My name is Melanie, and I am a full-time professor at a small college in Southeastern Ontario. This is my fifteen year teaching. I am starting this blog to show support for the Ontario College Strike and to shed light on college teaching and the issues we currently face. This is my first blog post – EVER. I thought I would give you a little bit of background about myself and then share some of my feelings about the strike. I usually teach math and am shy, so here goes.
Fifteen years ago, I graduated teacher’s college with high school math and computer science teaching credentials. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. My grandmother gave me a small chalkboard at the age of 3, and I used it to teach my dolls. I even gave them hand-written report cards (which were sometimes not very flattering) and made each of them desks out of cardboard boxes. When I got older and went to school, I used to pick discarded textbooks out of recycling bins to take home for my “school”. I learned from these textbooks and used them to tutor neighbourhood friends.
When I graduated university in the early 2000’s, the education climate was different from today. The local school board was “pool hiring” teachers; they hired over 100 new elementary teachers the year before I graduated. The year after they hired 80, and the year after that 40. There is no pool hiring anymore. Bill 274 has made it nearly impossible for new elementary and secondary teachers to be hired without first being on supply teacher lists.
I didn’t make the cut for a full-time elementary teaching job because I was only qualified at the time to teach grade 7/8 and high school. My dad spotted a college hiring advertisement in our local newspaper for math and computer teachers. The ad asked for PHd candidates to apply. I told my father that I hadn’t even started a Master’s degree yet. He told me to apply anyway.
To my complete surprise, I landed two interviews at the local community college. I prepared my teaching portfolio and headed to the interviews. They went well. To my astonishment, I was offered four courses – two sections of business math, one section of statistics, and one section of an operating systems course. I was thrilled and went home to tell my dad that I’d been hired for a full-time load!
After looking over the paperwork, my dad broke the bad news to me. The job offered was “sessional” at the college. The lab component of one course pushed the number of student contact hours over 12. Sessional professors are those that teach over 12 hours, but they have no benefits, no pension, no union protections on workloads, and a very low rate of pay. Part-time, partial load, and sessional teachers are only paid for the hours they spend in front of the class. They are not paid to prep, mark, or meet with students outside of class. The sessional rate of pay is actually worse than the part-time and partial-load rate. And to make matters worse – I couldn’t stay as sessional for longer than 1 year or the college would be forced to either let me go (more likely) or hire me permanently full-time. I would also have to re-compete for my temporary contract again in 15 weeks – with no guarantee I’d ever teach these courses again after putting in so many unpaid “prep” hours. The courses came with no “pre-prepared” resources, just a bare bones list of topics to cover in a non-standardized syllabus.
I was gutted and my father advised me not to take the full load offered. So I set out to supply teach during the day in the elementary/high school panel and teach two of the college courses at night. I also started a Master’s degree and took three additional qualification courses to broaden my teaching credentials. Life as a part-time college teacher not easy. I had to turn down long-term occasional contracts with the school board because of my college teaching commitments. It was hard to balance schedules for two jobs and extra qualification courses.
When I first started teaching, there were maybe 4 or 5 part-time and partial load instructors in my department. Now, most of the department is part-time or partial load. New programs are created and full-time teachers retire, but they are not replaced with full-time teaching staff. Approximately 20 non-full-time teaching staff share the part-time office in our department. There are only two desks in this office and only two desktop computers. Students hired to assist our department also use this office. There is nowhere for part-time and partial-load teachers to talk with privately with students about grades or personal issues; some are forced to meet with the students in the hall and stairwells. This isn’t right.
In the fifteen years I’ve been here, I’ve seen part-time offices replaced with manager’s offices over and over again. This strike is not about wages. It is about hiring more full-time teachers. In my next post, I will talk about why having more full-time college teachers is important.