Extraordinary efforts: Taking care of others and ourselves

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Writing at the beginning of October, it is impossible to know what conditions we will find ourselves in by the time this is published. We are currently in the midst of a very worrisome upward trend in COVID-19 case counts. At the same time, the Ontario Labour Relations Board has recently dismissed, on jurisdictional grounds, our appeal of the Ford government’s inadequate reopening plans. That will not stop our fight for safe working and learning conditions but it is disconcerting that a government that claimed it wanted to hear from experts found a way to shut down expert testimony before it was even presented.

In the meantime, the Premier alternately ignores and then tries to pick unnecessary fights with education unions, including and perhaps primarily with OSSTF/FEESO. Elsewhere in the world, such as in Denmark, for example, those jurisdictions that have worked closely with education unions in creating reopening plans have been the most successful. In those places, educators had confidence in the plans and conveyed that confidence to parents and students. No such confidence is felt in Ontario, as the number of students learning remotely attests.

We remain primarily concerned, of course, about member health and safety as it relates to the pandemic. Included in that, though, is concern for member well-being in a broader way. We’ve been hearing increasingly about members who are overworked, stressed, and approaching burn-out. I know that this is not confined to Ontario. In speaking with my counterparts from education unions across the country, I have repeatedly heard the same story. Educating and supporting students through this pandemic is nothing like your usual work and educators are frequently called on to, essentially, double their usual tasks as many deal with students both face-to-face and remotely. At the same time, OSSTF/FEESO local leaders should be recognized for making extraordinary efforts to support members.

Anyone who knows anything about Ontario’s publicly-funded education system and those who work within it will be unsurprised that educators are dedicating so much effort to their students. You didn’t need the Premier to tell you to “step up” when you’ve been stepping up for years, going to great lengths to overcome inadequate resources and still providing one of the best educations anywhere in the world. You deserve to be thanked and congratulated for your efforts and certainly we’ve heard from grateful parents who are doing exactly that.

As you persevere through these difficult times, I urge you to also give appropriate thought to your own ongoing well-being. To be at your best, you also need to take care of yourself. Draw whatever boxes you can around your professional life and set aside some time for loved ones and things that bring you joy and relaxation. Not only your students but your families and all those who care about you want you to be standing and hopefully thriving in the coming months.

About Harvey Bischof
Harvey Bischof is OSSTF/FEESO's 66th provincial President. He was first elected to the Provincial Executive as Executive Officer in 2007 and as Vice President in 2011, 2013 and 2015. He was elected President in 2017 and re-elected in 2019.

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