A MACLEAN'S NATIONAL REPORT The Crisis in EDUCATION
With shortages of teachers, schools and money the Canadian educational system is creaking toward chaos. But perhaps the biggest problem of all is deciding what kind of education our children need
ATORONTO newspaper recently observed that, in the days that lie immediately ahead, Canadians will be concerned not with the three Rs of education but with the three Cs— Crisis, Controversy and Confusion. This is no overstatement. I have just completed a four-month study which brought me in contact with teachers, taxpayers and school officials all across Canada. I can report, to use the words of one teacher, that “we are resting in the momentary calm at the heart of an educational hurricane.”
About two and a half million children now attend Canadian elementary and secondary schools. Each year we are spending five hundred million dollars on education; we have another five hundred millions invested in school land, buildings and furnishings. All of us are directly concerned as taxpayers, present and future, most of us also as parents.
Here are the storm signals of the impending hurricane:
We need urgently another ten thousand teachers. By 1955 the shortage may reach twenty-five thousand. Even these grim figures don’t tell the whole story. Of our ninety thousand teachers, there are fifty thousand whose education has not gone beyond grade eleven.
Low salaries are aggravating the teacher shortage. The average male Ottawa public-school teacher earned $3,647 during 1951; the Toronto highschool principal and teacher averaged almost $4,900. But in 1952 seventytwo percent of Prince Edward Island’s teachers were getting under $1,500.
^ We’re desperately short of classrooms—this despite an unprecedented $141-million school-building program during 1951. The use of double, triple and even quadruple shifts, forty-pupil classrooms, basements and church halls, is not uncommon today.
The schools are sorely plagued by financial worries. In Toronto the cost of educating a grade-one pupil has jumped from $101 to $226 in the past ten years; in Edmonton the per-pupil cost has risen from $92.30 to $194.01. Communities like Saskatoon are now spending sixty-one percent of their local revenue for education.
Most teachers and trustees favor federal aid as a solution to the schools’ financial dilemma. In 1951 Alberta spent thirty-two dollars per capita on education and British Columbia spent thirty dollars; Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island spent only fourteen dollars each. “Why should children be penalized for being born in a poor province?” they ask.
^ The problem of the separate schools still awaits settlement in various parts of Canada. In Ontario the Roman Catholics believe there is an unfair division of the education dollar. In British Columbia, all public funds have been withheld from Catholic schools, but in Newfoundland education is still along strictly denominational lines.
How good a job are our schools doing? Opponents of present trends have been rather loosely dubbed “traditionalists,” while their opposite numbers are tagged as “progressives.” Typical of the more choleric traditionalists is a Manitoba university professor who says “Modern pupils cannot read an article and understand it, cannot express ideas in written form, cannot spell, are lazy, discourteous, lacking in knowledge of everyday events.” Boiled down to its essence the criticism against our schools is: the three Rs are being neglected; there are too many “frills” like health education, music, social studies and gymnasia; there’s too much emphasis on making school pleasant; there’s too much concern with the child’s physical, social and emotional development.
The progressives counterattack with equal vigor. The school today must compete for the child’s interest with TV, comics, radio and the movies, they say. And, in their opinion, it is. Our schools are no longer catering to a select few—they have become truly “public” schools. In the last fifty years the population of Ottawa has doubled but the high-school enrollment has increased fourteen times.
Dr. Sidney Smith, president of the University of Toronto, expresses the compromise view thus: “Terms such as progressive and traditionalist have been bandied about in a way that obscures the issues that urgently await our solutions . . . One must dispassionately examine both positions.”
It was a former U. S. President who said, “Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom or justice can be permanently maintained.” That then is the reason for this study. ★
THESE THINGS HINDER
Overzealous parents—and those who show no interest.
Overcrowding that leads to use jf unsuitable quarters.
Outside interference that breaks class concentration.
A salary scale lower than most professional groups.
By SIDNEY KATZ
Unless urgent action is Taken the nation will be short twenty-five thousand teachers within two years. And, among the teachers we've got now, thousands are nothing but glorified baby sitters
A TEACHER recently said that “high shoulder hunch” is the most prevalent disease in his profession. He explained that it is gradually developed by teachers “as they attempt to dodge criticism by pulling their necks in and raising their shoulders to protect their heads.”
After a four - month survey of education in Canada I am not surprised this affliction is rampant, for it is the teacher who is the central figure in the storm now raging around education.
He is often confused and disturbed by his position. Businessmen, editorial writers, parents and others all have definite ideas on how our schools should be run and express themselves vigorously. “Everybody’s an expert in education” is a teacher’s aphorism. On the one hand he’s told we’re entrusting to him the most important job in Canada— molding our future citizens. Yet he. often finds himself beset by poor working conditions — low pay, crowded classrooms, lack of opportunity for advancement.
What probably bothers him most is the lack of prestige accorded his profession. A study made a few years ago showed that ninety-seven percent of Canadian teachers felt their work was not sufficiently appreciated by the public. Too frequently the teacher is relegated to the status of community chore boy. The female teacher is often pictured as a prissy spinster; the male, an impractical nincompoop. Indeed, teachers wonder if the public regards teaching as a profession at all. “Many people think that as long as you love children you can teach,” says Dr. Ken Argue, professor of education, University of British Columbia. He adds acridly, “Dogs love children.”
THESE THINGS HELP
Teacher participation in school policy, planning.
Supply of modern aids like movies and records.
Best possible instruction in the teachers’ colleges.
Greater personal freedom and higher public status.
Let’s take a look at the teacher shortage. Our unwise short-term methods used to solve it—past and present—have spawned many of the evils of education.
We are short eleven thousand teachers. By 1955 the shortage will exceed twenty-five thousand. In Newfoundland a thousand school-age children remain at home. In the prairies, thousands are taught only by correspondence. To keep the schools open, school boards have hastily recruited an assortment of unqualified men and women. There are at least eleven thousand of these substitutes in classrooms today. Some are immature teen-agers, high-school failures with no teacher training. Others have had a brief six-week “cram” course. “These people are masquerading as teachers,” says Dr. M. E. LaZerte, dean emeritus of education, University of Alberta. One sixteenyear-old girl “teacher” in Quebec spent most of her classroom time reading love pulp magazines, while the children amused themselves by playing games or drawing. When her dates interfered with her job she closed the school.
These makeshift teachers have varying titles, but they usually have one thing in common: an inability to give their pupils a good education. A county superintendent near Fredericton, N.B., told me, “In the long run, I think it would be better to shut down the schools entirely.” A high-school
principal in the Tisdale, Sask., area says, “After a ‘study supervisor’ has been in charge of an elementary school for a few years you find that none of its graduates go on to high school.” “They’re not teachers, they’re baby sitters,” says Tom Parker, of the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union. Half of that province’s children are receiving instruction from this type of substandard teacher.
Unqualified old people are sometimes given teaching jobs. An Ontario school employed a man of eighty-seven, whose certificate was dated 1897 and who hadn’t taught for thirty years.
The prestige of the teaching profession has further been lowered by the policies of most of our provincial normal schools. These training centres produce elementary-school teachersabout eighty-five percent of our total teaching force. (High-school teachers are college graduates who take an additional one year of special training at a university school of education.) To fill the empty classrooms the normal schools have virtually abandoned all attempts at screening prospective teachers. One deputy minister of education told me, “We take everybody. If you haven’t got a criminal record and if you haven’t been certified by a psychiatrist—you’re in.” The vice-principal of a normal school in one of the Maritime provinces says, “No questions are asked if a person walks in and says she wants to teach.” That was the same school where the nurse described some of the students as having nervous twitches, being emotionally unstable, and being “too shy to look you
straight in the face when they had to talk to you.” Academic as well as personal qualifications for admission have been lowered. In the past you needed at least eight senior matriculation subjects to enroll at an Ontario normal school; now you need only five. Only fifty percent of the students at British Columbia Normal School have their complete senior matriculation, which once was insisted upon. Graduation from the normal schooîi is just about as easy as admission. An official of an eastern normal school told me, “I can count] on the fingers of one hand the numlier of students I’ve flunked in the last five years.”
Such slipshod methods have discouraged many good people from becoming teachers. In one of the Maritimes normal schools the average IQ was several points below the scores made by first year university students; some were in the 80s, which would make them “dull normals.” In a revealing study in Alberta two groups of students were compared: those taking the one-year course to become elementary - school teachers and those taking the university course to become high-school teachers (bachelcgja education degree). Half the. one-year.had IQs below thak óf the weakest bachelor of education candidate. In tests of the one-year student’s ability to understand basic principles, generalizations and rules, the average score was only eighteen percent. Yet this is the field in which they expect to lead others within a year,” comments the report. An Alberta normal school instructor told me, “The teachers I’m training are immature. They regard everything I say as sacred. When I say goodmorning they write it down in their notebooks.” Yet Alberta ranks as one of our most progressive provinces in teacher-training policies.
Ironically, these free - and - easy recruiting measures to boost normalschool enrollments have had the opposite effect. In the past year the number of teachers in training in Manitoba and British Columbia has decreased by one tenth. The New Brunswick Teachers’ College had three hundred students in 1938; today it has one hundred and thirty-four. Many educators believe that all this points up an obvious moral: the best type of youngster gravitates toward a profession where the requirements are stiff and challenging. And fewer parents seem to want their children to become teachers. “Don’t be a damn fool” was the comment of an Edmonton doctor when his son expressed a desire to teach.
Many educators feel their profession will never achieve real status as long as a nine-month normal course will earn an elementary-school teacher’s certificate. They point out that most professions require an average of four and a half years in university. “In a year the student teacher can only pick up a few techniques, learn how to cater to the inspector and get some of the children through exams,” says Dr. M. V. Marshall, of Acadia University. Modem schools demand teachers with a broad background. Yet in many normal schools, sixty percent of the students come from rural areas and possess a narrow cultural and social outlook. “What can these people know after a few months?” asks Dr. LaZerte. A large number of educators think that all teachers—in elementary and high schools—should possess a university degree. A veteran Alberta teacher who has taught in all grades told me, “When I teach six and seven year olds it takes all the skill I’ve got. What more can I give to any other class?”
Do our normal schools make the most of the nine months in which they have to transform high-school youths into teachers? Perhaps the most authoritative answer is to be found in the research report, The Status of the Teaching Profession, published by the Canadian Education Association in 1948 An examination of nine teacher-training centres pointed up many alarming weaknesses. Some students received as little as twenty hours of practice teaching before being turned loose in the classroom on their own. In many schools, students were burdened with fifteen to twenty courses —most of them repetitious—teaching the teacher how to teach specific elementary-school subjects. Few institutions were devoting sufficient time to cultural subjects or to broad professional subjects such as the psychology and philosophy of education and child development and growth. That is why the report concluded, “If teacher training continues to be overburdened with such a multifarious load of special techniques ... it is sheer hypocrisy to claim professional status for technicians so produced.” In the same survey hundreds of normal students and graduates were asked for an evaluation of their training: forty-six percent said it was “repetitious,” twenty-three percent said it was “generally ineffective.”
“All we can do for our students is to give them a bag of tricks to take to the classroom,” one of the heads of an
eastern training school told me. That is what Frank Wilson, a Vancouver school trustee, meant when he said not long ago, “Any resemblance between an educational expert and an educated man is purely accidental.”
The teachers’ struggle for recognition is being further handicapped because teacher-training schools now issue a bewildering variety of degrees and certificates. There are close to seventy. A certificate issued in one province is not honored in another. Dr. J. W. Tait, director of teacher training, Saskatchewan, states bluntly, “We teachers have too many certificates to have any value attached to any one of them. If there were ten different kinds of lawyers or doctors their prestige would surely fall.”
Normal schools might do a better job if provincial departments of education were more imaginative. Like the medical-training school, the teachertraining school should be staffed by men of high calibre and broad experience; it should be a centre of research and a clearing house for new ideas. Staff members should be encouraged to broaden their educational insight by opportunities to study and travel. Their salaries should be among the highest in the teaching profession.
These favorable conditions seldom exist. The principal of the normal school in Ottawa receives about the same pay as a vice-principal of a high school in the same city. Staffs are frequently overworked. The head of one university school of education teaches four subjects, directs summer school and runs a placement service for students. Until a few months ago he was without secretarial help; now he has a student working for him part time. He gets $4,500 a year. Normalschool staff members are seldom given expenses to attend important conventions and can’t afford to go on their own. At least one normal - school teacher is now taking a one-year course in the United States without a penny’s help. “I can only do this because I’m a bachelor,” he says. “I’ll be dead broke when I get back.”
Some of our training schools are beginning to introduce reforms. Ontario is about to stretch the normal-school course to two years, for applications lacking complete senior matriculation. Alberta has transferred its one-year students to the university. The Manitoba normal school now maintains a residence just outside Winnipeg where students are encouraged to participate in the city’s cultural activities. Saskatchewan has revamped its course completely.
Out in the field, salaries are probably the most frequent source of the téacher’s irritation, although during the past few years there has been a considerable improvement. In Calgary, Windsor and Vancouver, an elementary-school teacher can earn as much as $4,130, $4,400 and $4,900 (the first two have a cost-of-living bonus as well). Highschool teachers usually earn three to five hundred dollars more. Principals do even better. Elementary-school principals in a big city like Toronto can go as high as $6,600; secondaryschool principals rate up to $7,400.
But most teachers are employed outside such favored areas. In 1949 the average Canadian teacher earned $1,855. That was the year the average doctor made $9,008, the lawyer $9,532, the engineer and architect $10,428. In wealthy Ontario there are nearly five hundred male teachers getting less than $2,000. In parts of rural Manitoba, teachers start at $1,650 and can’t rise above $2,650, even at high-school level. Of Prince Edward Island’s seven hundred and thirty-four teachers, eightyfour percent are getting less than $1,800 a year. As late as 1950, in Quebec, the average earning of the lay female teacher was $812.
Low salaries have forced many teachers to take extra jobs. In Halifax two high-school teachers are radio announcers; another works as a garage mechanic until 2 a.m. A Prince Edward Island teacher who tried to eke out a living by running a farm on the side collapsed from sheer physical exhaustion. The Ottawa Catholic Separate School Board tides its teachers over the summer by employing them to repair school property. A board official told me, “They are better paid for that than for teaching.” I found teachers all over Canada working after school hours or during the summer holidays — and sometimes both — as janitors, farm laborers, cab drivers, wallpaper salesmen.
No wonder that thousands of teachers switch to more lucrative fields. “We are a profession of gypsies,” says Marian Gimby, head of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. “Seven thousand teachers leave the profession every year.” Of twelve girls employed by a bank in Saskatoon ten were former teachers. In Vancouver, probationary firemen and policemen earn slightly more than the teaching novice with a degree. Of sixty-six thousand teachers trained in Canada between 1938 47 only twenty-six thousand five hundred were still in the classroom in 1948.
Disheartening retirement and pension policies, which are usually a provincial matter, cause many a teacher to think twice about devoting his life to the profession. In most provinces men teachers are arbitrarily retired at sixtyfive, women at sixty. In Nova Scotia it’s sixty and fifty-five. But, according to teachers’ organizations, at least half the teachers of retiring age are able, vigorous and near the peak of their teaching skill. What’s more, ninetyfive percent of retired teachers—if an Alberta survey is any indication—don’t want to retire.
Probably the meagerness of their pensions is one reason why many teachers dread retirement. Pensions are usually based on a percentage of
the teacher’s earnings during the last ten or fifteen years of teaching. Since the average teacher in Canada was earning sixteen dollars a week in 1939, this has condemned many a retiring teacher to real poverty. In Saskatchewan, where many pensions are in the six-hundred-dollar area, a teacher retired in 1945 after forty years of service. She was forced to move from her apartment into a room, drop her insurance and give up many of her pastimes and friends.
And yet, in every province I visited, I found large numbers of dedicated teachers who found deep and satisfying values in their work. There was the Quebec teacher who told me how, in the last week, he had helped an eightyear-old overcome one of his fears and a teen-ager plan his future, and then added: “I’m grateful I’m a teacher.”
But even as he rhapsodizes, no teacher is likely to forget that the roses are liberally sprinkled with thorns. Besides the pay, there’s the matter of long working hours. To many, the teacher’s life seems to be a cinch, what with a twenty-seven-and-a-half-hour working week and three months’ holiday.
Conscientious teachers — and they are in the majority—know differently. A survey of Toronto high-school staffs revealed that they worked up to sixty hours. Lowry Knight, of the Albert elementary school, Saskatoon, arrives at school soon after eight, leaves at six, averages two hours a night checking assignments, making reports and preparing for future classes. This is a fairly common workload. Student extra-curricular activities—lunch-hour meetings, evening socials and athletics —have added to the burden. On top of this, the teacher is expected to busy himself with professional matters—on his own time.
Most teachers like working with children and are reasonably happy in the classroom. But what does bring their blood to a boil are the frequent interruptions. A group of Saskatoon teachers listed some of them for me: notes calling children away for appointments with the dentist, nurse or psychologist, or to attend rehearsals of school entertainments; messages from the principal, telephone calls; parents and others showing up at the door. They told me, “The school is being used too much by outside agencies.” Valuable time is now being devoted to Junior Red Cross, collections for Easter seals, assembling toys for firemen to repair at Christmas time, selling tickets to raise funds for mosquito control — all valuable activities but, teachers say, not a direct part of the school’s function.
“I could spend more time with my children if someone else would attend to all these extras,” said a Winnipeg grade seven teacher, wistfully.
The teacher’s job involves more than handling children—interruptions and all. He must also be skilled in getting along with adults. For the teacher is the central figure in a multisided relationship involving the principal, the inspector, parents, and the community.
On the job it’s the principal who chiefly determines how happy—or unhappy—the teacher will be. Many principals allow their teachers a considerable voice in school policy. But many others still rule their schools in an arbitrary manner. When the Canadian Education Association questioned a cross-section of teachers, they discovered that only thirty-six percent had any say in policy and administration. By implication the rest were invited to keep their noses in the classroom only. Lack of principalteacher teamwork weakens a school and creates unhappiness for teachers and students alike. One Ontario principal insisted on passing students whose marks were in the 30s against the recommendations of their teachers; henceforth, the frustrated teachers down-graded all their marks.
The traditional bogey of the teacher has always been the visiting inspector —a representative of the local board or provincial department of education whose job it is to maintain high educational standards. He has long been portrayed as a heartless creature, spying on the teacher. Fortunately this bogey is fast becoming extinct. Nearly all teachers now have a kind word to say about the inspector. “The term ‘inspection’ is a misnomer,” says Mel Downey, of Edmonton’s Virginia Park School. “It’s really a visit with the intention of helping.” Indeed, even the name of the inspector is changing; in some provinces he is now known as “supervisor” or “superintendent.”
But a real weakness in our inspection system is that the inspector (or supervisor) has too little time to devote to the supervision of teachers. This is particularly true in the rural areas. Because he’s the most competent man available, school boards constantly go to him with their financial, construction and personnel troubles. “It happens too often that we turn them into nothing more than business agents for
the school board,” says Dr. LaZerte.
Out in the community, those most interested in the teacher—and vice versa—are the parents. Teachers’ organizations are now tutoring their members in how to get along with parents. Typical advice: “Don’t regard parents as merely a necessary evil.”
Teachers find that such counsel is sometimes difficult to follow. For every practicing teacher has a catalogue of “parent types” who complicate his job. For example, there’s the “Parent In Name Only.” He believes the teacher is paid to solve all the child’s physical, emotional, social and vocational problems. An Ottawa teacher phoned a mother to report that her twelve-yearold soti had been late three times during the past week. “Well, why don’t you make him come early?” was the reply. A nine-year-old Manitoba girl was caught stealing. She came from a home where both parents worked all day and when her teacher contacted the father, one of his first remarks was, “I’m sure glad I haven’t got your job. I’d hate to have to handle that child!”
Almost as worrisome is the “Too Much Parent” type. She is constantly showering the teacher with phone calls, notes and personal messages. The “Unrealistic Parent” refuses to accept the limitations of her child. “My child is brilliant and should get ninety percent,” she will tell the teacher. The “Pushing Parent” is one who is so ambitious for her child that she winds up by hindering, not helping him. The twelve-year-old son of an Ottawa doctor was afraid to take his report card home although his grades were good. “His father raises hell if his marks don’t always go higher,” his teacher told me. The “Tricky Parent” habitually fools the teacher. He writes phony excuses for his child’s absence; he does the child’s homework and lets him palm it off as his own.
Fortunately most parents don’t belong to these categories. More than at any other time parents today are showing a lively and intelligent interest in the schools. Evidence of this is the phenomenal growth of the home-andschool movement which now embraces 2,SCO local associations and 195,000 members.
Home-and-school associations are intended as a common meeting ground where parents and teachers can discuss and act on problems relating to the education of children. Within this framework the associations have achieved an impressive record. A Quebec City group held a series of panel discussions on topics such as “Homework” and “Why Kids Quit School.” A Montreal group studied the thorny problem of teachers’ salaries. In Nova Scotia the provincial body succeeded in reopening the question of appointing a commission to enquire into school financing.
On the debit side I frequently heard the charge that home-and-school associations are wasting the time of parents and teachers alike by doing things they’re not supposed to do. Fundraising is a case in point. By means of rummage sales, whist drives and bridge contests, some of the Saskatoon groups have raised money to purchase boards for the school rink, radios, record players, and athletic sweaters. A Halifax high school association has already collected seventeen thousand dollars for scholarships, a thousand for hyrun books.
Many educators are critical of these activities. “The home-and-school association is not a ladies’ aid,” says Dr. Sam Laycock, one of the movement’s founders. If the school is lacking vital services then the associations should be using their energy on influencing public opinion to buy them, not on whist drives and rummage sales. “We’ve taken a long time to take education out of the hands of private philanthropy,” says Laycock. “I don’t want to turn the clock back and buy equipment the whole community should be buying. I object to home-and-school trying to save the taxpayer money.”
The second broadside launched
against the associations is that they are often nothing more than social and entertainment groups. Parents come, sit and listen to a talk unrelated to children and education, say nothing when it’s through, then go home. Some recent home-and-school topics have included the ballet, African missionary work, socialized medicine, and Canada’s foreign policy. One meeting in a Quebec community featured a peanutpushing contest.
The Toronto headquarters officers of the Canadian Home and School and Parent-Teachers Federation are aware of these weaknesses. They know some local groups misinterpret the movement’s aims and purposes. “We’ve mushroomed so rapidly we haven’t time or money enough to go around and help all the groups that need help,” they explain.
But, parents aside, how is the teacher regarded by the community in which he works and lives? Is he part of the cultural and social life? Is he respected?
My answer is this: In the centres where the people believe education is important enough to provide good schools and good salaries the teacher has achieved professional status and respectability. His rating on the occupational scale is probably just below that of the doctor, dentist, lawyer and accountant. But in our educational slum areas many individual teachers have achieved prestige not because of their profession but in spite of it. No higher tribute can be paid to their character, intelligence and personality.
On the question of status, teachers’ organizations believe the teacher must lift himself up by his own bootstraps. “If we assume that we are second-class citizens then the public will treat us that way,” said one official. That is why teachers are being advised to step out of their classrooms and play an active role in community life. In the last Alberta election about twenty-five teachers and ex-teachers ran for office: fourteen were elected. In Vancouver, Bert Wales, a high-school vice-principal, is active in the Chamber of Commerce and the Community Chest. One of the most popular members of the Saint John Boosters baseball team is outfielder Joe Breen, a teacher. Ernest Whitebone sits as a councillor for Saint John County.
But in many communities—usually the rural ones—the teacher has a much harder row to hoe. He is regarded as a piece of communal property. The replies from a sample of four hundred and thirty-five rural teachers questioned by the Canadian Education Association mentioned specific restrictions placed upon their private life no fewer than three hundred and forty-four times. These included drinking, smoking, card playing, dating and playing musical instruments.
The teacher’s freedom is curtailed in a hundred different ways. In the Happy Thought district, near Selkirk, Man., three teachers signed a petition favoring daylight saving time. The chairman of the school board, who was strongly anti-daylight saving, promptly fired them. “I can tell them what to think,” he said. “I’m their boss.” In an Ontario village an unmarried teacher was given his notice for not dancing with a trustee’s daughter. Enjoying a cigarette with coffee in a main-street restaurant has cost some Manitoba women teachers their jobs. In many small towns the “suitcase teacher”— one who goes away for the week-end — is sharply criticized.
The teacher is so often praised and blamed, discussed and dissected by the public, that he can’t avoid sometimes asking himself, “Are we different from everyone else? Are we a distinctive breed with a special kind of personality?”
Teachers, like everyone else, are simply people. I met some women teachers who could have posed for a caricaturist: their attire was drab and they were prim and bossy. But I also met others who were young, vivacious, bright and pretty. T met men teachers who were old-maidish and ineffective and who probably entered the profession in the absence of more profitable opportunities. But I met others who were able and intelligent and who were leaders both in their schools and in their communities. Federal ministers James Gardiner and C. D. Howe, writer W. O. Mitchell, the late R. B. Bennett, M. J. Coldwell, C. I). Richards (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New Brunswick), Ivan Shultz (Attorney-General of Manitoba), and C. M. Fines, Saskatchewan’s provincial treasurer, were all school teachers once.
It is undoubtedly true that the stresses and strains of teaching are so great they can leave their imprint on the personality. But after analyzing mental-health statistics Ralph Devereux, a London teacher, was able to tell an Ontario convention that “teachers are no crazier than other people.” However, teachers freely admit that undesirable traits sometimes creep into their personalities. An Ottawa teacher explains, “In the classroom, you are playing God. It tends to carry over after school hours.” A group of Fredericton teachers told me, “Your critical sense becomes highly developed. You often have to restrain the impulse to be hypercritical when you’re with adults.”
If utopian conditions are ever achieved in teaching, much of the credit will go to the teachers’ professional organization, the Ganadian Teachers’ Federation. Now thirtythree years old, it has sixty thousand members who belong to eleven provincial organizations and contribute enough annual dues to make a budget of more than one million dollars. In nearly all parts of Canada membership is compulsory.
Collective action has been responsible for most of the gains made by teachers in recent years. In provinces where the federation is the weakestQuebec, the Maritimes and Newfoundlandthe status of the teacher is the lowest. A visit to the headquarters of most federations gives one an impression of vitality and affluence.
The federations have become increasingly militant. On Jan. 31, 1952, after their demand for a salary increase was flatly refused, two hundred and fortythree Cape Breton members of the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union walked out on strike. They were earning an average salary of $1,492. More than twelve thousand dollars poured into the strikers’ relief fund, started by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, from teachers all over Canada. The Ontario Teachers’ Federation has blacklisted recalcitrant school boards. In Montreal, members of the Provincial Association of Protestant Teachers conducted a “cessation of extra-curricular activities” strike.
Such incidents have touched off a series of heated discussions. What exactly are the teachers’ organizations? Are they labor unions or professional organizations?
Men like Charles Hulse, president of the Ontario School Trustees’ Council, declares flatly, “They are a union.” He points out that the federation contains practically all the features of a labor group: compulsory membership, checkoff of dues, strikes or the equivalent—mass resignations, blacklisting. “You can’t have a union in a teachers’ professional organization,” he
While in a lower berth I lie,
I like the snug effect, but I Would feel a little gladder If I were not located where A heavy-footed fellow-fare Might use me as a ladder.
says. “It’s undignified, it sets a poor example to the children and it’s embarrassing to many parents.” To which Father Emmett Carter, of the Montreal Catholic School Commission, adds: “If you’re trying to build a profession you can’t Strike. You can’t have your cake and eat it. The teachers will destroy themselves if they become too militant.”
Among the federations themselves opinion varies. The B. C. Teachers’ Federation believes you can eat your cake and have it: since 1944 it has been affiliated with the Trades and Labor Congress. “That doesn’t make us any the less professional,” says secretary Charles Ovans. “Our status today is higher than ever before. We want professional status but we also want earnings consistent with profeasional status. To do this we’ve been forced to adopt some of labor’s tactics. That’s the only course open to us.” Eric Ansley, of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, told me, “The subject of affiliating with labor frequently comes up. It’s not a dead issue.”
Ontario teachers are less interested. “We don’t have the same objectives as labor,” says Helen Ward, of the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations. “Labor unions are largely interested in hours of work and wages; teachers are most interested in children and education.” But regardless of their stand on labor affiliation all the federations subscribe to the declaration of Tom McMaster, secretary of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society: “In the last analysis, we have to fight our own battles.”
These battles are of an infinite variety. Negotiating with school-board trustees about salaries and working conditions is the most common. The Manitoba Teachers’ Society trains its members for the bargaining table by conducting full-dress rehearsals of bargaining sessions with McMaster and his assistant playing the part of trustees. They pound the table, shout, roar, snort and generally act as tough as possible. When the teachers complain, “Why, you don’t even let us open our mouchs!” McMaster replies, “That’s the way you’re going to find it when you’re playing for keeps.”
Federation officials travel thousands of miles a year in the role of trouble fixers. A school board near Lethbridge lured three teachers into employment by promising them non-existent jobs as principal and vice-principal. (The teachers stayed on—but they taught at a principal’s salary.) An Ontario high-school board wanted to fire a teacher for overburdening her pupils with homework. (The board was convinced she was a good teacher; the teacher was persuaded to give less homework.)
If a teacher violates the federation’s code of ethics he can be punished. Recently the B. C. Teachers’ Federation penalized six members for “contract dumping”—promising to take one job, then going to a better one that showed up.
Because teachers’ salaries get a lot of publicity many people believe the sole function of the federations is to squeeze dollars out of reluctant school trustees. But the federations spend much time, money and energy trying to raise the standards of their own members and of the educational system generally. In practically every province the teachers’ organization is playing a major role in curricula revision. When Ontario wanted to revise its socialstudies course the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations sent one of its members, Gertrude Berguy, on a factfinding tour which included fifty centres. They paid both her salary and expenses. The B. C. Teachers’ Federation sponsors forums on education, to which parents, professional and business groups are invited. In Ottawa, Saint John, Saskatoon and dozens of other communities, committees of teachers meet with school boards to discuss how the local school system can be improved.
Last year the teachers donated thirty-eight thousand dollars for research besides doing most of the spadework themselves, edited a dozen regular magazines, sponsored hundreds of workshops, institutes, panel discussions and conventions. “Our teachers are doing an outstanding job of raising our educational standards,” said Dr. R. O. MacFarlane, deputy minister of Education, Manitoba.
Teachers’ organizations are only able to carry on such programs because most of their members are willing to work long, extra hours without pay. They are convinced that theirs is society’s most important job. Although they frequently complain about their conditions they still like teaching. Perhaps Dr. M. E. LaZerte, a “young” teacher of almost seventy, came as close as anybody in explaining why:
“We teachers work and live in a responsive environment with which no office, shop, store or factory can compete. We direct the growth of children; we have the pleasure of seeing them change before our very eyes. We are a favored group.” ★