Updated: Feb 27
On Friday, February 21, I joined ten thousand education workers in Kitchener City Hall to protest against Doug Ford and the Minister of Education Stephen Lecce's proposed cuts to public education.
We all have our favourite and least favourite teachers but, no matter who comes to mind when you think of that, I guarantee that those individuals have been fighting a fight for you for years.
I went to the protest with my mom, a music teacher at the local elementary school in my hometown. Because she works at the school in my community, she was also a teacher at my school. She was my teacher. I could appreciate the endless hard work that she puts towards her job before, as I saw it both at home and in the classroom, but I didn't truly understand how selfless this teacher strike was until I was with them all on the street.
There were various reactions to my presence at the protest. Some strangers stared, some smiled and others didn't seem to notice. My mom's colleagues and my former teachers chatted with me about where I was now and what my plans for the future were.
Most of the time, I explained that I was writing a "community engagement" paper for school on the strike. I would get different comments like, "well, you've picked quite the engagement," and "this is community, alright!" However, I couldn't fight the feeling that this wasn't really community engagement.
What does community really mean? To me, it means a safe space with unconditional support between members through vulnerability and trust. But what I saw at the teacher strikes was different. I saw a united front - consisting of teachers, administrators, secretaries, social works, early childhood educators, custodians, hall monitors, and so many more - that fought for a fight that isn't theirs to face.
Don't get me wrong - these cuts affect education workers in very specific ways. But I'm troubled that the students, the individuals that the teachers are fighting for, are not on the front line. With the exception of a few young individuals, the majority of the protestors were not students. Not only does this say a lot about our generation, but it says even more about the education workers.
I'm not here to get obnoxiously political nor place blame. That's not really my thing and this is not a black and white conflict. But, I will say that students need better understanding of what is happening in this province. They need to fight. No one understands what is at stake better than those who spend hours in these schools.
The teachers should not be standing alone when youth can do more. I should have done more sooner, and I'm here to tell you that once I did stand with them, I understood the importance of my being there.
I encourage you to think about how you can contribute to this protest. At the end of the day, we show strength when more of us stand together to say no. Community means showing unconditional support for each other, and it's time for youth to hold up their end of the bargain.
These strikes are not convenient for the teachers nor is it their preferred choice. Waterloo Region - this is their sacrifice for you, and it's time to see students resist these changes too.