Objects in the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

As the holiday season has passed and the start of a new calendar year has just occurred, it is commonplace for people to reflect upon the achievements of the past year as they prepare to embark upon the challenges of new one. This is a very important practice for teachers. Given the nature of the invaluable work teachers do, I believe that, upon reflection of the closing year, all members are amazed by the vast number of successes they achieved, the volume of events and activities they were connected to and the incalculable number of occasions where they have positively influenced the lives of young people. On a larger scale, this reflective practice is very important for your Society and the SRTA as well.

For the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, the year 2016 witnessed achievements by the Society that reverberated both provincially and for individual members.

In January, 2016, the Manitoba government announced a change that now permits members to get full credit for seniority and salary when they take maternity and parental leaves. The closing of the “Mommy Gap” was the result of strong advocacy by your Society for the last number of years. By closing the “Mommy Gap”, the Society has ensured that teachers will no longer be penalized in pay and pension benefits to have children.

In April, 2016, the Manitoba Teachers’ Society ensured that the concerns of teachers were front and centre in the provincial election campaign. “Teachers know our kids need more support” was a refrain that was shared with the public and with political parties through advertisements from the Society and local associations. A virtual town-hall for members was hosted by MTS prior to the election and proved to be informative and enlightening for teachers. More importantly, however, the actions of the Society, local associations and individual teachers during the campaign cemented the position of the Society as being the vanguard of public education in Manitoba with the electorate.

The 97th MTS Annual General Meeting witnessed resolutions being brought forward to guide the Society in future endeavours. Of particular note was a resolution that would discourage MTS members from travelling to Mississippi or North Carolina for PD opportunities because those states have legislation that legalize discrimination. This resolution was carried unanimously by the delegates at the MTS AGM. Further to this action for equality, was the participation of hundreds of teachers in Pride Parades and other activities throughout the province over the summer. These examples underscore the belief of teachers that members embrace differences and that all people have the right to the same protections, liberties and rights.

In the autumn, MTS and individual teachers provided visible and vocal support to our educational colleagues at the University of Manitoba. The UMFA strike was the culmination of a breakdown in negotiations with the university’s administration. As UMFA members took to the picket lines, MTS members walked with them. As MTS is the vanguard of public education in Manitoba, supporting UMFA members in their struggle was both natural, necessary, and hopefully, helped UMFA in reaching a deal.

More recently MTS was active in interpreting and contextualizing the PISA results from Paris based OECD. By interpreting the results, both the Minister of Education and the President of the Society were able to accurately focus the results as a reflection of the level of poverty in our province. In addition, both the Minister, Ian Wishart, and President, Norm Gould, agree that poverty must be addressed to improve outcomes in Manitoba schools. For MTS members who work in environments impacted by poverty every day, the connection between poverty and educational success cannot be overstated.

For the Seine River Teachers’ Association, 2016 was a very busy year that posed many challenges but was marked by our collective resiliency and ability to support one another.

In May, Sandy Turcotte became the second SRTA member to successfully run for a position on the MTS Provincial Executive, joining Jonathan Waite as a Member-at-Large. Both Jonathan and Sandy have been hard at work in their positions, not just for SRTA members, but for all of those who are part of MTS.

As September saw the start of another school year, the SRTA Council and Executive was full of members representing and working on behalf of colleagues in all worksites. Twelve of thirteen chairperson positions were filled by individual members for 2016-2017, with one Executive member serving double duty. As well, a new position was created, first as a liaison and then as an Ad hoc chair, dedicated to issues related to Indigenous Education. And to top it off, SRTA members have volunteered their time to serve on our many committees. The strength of the SRTA has always been the active involvement of these types of members.

The SRTA was also pleased last year to continue its collaborative work with the Division in relation to a variety of issues and concerns. The Division extended an opportunity to the SRTA to take part in the Lyn Sharratt professional development session with school teams, and two spots at the upcoming Our Human Rights Journey workshop were given to SRTA Executive members. SRTA members should value the fact that the lines of communication with the Division are always open, and the SRTA appreciates the opportunity to exchange ideas, information and to advocate on behalf of members.

2016 was a very busy year marked with many challenges, achievements and successes. Looking to the future, 2017 will bring a new share of challenges; some expected and others not. As the New Year dawns, members need not make a resolution but rather, a commitment. Become more active in the SRTA and your provincial Society. Ensure that you are informed of issues that may impact your teaching, your class or your health. Your Society and Association need you to be participant and a supporter. No longer can Society/Association business be left to others to deal with. Every member has a responsibility to be actively engaged in your Society’s/Association’s business.

How can you become actively engaged in this important work? Your level of engagement will vary dependent upon circumstances. However, all members can be engaged by simply bookmarking the MTS and SRTA websites and visiting them frequently. All members should read the SRTA newsletters and the Manitoba Teacher. All members should be followers on twitter/Facebook of MTS and SRTA. All members must be registered with MTS on “My Profile”. All members must complete the MTS Workload Survey next month. In addition, where applicable, all members must attend the general meeting of your association. Spread out over the year, these actions would amount to a few minutes per week per member. However, these few minutes per member would provide the collective with a well informed and well connected membership. The whole would indeed be “greater than the sum of its parts”.

The power of collective action brings about positive change and the 15 000 members need to be involved in order that our voice is strong, that our voice resonates and that our voice is heard. We have a great responsibility as the vanguard of public education and each of us must fulfill that responsibility.

You have read just a bit of what your Society/Association has done for you last year. For 2017, what are you going to do for your Society and Association?

Take care of yourself and take care of each other.