Suggestions for coping with teachers’ strikes

Photo by Aaron Burden.

Editorial note: With the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)’s moving into Phase 6 Strike Action yesterday (Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020), and today being the second consecutive snow day this week, we thought today would be a great day to launch our 2020 Community Editorial Board, as one of the Board members has penned this piece suggesting ways to cope with students being off school.

I’m not going to get into the murk of teachers being on strike. As unionized workers, they must strike when negotiations for a new contract come to an impasse. Historically, strikes won us many workplace luxuries we take for granted now, like 40-hour work weeks, weekends, parental leave, no child labour, and safer workplaces. Modern strikes are now waged not to hurt a company’s bottom line, but to influence public opinion.

Unlike private company union strikes that only hurt the employer because clients and customers have other options, public servants’ strikes hurt the general public. In the case of the teachers’ strikes, that’s students and their families being hurt. The only response Ontarians have is with our vote in a few years.

Meanwhile, what can we do now? Parents can be impacted in different ways:

  • If you have a younger child affected by the strike, you’ve been scrambling to find care arrangements, perhaps taking time off from your own work, or paying for daycare.
  • If you have an older child affected by the strike, you’ve been trying to keep them motivated and productive while they aren’t in school, and are worried about how this will affect their school year and possibly their applications to post-secondary education.

Here are some suggestions for how to support your household through the strike days in a productive fashion:

  • Team up with a friend, neighbour or family member also affected, and take turns looking after all the children.
  • Depending on the nature of your own job, take your child to work with you. This could be a great learning experience for them, and you might just get some free labour.
  • Have your older child look after your younger child. Enterprising high schoolers may offer babysitting services outside the family as well. You can ask that they work on your child’s reading, math or other learning.
  • Give your student homework. Many workbooks are available for grade appropriate curriculum subjects, and you can also find interesting science kits to try out. Most high-schoolers know perfectly well what they could be devoting this extra time to working on. If your kids aren’t forthcoming about what topics they’re currently covering in class, the curriculum is available online at the Ontario Ministry of Education website.
  • Park the kids in front of a screen! Streaming services have plenty of documentaries about all kinds of science, history, geography, literature and language topics, and YouTube is full of educational videos. There are a lot of online resources to supplement learning too, and many of them are in some sort of game format.
  • Look up homeschooling websites for suggestions. Homeschoolers have been doing this sort of thing for a long time and have great ideas to make learning engaging in real life home situations.
  • Visit your child’s teachers on the picket line. Bring them goodies; baking with your child is a great way to show them fractions and chemistry in action.
  • Teach your children about the history of striking in general, and the specifics of the contract situation with the teachers’ unions and the Province. Your children may not be getting accurate context about what’s going on from playground chatter. Explain the government’s position and the unions’ position as neutrally as possible, and ask your children for their opinion to get them doing some critical thinking.
  • Look for daycare centres, kids’ clubs, and recreation organizations offering extra activities for children on strike days. The same facilities that offer PA day camps often organize strike day camps.
  • Find non-academic activities for kids. Older kids could pick up extra hours at a part time job. Younger kids could offer snow shoveling or dog walking services to neighbours. Kids can also have extra music or sports lessons, do arts and crafts, or put on a play or concert.
  • Do a project together around the house: planning or working on a do-it-yourself renovation, calling around for estimates for a bigger project, deep-cleaning an area of the house you’ve been meaning to get to, sewing a prom dress, reorganizing a storage area, meal planning for the next week, building a piece of furniture, starting seedlings for the summer garden. This stuff doesn’t magically do itself while the kids are at school or amusing themselves, and it’s valuable for kids to witness it all. Tie in some math, geometry, botany, chemistry, communication, organization, and time management skills. Teach your kids about adulting, and how surprisingly relevant the stuff they are learning in school is to life in general.
  • Play games together. Lot of card and board games sneak in math, letter, reading or writing practice, and teach problem-solving. Your local board game stores can offer great suggestions.
  • Volunteer work. You can find something organized for a charity, or just look around your neighbourhood for something that needs doing. Get your high schooler some of their required hours, or teach younger children how good it can feel to clear an icy sidewalk or blocked drain on your street.
  • Hit the outdoors. Go for a hike in any of the local conservation areas. Skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing and snowshoeing are all available within an hour drive of Kingston.
  • Hit the indoors. Kingston has pools, gyms, climbing facilities, bowling, skating, mini golf, and much more. If your kid is in grade 5 or 9, dig up that ActivPass and they get in free.
  • Set up a selection of these ideas in scavenger hunt style. Keep the challenging stuff to manageable chunks for your child’s abilities, and give them a variety of activities to get through before rewarding them with some game time or their choice of entertainment.
  • Keep the kids on routine. Try to have snacks, lunch and outdoor play at approximately recess and lunch times. This is especially helpful with younger kids who may have trouble transitioning between school days and at-home days seemingly at random during rotating strike days.

Consider applying for the financial assistance offered by the Province. You are eligible even if you are fortunate and don’t need the money. That’s YOUR tax money that the Province is saving by not paying the teachers’ wages during the strike. You can keep it for yourself, or donate it back to striking teachers in some way. Or don’t apply for it, and leave it with the Province to use as they see fit.

The most frustrating thing about this situation is that we all want the same thing; parents, teachers, older people, people with no children, and politicians. We want children to reach their full potential and become productive members of our society, in a financially responsible way.

Now, if only someone could negotiate away snow days.

Kingstonist Community Editorial Board member Alison Young came to Kingston to attend Queen’s University, and never left. Somewhat of a polymath, she is interested in hard and social sciences, literature, the environment, and whatever else catches her fancy. She resides in suburbia with her two sons, where she putters endlessly in her garden. Though she has worked for the federal government for two decades, she’s still trying to decide what to be when she grows up.

The Kingstonist 2020 Community Editorial Board is made up of a number of local writers interested in community happenings offering well-researched columns on a wide range of topics, from municipal politics and local contentious issues, to personal opinions and insights into local matters.

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