As the college strike enters its twelfth day with no talks scheduled, I continue to defend the teachers’ position and hope for a fair resolution.
The College Council (responsible for running Ontario’s community college system) claims thousands contract jobs will be lost if more full-time teachers are hired. I respond: What happened to the thousands of full-time college teaching jobs that have disappeared over the past 15 years? These full-time jobs have been converted into precarious part-time jobs with no security, no sustained benefits, and unfair pay. The number of college managers increased 77% between 2002 and 2015. How often do these managers deal directly with students on a deep level?
I will give you an example…
Over my fifteen year teaching career, I have experienced four student suicides. Two of these students were my current students.
I was working late one Friday night, and I heard a knock at the door. It was one of my top students, “Sam” looking to see his exam after April finals. My office is located near a bathroom, so students often stop in to say a quick “hello” before using the facilities. Very few students come to pick up their final exams. Sam knocked on the open door, and I spun around from my computer. I gave Sam his final exam paper, but he didn’t seem to want to leave. He started a conversation by praising me for my academic accomplishments, and then softly he asked me if my parents were proud of me. I told him they were, but I wished my mom would remove a DREADFUL 11 x 17″ grade 8 graduation photo of me from their living room. Sam told me he thought his parents were disappointed in him for leaving a university engineering program to come to college to study accounting; they thought he was capable of “more”.
Sam asked me if my parents were ever disappointed in me for giving up on something. I wasn’t quite sure what to say, but I told him that BOTH my parents “dropped out” of university before finding their niche at college. My mom left teacher’s college in Peterborough twice because she missed her family. My father left Mount Allison University because he was home sick and didn’t know what to do with his life. My dad flip-flopped from military training, to an undergrad in History, and to pre-med for dentistry school, before he settled into a 3-year Marketing Diploma with a minor in accounting at an Ontario community college. My mom went on to do Office Administration Bookkeeping. I also told Sam I dropped out of History at Queen’s to take Computer Science.
Sam listened to me intently and smiled. He seemed happy. He had finished his final April exams, and he wanted to know about possible degree options after college. We chatted for a while. I turned to go back to writing a test on the computer, but Sam was still standing there. He told me I was a wonderful teacher and person, and he told me not to give up until I obtained my PHd. He said he knew I was capable of going as far as I wanted to. He left with a happy wave, and he was gone. Then, he popped his head back in and told me that I was the ONLY teacher he could find in the hallway. I told him that many teachers are part-time and don’t have an office. The only way to get a look at his exam paper was to possibly reach them by email. He agreed he might try.
A day later, Sam shot himself at home at his parents’ house in the country. He died instantely. I realized afterwards that he came to say goodbye to me (and his other teachers). I was the only teacher he could find that night. Part-time teachers are not paid to prep and often work multiple jobs; so many are not available to meet with students outside of class. He couldn’t find any of them. I don’t expect them to be there if they’re working two or three jobs, but there’s needs to be more full-time teachers, counsellors, and librarians. Fewer than 1 in 5 teachers being full-time is too few.
People often say to me, “What do you do outside of the 15 to 18 hours you teach each week?” Usually I don’t have the energy to respond, but when I do, I tell them I am tutoring, preparing lessons, marking tests, arranging guest speakers and supplies, and meeting with students. What I really want to say … is that I am waiting to try and help students like Sam. I had no idea Sam would take his own life less than 24 hours after he visited me, but I am thankful he found me that night. A couple days later, Sam’s college girlfriend came and found me at school, and asked me if I would be at Sam’s funeral. We attended together. I am glad she found me in my office.
There needs to be more full-time teachers and counsellors to meet and help students like Sam. When students home lives are rough, teachers might be their only positive lifeline. I have walked students in crisis to our counselling department – I am thankful everyday I have a full-time teaching position that allows me to the time to get to know my students and connect them with the help and resources they need. I don’t speak much about Sam, but I have said, I am glad I had a desk at the college and I am glad I didn’t rush him away to get to another job. Sam didn’t come to say goodbye to a manager. He came to say goodbye to his teachers.