Maze calls for increased teacher voice in his re-election pledge

Column: 
May 16, 2018

Patrick Maze talks to fellow councillors Joan Lichtenwald (right) and Christy Blazieko following confirmation of his re-election as STF President.

Well before the election results were posted, a general mood of relaxed contentment with the state of things made it a pretty safe bet that incumbent Patrick Maze would prevail as President of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation.

Sure enough, that was the scenario as Maze became the longest-serving President in the history of the STF, by embarking on his fourth term. Brent Keen finished as runner-up in the race for the Presidency but was subsequently returned as Vice-President.

Maze chose to characterize his successful re-election bid as part of the bigger picture, which will see an STF Executive pretty much intact, with the addition of Micheal Hagel as the only change.

“I think it speaks to the fact that our Executive is firing on all cylinders and people are happy that we are listening to teachers and making the changes they want. I think Council is very satisfied with the work our Executive is doing, and they are making good decisions on behalf of teachers. We work well with the Federation staff, which is the way governance should work. We all have a great understanding of what our roles are, and the members are the ones who benefit from that relationship,” Maze expounded.

Looking forward to the next year and beyond, Maze underscored that while the provincial collective bargaining process is ostensibly out of teachers’ hands as a result of having filed for arbitration, there is important work that needs to be done.

“There are a number of non-monetary things that we need to move forward, and restoring teacher voice to the sector is right at the top.

“If you look at the provincial leadership team, for example, there is no STF or SSBA voice at that table. As a result, it’s a pretty insulated group under the thumb of the Ministry [of Education],” Maze lamented.

He also repeated his earlier critique of the Education Sector Strategic Plan.

“We still have to revisit the Education Sector Strategic Plan because the targets they have set are just too aggressive. There is too much focus on the spending that can be saved as opposed to student achievement. I think to an extent, the system is flawed,” Maze said.

Although encouraged by what he had heard from the provincial government since the election of Scott Moe as Premier and Gord Wyant as Education Minister, Maze chooses to wait for tangible evidence that they are going to do what they have pledged.

“For sure it’s better to look at some of these things now than never, but there is still this idea of trying to balance the books on the backs of the education system.”

Maze referenced the success of the Pick a Premier campaign by offering that government underestimated the resolve and influence teachers can play in the political process when mobilized.

“It goes back to the idea of teacher voice, and government fails to understand this at their peril. They are still making decisions without consultation or listening to teachers or the Federation.

“There are lots of opportunities for government to reconnect like they talk about. Some of this language is what we’ve been hearing for four years and yet we’ve been going backwards. We have to reinvest in education and restore the funding that has been cut so that our classrooms are properly resourced.”

Maze welcomes the language that suggests an emphasis on improving relationships, but he wants to see concrete examples rather than a continuation of what he labels as rhetoric.

“Listening has to occur and then there has to be action behind it. Right now I would say the partnerships have to substantially improve between the various partners because there’s a lot of distrust in the sector,” he opined.

Maze envisions the STF-inspired Re-Imagine Education campaign as a way to provide much-needed data from people who need to be heard in the overall dialogue, noting he is referring to parents and community members as well as teachers.

“These are the people who need to be involved in the discussion when we’re talking about what direction education should go and what commitments there are for the sector. In my view, government needs to respond to us because we speak on behalf of students and we’re providing their voice.”

According to Maze, the Pick a Premier campaign is a sign teachers are going to be more politically active in the future.

He is also well aware that any future success in this direction will require galvanizing public opinion on their side, which he said ultimately will mean “we have the responsibility to make them understand the issues because education should be a priority for everyone. It’s our job to help the public understand the effects these cuts are having on the classroom and helping them to understand they have an important role in terms of what they want public education to look like.”

Buoyed by the confidence shown to himself and to the Executive by members of Council, Maze said that even with the challenges facing teachers, “it’s a good time to be involved, and I think we [STF] are the one truly stable force in education right now. There’s important work ahead, but I love it and I’m humbled to be able to stay involved at this level.”