What’s The Future Of Extracurriculars In Ontario Schools?

14 Apr

Ontario educators remain confused about extracurriculars. There are deals to be negotiated and votes to be taken, but those won’t resolve any of this. The role of extracurriculars in Ontario schools has been permanently altered. The toothpaste is out of the tube, and no matter how much we try it will not be going back in again.

In protest over Bill 115 Ontario educators withdrew from voluntary activities including extracurriculars. Shortly after, changes started happening. The old system for delivering extracurriculars began breaking up and all kinds of innovation began.

In some schools students took ownership over extracurriculars, organizing their own clubs and activities. What they discovered is that the activities were much more meaningful when they made all the decisions.

My son’s improv comedy club was one such group. Even now that extracurriculars have been reinstated the club is choosing to remain independent. Last Friday they held an independent, off-school show, that they planned, organized and presented without any direct educator support. What an amazing learning experience! In other schools community groups and private enterprise have stepped in to fill the void.

The most interesting shift in extracurriculars, however, is that educators are discussing what the role of extracurriculars is and what the reactions to the withdrawal of extracurriculars means about our education system.

Here are some of the questions I’m pondering about extracurriculars:

  1. Why do extracurriculars matter so much? When premier Kathleen Wynne became premier she said it was “absolutely imperative that students have extracurriculars”. Really? More important than the economy, poverty or restoring basic rights? Why are extracurriculars so essential? Common responses are that they develop critical skills students need for future success and allow educators to form important connections with students.
  2. Why aren’t these skills & connections part of the curriculum? If the developed skills and connections are so important, why do they benefit only the minority of students that participate in extracurriculars? Essential skills and connections between educators and students shouldn’t be left to voluntary after school activities. They should be an integral part of the curriculum so that all students can benefit. Teachers reported that during the withdrawal of voluntary activities they invested more time and effort into classroom activities, time and effort they’d previously used on extracurriculars. That’s an equitable system that benefits more students.
  3. Why don’t we pay for extracurriculars? Some education systems do. In the United States some high school coaches make more than teachers. I don’t endorse that model, but it show that US citizens highly value extracurriculars. It’s confusing and hypocritical to espouse that extracurriculars are vital while insisting that educators do them for no reward. Is it valuable or not? Why don’t we pay teachers who coach or lead other activities? Why not count extracurriculars as part of the teaching load and reward those who do them with time off?
  4. Are extracurriculars really voluntary? The Ontario Labour Relations Board says extracurriculars are voluntary activities but are they really? Can teachers really make a free choice when there’s so much pressure from the public and within the school to provide a service without compensation? Agreeing to actively participate in extracurriculars is a common part of getting a teaching job. If committing to do extracurriculars is necessary to get hired, how is that voluntary? What about skilled classroom educators who don’t have extracurriculars skills and so get passed over for someone who can coach a team or put on a show? Isn’t that unfair and an incredible waste of valuable educators?
  5. Where do we go from here? In spite of statements from various teacher’s federations to return to extracurriculars many Ontario teachers are refusing to return to the status quo. Some will eventually go back and others won’t, but the issues raised by the pause will be ongoing irritations in schools for many years.

We need to address these issues and decide where we stand. If we value the skills and connections developed in extracurriculars we should integrate them into our curriculum. They should not be voluntary afterthoughts. We need to support extracurriculars with the required resources to ensure they are available to as many students as possible.

If we simply return to making them optional extras we have a more difficult question to answer:

What was all the noise about extracurriculars really about?

14 Responses to “What’s The Future Of Extracurriculars In Ontario Schools?”

  1. Fred Galang (@NomadCreatives) April 14, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    It has been often said that an empty can makes the most noise. After much deliberation and processing of the events over the past 6 months, I have come to a conclusion that the issue with extra-curriculars is nothing more than an empty can.

    Before the pitchforks come out, allow me to clarify. The benefits of EC’s to the whole development of students have been discussed and mentioned Ad nauseam. I agree with those sentiments and choose not to repeat them any further. The empty noise I’m referring to is the fact that ECs are no longer about the children it’s supposed to enrich. It has become nothing more than a political concept designed for leverage amongst the parties involved. I would argue that ECs as political leverage has always been around well before Bill 115.

    I remember the early years in my 14-year career as being extremely busy. Aside from the rigors of starting out, I wanted to make an impact amongst my students and administration alike. In my first 5 years I ran a volunteer newspaper and yearbook, coached a combination of table-tennis, senior girls volleyball and varsity boys softball (sometimes concurrently). The last yearbook and newspaper I advised was 7 years ago, while the last sport I coached has been 8 years. So what changed? Well, aside from switching boards, I had a family and started to expand my teaching repertoire (writing new courses in digital media and design). What’s the point of my long-winded retrospective you ask? Well it has something to do with young teachers, their value and the role ECs play in their early teaching careers.

    Many new teachers that prepare their resumes for board applications will highlight several important key areas. The given are schools and academic accreditations. The icing on the cake? You got it. Hobbies, interests and extra-curricular activities. This is one area where candidate A may differ from candidate B. New teachers are perfect for ECs. All are young, eager and want to make an impact on students and especially administration.

    At my school, I’ve taught with an inordinate amount of LTO’s (Long-Term Occasional) in the past 5 years. I taught with one in particular last year and confessed that in his interview with the school, he was asked if he was interested in helping out with a big school event. Huh? I’m confused. If he said yes, does he get the job? Will saying no yield the opposite result? Are school administrators even allowed to ask that question? What about the kids? What kids? It’s a political question. Much like young teachers, most LTO’s participate in ECs to be noticed. Yes, the kids benefit but the bigger picture is the full-time ride (been there, done that).

    This week alone, I had an odd conversation with a colleague as she expressed her impassioned rant about OLRB’s recent decision. As much as I wanted to ride the wave of her emotions, I couldn’t. Her words rang hollow as she herself was guilty of using ECs as a political tool. As the words trickled out of her mouth, I was silently thinking that it’s no longer about the kids anymore but about everyone’s need to “jockey for position”.

    We had a nice run with ECs but times are changing. If the government can mandate our labour “agreements,” we certainly can choose as a unified front (perhaps even considering compensatory models for EC work). Heck, even McDonald’s charges a little bit more for “Super-Sizing” their meals.

    Finally, let’s cut the political rhetoric and focus on what’s REALLY important – our classrooms. Perhaps this will pave the way and instead allow us to refocus into putting the extra into our curricula.

    • Andrew Campbell (@acampbell99) April 14, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

      I don’t have a clear handle on this but here’s where my thoughts are going. Parents entrust their children to teachers and want desperately to believe that they are sending them to people who will try to care for them as they would. They want to believe that their kids are with people who are there because they love being with their children, not because they get paid for it. I think that’s what extra-curriculars represent, the belief that teachers do this work out of love. When teachers withdraw services they mess this up for parents, they show them that there are other motivations for doing this. Parents deal with this by separating teachers from the union (“the union is making them do it”) and as teachers we allow that to happen. That’s why there’s so much denial right now, because the unions have said ‘go back’ and many teachers are saying ‘no’.

  2. john April 15, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    Here’s where I stand: there is no easier way to give back to a community than as a teacher doing ECs. The space, the insurance, the participants are all cheap and easy.

    For people who also volunteer outside of school the ease of running programming through the school should be embraced.

    If we politicize this to the point where running programs is no longer an option I’ll just have to dun them outside school at far greater cost and inconvenience to all involved.

    • ballacheybears April 15, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

      Great point, but many educators teach in one community and live in another. I usually end up volunteering outside of school as well as in.

  3. JustTheFactsPlease April 15, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Many teacher argue that they spend many more hours doing ‘extras’ – why not make EC’s part of the contract. The salary grid is fair and accommodates for ‘good will’. If teachers allowed for EC’s to be part of their employment contracts, then tax payers would likely be more likely to respect the current salary and benefit levels. Teachers would have to account for the hours, but many are doing them anyway – those that aren’t, well maybe they should? Image having that extra 5-10 hours per week from every teacher to run a program they have a passion for: chess, sports, horticulture, photography, choir, music, theatre, art, debate, science clubs, biology clubs, study groups, tutoring….

    • Fred Galang (@NomadCreatives) April 16, 2013 at 8:55 am #

      I believe that this is exactly what the Conservatives want. The rest of the parties will simply follow suit. For starters, It’s not just 5 – 10 hours and even if it is, 10 hours is a quarter of an average Canadian’s workweek. I’m not sure if anyone in the private sector would be ok with an extra 10 hours for the same pay. I’ve coached several sports and with practice, actual games and travel time, they amount to way more. I think the system was lucky to have had this in the past. Now, it’s gone because “times are changing”. Besides, in this new labour landscape, I’d rather take that 5 – 10 hours you’ve alluded to and throw that back into my classroom.

      • JustTheFactsPlease April 16, 2013 at 11:39 am #

        Fred, the number is just a number it can be debated (at the end of the day a 37.5 hrs/wk equates to around 1950 hrs/yr.). Is it unrealistic for the public to expect a teacher’s employment contract to reflect what is a somewhat normative employment practice? I’m questioning why the contract can’t be reflective of the actual job (most teacher’s put in more hours than they are contracted for)? If a teacher wants to put it into the classroom, so be it. If they want to coach ping-pong, ok too. If all teachers were accountable by contract to offer the time, and have some discretion on how, where, what they spend it on – so much more could be accomplished, and the public will see a greater degree of parity with their own employment contracts.

        The public (I believe), have an impression that teachers use EC’s as a way to get hired, contribute for some time, but pull back once they have full time contracts, start families of their own or simply feel they have ‘put in their time’ and move towards only doing what the contracts says they have to. This, is what the public (I believe) see has being ‘entitlement’ mentality, ‘elitist’, and an abuse of tax payers money. There are many situations where employers give modified work arrangements for extenuating personal situations, however not many other employers would allow employees to pull back for any length of time.

        I understand this is far from the current situation, and it’s not my intent to belittle what teachers do currently. It’s just that I to acknowledge what many non-teachers see and feel. So again I ask the question: Why an employment contract can’t be more reflective of today’s societal employment norms? The unionized body fights for contracts that don’t reflect what they really do, and it serves to separate them from pretty much all other employed members of the communities they live and work in. How can non-teaching workers respect teachers current employment contracts?

        Teaching is a profession that should be respected and revered, a employment contract that is perceived to have parity with employment norms will go a long way to support that perception.
        (In my opinion)

  4. Fred Galang (@NomadCreatives) April 18, 2013 at 9:07 am #

    So in essence, you (or other non-teaching citizens) will only find time to revere and respect teachers if we were to “align” ourselves to current employment practices? Define current employment practices? Who determines that? Are public employees working longer hours? Are they doing way more work for the same / less pay? Unfortunately, your perception of reality is eschewed and have completely forgotten what we do outside of the classroom (marking / preparing / additional qualification courses paid out of pocket / etc).

    “The public (I believe), have an impression that teachers use EC’s as a way to get hired, contribute for some time, but pull back once they have full time contracts, start families of their own or simply feel they have ‘put in their time’ and move towards only doing what the contracts says they have to.”

    I believe this statement was clearly expressed in my post. I made no bones to hide that reality. Let’s not forget that the government also use ECs to the advancement of their own platforms and uses it against teachers when they choose to say no. ECs doesn’t cloud our roles, that’s the public’s choice to ignore. It’s the public choice to also ignore the stuff we do outside of the classroom (not EC related).

    “It’s just that I to acknowledge what many non-teachers see and feel. So again I ask the question: Why an employment contract can’t be more reflective of today’s societal employment norms? The unionized body fights for contracts that don’t reflect what they really do, and it serves to separate them from pretty much all other employed members of the communities they live and work in.”

    Teachers and the roles are very clear. It’s just that the general public is unhappy with it so some choose to cloud the situation. Let me put it this way, the only time the general non-teaching populace will be happy is if we shut up, got to work, coached, advised and ran clubs with an imposed pay-freeze, imposed future arrangements, no bargaining rights with the possibility of future roles expanded in future agreements. The last time I checked, that reeked of dictatorship. The long outlook in all of this? Our children’s children will be amongst a class of 50 with a burnt out, disengaged educator that would rather be elsewhere. How is that quality education?

    • Fred Galang (@NomadCreatives) April 18, 2013 at 9:12 am #

      “This, is what the public (I believe) see has being ‘entitlement’ mentality, ‘elitist’, and an abuse of tax payers money. There are many situations where employers give modified work arrangements for extenuating personal situations, however not many other employers would allow employees to pull back for any length of time.”

      Abuse of taxpayers money. Interesting. Feel free to visit my course site: http://www.nomadcreatives.com and watch just how much I abuse the taxpayer’s money. Oh, and by the way, there’s thousands of us who do this day in and day out. Thanks for your honesty.

      • JustTheFactsPlease April 18, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

        It’s a great looking site, many teachers are providing this enhanced communication to parents and students. It’s an excellent example of the things that teachers do, and they don’t get credit for, because it is not defined in the collective agreement.

        This falls under my earlier reference:

        “I’m questioning why the contract can’t be reflective of the actual job (most teacher’s put in more hours than they are contracted for)? If a teacher wants to put it into the classroom, so be it. If they want to coach ping-pong, ok too. If all teachers were accountable by contract to offer the time, and have some discretion on how, where, what they spend it on – so much more could be accomplished, and the public will see a greater degree of parity with their own employment contracts.”

        You suggests: “Unfortunately, your perception of reality is eschewed and have completely forgotten what we do outside of the classroom (marking / preparing / additional qualification courses paid out of pocket / etc).” – I’m suggesting that I’m very aware of what happens outside of the class, and that is why I would like to contract to reflect it. As for qualification courses, paid out of pocket. The continuing education department at colleges and universities are filled with adult students who are paying for the same and most of those students don’t get guaranteed salary grid increases.

        It’s track season, and the hours required to run this program is seemingly countless, while I watch many colleagues racing to beat the buses out of the parking lot, I sometimes wonder if they could provide assistance with all the forms, fees, uniforms, calls to register for meets, printing training schedules… it’s not fair to expect any of them to volunteer their time, and I respect their choice, I do what I do because I luv to do it. Intrinsic vs Extrinsic rewards need to be balanced, and I don’t presume to have all (if any) of the answers. I just think it’s important to challenge my perception of reality from time to time.

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      • ballacheybears April 18, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas. The dialogue helps to move things forward.

    • Andrew Campbell (@acampbell99) April 18, 2013 at 10:02 am #

      The idea of normal labour practice is interesting. Is it ‘normal labour practice’ to take on more work for less money? The fact that some educators volunteer doesn’t make it part of their job.

      Ontario has one of the best education systems in the world and one if the key reasons is that we have excellent teachers. We have excellent teachers because we compensate teachers well, so that attract good people to the job. The more we degrade this, the less attractive it will be.

      The US and UK education system doesn’t compensate as well and they have much lower achievement and struggle to attract good graduates to teaching.

      • JustTheFactsPlease April 18, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

        It seems to be ‘normal labour practice’ to take on more for less… I use the term ‘normative’ as ‘normal’ can be debated until the cows come home. 1950 hours seems to be a common number for FT employment and is accepted in both Public Service and Private Sector employment.

        Andrew, I completely agree with your statement that Ontario has one of the best education systems in the world. I wouldn’t want to see compensation levels changed, the positions need to attract top talent.

        I really don’t want to see what happened in the UK happen here (collective bargaining pushed teacher’s contracts past the pubic’s level of tolerance and under the guise of ‘Austerity’ the system was turned on head, and years later they have not come close to recovering).

        Thanks for your Blog, it helps to explore thought and options in a rational manor. The level of anger I’ve faced personally from other teachers for even suggesting that there may be another point of view is disturbing, and somewhat telling.

  5. Fred Galang (@NomadCreatives) April 18, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    I don’t have a problem with other perspectives. I welcome it as a matter of fact. Again, my initial post about the topic is as honest as one can get. Your perspective on the other hand can hardly be considered as “unique” or remotely an “alternative”. It simply reeks of teacher bashing if you ask me. For the amount of anger you’ve received from other teachers, try multiplying that by 10 in the amount of anger I received from people like you. Thanks Andrew, as always, very thought provoking.

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