this year everybody isn't on the same page. RTL + RAC funding was cut. Please contact me personally for more information.

Communist Girls ARE More Fun!

Communist Girls ARE More Fun!
See below ...

Communist Girls Are More Fun #1

Communist Girls Are More Fun #1

Communist Grrrls are More Fun #2

Communist Grrrls are More Fun #2

Communist Grrrls Are More Fun #3

Communist Grrrls Are More Fun #3

Communist Girls Are More Fun #4

Communist Girls Are More Fun #4

Art at the Paris Louvre: What does it mean?!?

Art at the Paris Louvre: What does it mean?!?
A careful analytical study!

Help! I Have No Arms!

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.

You don't look well.
No. My head hurts +I have a sore chest.

Would you like a bun?

Would you like a bun?

Chichen-Itza: Lost Maya City of Ruins!

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

Gotta love it!

Gotta love it!
Truly amazing!

Under Reconstruction!

Under Reconstruction!

Temples + Snakes!

Temples + Snakes!

The Snake!

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