World Teachers’ Day draws large crowd to celebrate and contemplate challenges
REGINA–In advance of the World Teachers’ Day celebrations in front of the Saskatchewan Legislature, there were plenty of unknowns in terms of how the day would play out.
Yet, there were two totally predictable outcomes. Even though it was a pleasant autumn day, of course there was going to be wind. This was Regina after all. Also, the “celebrations” were always going to include none-too-subtle messages about the current plight of public education in the province, specifically in terms of class size and composition as the provincial collective bargaining scenario continues to unfold.
Speaking of wind, you would be hard-pressed to find many of the 2,000 or so gathered there (many brandishing signs that only teachers could create in terms of imagination and neatness) who would not have been blown away by the words delivered by Merah Gasmo, a Grade 12 student at Campbell Collegiate in Regina.
Gasmo, whose future plans are to be a teacher specializing in French education, recalled the profound influence teachers have had in her journey thus far.
Although she had planned on flying under the radar in high school, that has changed to the degree where she has volunteered in a myriad of activities due in large part to her teachers.
“Those teachers that I thought would be scary [upon entering high school] have turned out to be my biggest supporters. They are the reason I love to come to school. I ask myself ‘why do I want to become a teacher?’ It becomes really clear what reason I should use to explain the importance. Teachers, through education, light a fire within their students. I want to be a teacher because I want the opportunity to support students the way my teachers have supported me,” she said.
Mirroring some of the signs, Gasmo suggested being a teacher is not an easy job. “While I recognize that this is a day for celebrating, it should also be a day to raise awareness for what our teachers are struggling with. I see the hard work they [teachers] put in all for the betterment of their students, and I know that no matter how hard things get, they will always be fighting for their students,” she said to raucous applause.
That approval reached another crescendo as she summed up her speech by thanking teachers “for not only being my superhero, but for being so many other students’ heroes as well.”
As the penultimate presenter, Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation President Patrick Maze had the somewhat unenviable task of following Gasmo, whose poise and eloquence belied her age.
Ironically, Maze personally knew Gasmo, who attends the same high school as one of his own sons.
Maze straddled the line between the feeling of celebration in seeing such a turnout, while at the same time also reminding the audience that teachers are having to meet the increasingly diverse needs of students against the backdrop of diminished supports and fewer resources in the classroom.
“Teachers continue to deliver their best. They do this for their students so they can succeed. They do this out of an incredible sense of professionalism and pride.”
Maze insisted that the turnout reaffirmed to him that “if we work together we can meet the challenges and create the right future for our education system and for our province’s students.”
Another compassionate presentation outlining the importance of teachers was delivered by Leah Andrew, a parent of four children who have attended, or are currently attending Aden Bowman Collegiate in Saskatoon.
She praised the teachers whom her children have had along the way, citing their courage and how their dedication and passion has equipped her children with the desire to be lifelong learners.
“But you need more than our thanks. We all want to show our commitment to education in this province and to show the same courage you as teachers have shown our kids. Let’s change this system together,” she emphasized.
Vice-President of the STF Samantha Becotte echoed those thoughts, adding that “both teachers and parents share a common interest; we all want what is best for our kids. I am not only a teacher, I am mom to two young kids who are just beginning their public education.
“Together, we can spread new ideas. We can rely on our collective energy, experience, perspective and wisdom to imagine the future of education in this province and then deliver that in our classrooms.”
Meanwhile, the two political parties in the province were also represented.
Education Minister Gord Wyant praised the work teachers are doing, while underscoring his commitment to making positive changes, albeit that he allowed to some, change may seem slow.
“I see the challenges first hand in our buildings. Make no mistake, I see it and I think if we work together we can find the right answers and the solutions. When I talk to teachers I don’t want you to tell me not just what is going right, but what is not right.”
NDP Leader Ryan Meilli focused on the importance of wellness and mental health for both students and teachers, alluding to the stress created by class size issues in particular.
“It’s not just the numbers, it’s the complexity of our classrooms. Those challenges are real and it’s why a lot of teachers are feeling overwhelmed. We should be doing better and we shouldn’t be in this mess.
It’s about making choices and we can’t be worrying about the next election so much as we should focus on the next generation.”