Maze returned to STF presidency by acclamation as he ponders future challenges
Ho hum, so it’s same old, same old. Well hardly.
On the one hand, it was business as usual following the elections at this year’s virtual version of the Annual Meeting of Council with Patrick Maze acclaimed as President, returning for another two-year term which now dates back to 2015. Samantha Becotte was similarly acclaimed for the role of Vice-President on the Executive.
But as anyone on planet Earth could tell you otherwise, there has been nothing “normal” during the past year. Predictions for the future pretty much depend on the day of the week and the latest developments on the COVID-19 front and the seemingly endless variants that have become the everyday norm.
Looking back on the past year’s tumultuous developments in the education sector in particular, Maze suggested, “I haven’t found it to be too frustrating, challenging for sure, but I’m the sort of person who likes a good challenge and found that there were some little wins along the way.”
According to Maze, the past year has taught him the importance of working together as a team and trying to underscore the importance of research when it comes to combating a global pandemic. He also concurred that at a time such as this, absolutely, experience in a leadership role is key. He mused that current Education Minister Dustin Duncan is the fourth person to have held that office during his tenure.
“I’ve heard from a lot of our members who have been appreciative of the Federation offering a respected voice to the public and the media when it comes to education. Definitely we’ve also turned a few people away, but that’s inevitable when you’re in a leadership position. In difficult times like this you’re not in it to win a popularity contest,” Maze offered.
As a result of having to grapple with the topsy-turvy developments due to the lingering pandemic, Maze conceded that it has become regular practice to be reacting to the latest situation.
“Often it’s been us reacting to external forces that have been out of our control. So things like classroom supports, resources and curriculum have taken a backseat because dealing with trying to get through the pandemic has definitely been everyone’s priority,” Maze said.
During the conversation, Maze couldn’t ignore the sombre issue of the COVID-related deaths of two educational workers.
Despite having lobbied government for months to include teachers as front-line workers when it came to vaccines, those overtures have fallen on deaf ears until these most recent tragic events.
“It’s been very frustrating to see government, local health authorities and school divisions stick to the idea of keeping schools open. It’s as if there was an acceptable norm of possible deaths and I wonder what that number is; for me it’s zero,” Maze said.
Whether it was this past year or in the future, Maze maintains that class composition remains a critical, lingering issue that the STF will continue to bring to the fore.
“It’s still a major issue and without significant changes, students’ learning will continue to suffer and teachers can’t be at their best. It has to be a primary concern going forward, and we need to continue to focus on finding solutions. It is so critical that it affects so many areas. We know the composition isn’t right for a significant number of our membership. It’s a battle we still have to be ready to take on because a lot of our members are feeling exhausted and frustrated.
“More and more it’s affecting rural Saskatchewan as well. In the urban centres teachers have more access to professional supports, whereas in rural areas there is a real sense of futility. When you’re looking at jamming three or four levels into one classroom, you’re just asking too much,” Maze bemoaned.
Of equal importance in the future is the reality that learning gaps are only certain to be made worse by the inequity when it comes to technology during the on-again, off-again situation of virtual learning for many teachers and students.
“That’s going to be a huge challenge. Individual teachers are able to identify those gaps, but to try and address outcomes and indicators under these circumstances with reduced staffs in some cases, it makes it very difficult.
“Often teachers put the weight of the world on their shoulders, but sometimes we have to recognize that for teachers’ own mental health we can do our best but we can’t fix all societal issues, and so sometimes maybe teachers have to be more forgiving of themselves in terms of their classrooms. But those learning gaps are going to fall mainly on the school system and the inequities in society have definitely been exacerbated.”
Throughout all the travails, the Federation has purposely taken on a significantly higher profile in the media. As Maze said, that has brought greater responsibility on the position of President as he is often the spokesman.
“We are the only ones who can speak freely about the education sector and so our voice is sought after. Yes there’s a danger of maybe overdoing this, but I would rather that they [media] come to us so that we’re able to control the narrative. It’s important for teachers to have a voice in the process,” Maze said.
As he ponders the next chapter of his leadership, Maze said, “I think knowing that there are still so many challenges to work towards making a better future for our teachers and students keeps me hopeful. You can’t dwell too much on the negative. By nature I’m pretty optimistic, and we all need to do our part to make a difference in the world.”