Our episode with ETFO President Karen Brown was widely received. A long time listener of the podcast, Nathaniel Arfin was in touch regarding his perception of the matter as his wife is a teacher in the Halton District School Board. We asked him to write a piece giving his perspective on the matter.

Urinated on, clawed at, scratched, and bruised. She has a shift to cover after school. Sworn at, threatened, degraded, beaten down. She’s asking if this is still the right career. A headbutt, leading to Post-Concussion Syndrome still impacting her years later. The choice is made for her. She won’t work again.

Educators across Ontario are facing classroom violence daily. While a Fordham Institute paper on ‘soft-on-consequences’ discipline recently went viral in Ontario, the issue often isn’t about policies or student punishment. Halton has a comprehensive Behaviour Intervention Policies, but the challenge is executing them effectively.

I am privileged to be married to a 7-year educator with the Halton District School Board, and it’s through this lens – my primary focus is my Wife’s happiness and success. It’s through this lens that I have come to understand and know that in order to fuel success in our education system, to get the best learning outcomes for our students, we need to give educators whatever they need to succeed. Right now, the opposite is happening.

As violence in our schools continues to rise, people are starting to wonder where to assign blame. The government is working hard to provide us with a few scapegoats, most notably the School Boards, but the question has come up wondering what responsibility does, and should, rest with our school Administrators; the Principals and Vice Principals.

On Monday, the government announced they will be “investing $24 million to help reduce the risk of violence in schools and promote the safety of students and educators”. This comes on the heels of a Grants for Student Needs funding announcement which once again represents a real dollar decline from previous years. 

This underfunding will, once again, cause more dysfunction in our schools. Underfunding has already led to more teachers requiring time off for illness and personal days. These staffing pressure dramatically increase the already incredibly heavy burden our Admin is facing in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the past 5 years, HDSB has seen roughly 2500 new students join the board, a 4% rise. Not a huge number, relative to other boards, but not insignificant. Admin hires have risen at a rate of only 2% over the course of 5 years. Our admin are being tasked with a larger student and employment base without additional resources or supplies.

We’re seeing crisis after crisis in our education system. Beyond the inability for Halton to be able to find and retain qualified French teachers, there are articles being posted in local papers about the “new ways” the board is hoping to recruit staff. It’s made all the more clear by the 11% rise in Occasional Teacher spending over the past 5 years. Halton has a less permanent workforce available in our schools than ever before.

This has an impact. Speaking with an HDSB teacher who prefers to remain anonymous, there are concerns about the impact that the lack of Admin involvement has on the quality of programming. “Admin doesn’t have the same kind of time for us anymore”, they said, “they are always in meetings. It’s hard to get time to chat, and it’s rare that they’re able to answer the phone”.

My wife has never had a single negative thing to say about her admin, did share that while she sees firsthand that additional pressure being put on her Admin, she has faith in their support when things get tough. 

“They always have my back.” She told me the other day, “If I have a student concern, or I need a situation addressed, I can count on them to follow through.”  

She’s always had strong Admin behind her. It’s something I’ve always noticed and appreciated about her working in Halton. The leadership truly cares. But as they continue to be presented with more challenges, being asked to introduce new programming, pivot rapidly to changing environmental needs, all while managing an increasingly fluid employee bases, they’re simply being set up to fail. Just as much as any other educator.

Violence in our classrooms is on the rise. Monday’s supports do nothing to address the real crisis. As my wife celebrates another year on the board with a 1% pay increase (she’s seen a 6% real dollar decline in pay since 2017), and the government fights their darndest in court to keep it that way, I’m wondering if our government’s constant and repeated undermining of educators might just have something to do with why our classrooms aren’t the halls of respectful learning we thought them to be.

And while the government pays us lip service on addressing the mental health crisis we’re staring down, HDSB educators are telling me the gap is simply too large to bridge with these types of half measures. “We’ve experienced loss in our student population,” they told me, “we have ‘extra’ support – which means one session with our social workers a year.”

Our education system has been successful because of the hard work put into it by the educators that comprise it, and the passion they have for the success of the learners who pass through it. They work hard to individualize programming, to create and develop accommodations and alternative learning strategies to fit our learners.

If we want to treat this mental health crisis with the urgency it deserves, it’s time to put funding back in to the classroom. 

Nathaniel Arfin lives in Halton, his wife is a teacher in the Halton District School Board