Articles

THE LITTLE RED SWEATSHOP

Schoolteachers are organizing, even striking, in their battle for higher pay. They warn that second-rate education is here

RAY GARDNER April 15 1949
Articles

THE LITTLE RED SWEATSHOP

Schoolteachers are organizing, even striking, in their battle for higher pay. They warn that second-rate education is here

RAY GARDNER April 15 1949

THE LITTLE RED SWEATSHOP

Articles

Schoolteachers are organizing, even striking, in their battle for higher pay. They warn that second-rate education is here

RAY GARDNER

SCHOOLTEACHER Harold Petch is one of the solid citizens of the Ontario town of Drayton (pop. 600). From him Drayton's youngsters

learn most of what they are ever likely to know about algebra, trigonometry, modern and ancient history and the intricacies of the English language.

Mild-mannered, scholarly Petch is also up to his ears in church and community work and yet finds time to collect British Colonial stamps, curl, play tennis and a competent game of chess (he once was Oshawa champion).

Like many a small Canadian town, Drayton is “dry,” lacks a movie house, dance hall or bowling alley. The folk go in for simple pleasures: watching Drayton’s intermediates battle Lynwood or Atwood at hockey; the annual Drayton, Peel and Maryborough Agricultural Fair held in a red, barnlike building called the Palace; the Drayton Athletic Association’s concert in the Town Hall (featuring “Grandpa’s Twin Sister,” a three-act play produced and directed by H. Petch). At least part of the burden of staging anything that happens in Drayton is bound to fall on Petch.

In this way 41-year-old Petch is typical of the small-town teacher in any part of Canada: he is invariably a leader in community work. In Petch’s case this is wholly by choice, and it’s a happy choice both for him and for Drayton. In too many instances this work is thrust on teachers who are already overloaded, teaching in poorly equipped, understaffed schools.

But Petch’s main out-of-school activity—like most of Canada’s 82,000 city and country teachers

—has been trying to make ends meet on a grossly inadequate salary.

Petch, who has Normal School training, a university degree and 22 years experience, has done well —for a teacher. He gets $2,600 a year ($50 a week). But last year, when his salary was $2,350, it cost him, his wife, and their two daughters (Donna Ruth, 15; Joy, 12) $3,000 to live. Petch had to fill in the balance by using his vacation time to mark examination papers while his wife earned pocket money working as correspondent for the KitchenerWaterloo Record.

The Petchs can’t afford a car and have bought no new furniture since 1932. And Petch, who paid off a $400 debt and saved $600 while in the RCAF, now has only $300 in the bank. He finds he can’t save on a teacher’s salary.

Yet Petch is doing better than most Canadian grade and high-school teachers. In 1947, when his own salary was $1,916 a year, the average paid in all Canadian schools outside of Quebec was $1,446 —or $27.80 a week. In the same year the average for workers in eight leading industries was a weekly $36.18.

In Prince Edward Island in that year teachers got an average $15.67 a week.

Petch at, least collects his money. But lust December in Quebec the case came to light, of an Abitibi County teacher who hadn’t collected u penny of her $80-a-month salary for eight months

nor the monthly $1.50 extra she was promised for doing school janitor work. She had subsisted by working Friday nights and Saturdays in u clothing store.

In Charlevoix County, Que., a male teacher was owed $900 and was supporting his family on a bank loan. In another instance a woman teacher in Argenteuil County, Que., was actually billed for $20 at the term’s end for fuel she had burned in the school stove preparing her next week’s lessons on her week ends off.

During the prosperous war years the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation often had to help its rural members collect back salaries.

Harold Petch, struggling to make ends meet, is inclined to wonder what’s wrong with his profession when he sees three of his former classmates—a lawyer, a newspaperman and an insurance actuary —all knocking down far bigger money than he. They all got similar grades at school.

What effect are substandard salaries having on the education of our children? They are going to get, eventually, exactly what we pay for —a secondrate education. Low salaries are driving many of the best teachers into other fields; they are failing to attract our best university graduates into the profession.

The day of second-rate education has already arrived for thousands of Canadian children. The teacher shortage, mainly caused by low salaries, is grave. The Canadian Education Association reported in February a shortage of 7,039 qualified teachers. In February 214 schools were closed by a lack of teachers. A

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year ago (and the situation has not improved materially since) 21,658 pupils in Alberta and Saskatchewan alone were taking correspondenceschool courses. In Alberta there are hundreds of so-called teachers who are known to the profession as “sitters” because their job is merely to sit and

supervise.

The irony of the situation is that almost everyone, from Cabinet ministers down, agrees the teacher is underpaid and that his importance to society can not be overrated. But no one does anything about it.

Tired of pats on the back and wanting more money in their pockets, the teachers of Penticton, B.C., spoke for teachers all across Canada when they told their local school board in January:

“For too many years, now, the teacher has been listening to eulogies of himself . . . The teacher has been praised from every corner of the land, but in spite of this he finds he has to haggle and bargain for sufficient means to provide a standard of living far below that enjoyed by others with much less training and with less responsible positions.”

What the Penticton teachers wanted was less applesauce and more pork chops. Drayton’s Harold Petch is less bitter: he merely expresses a wish he could afford more of both. He doesn’t complain—nor does he blame the Drayton School Board which is doing its best, he says.

The Petchs live in an ageing eightroom house they have rented since 1932. Rent and utilities cost Petch about $460 last year, food more than $600. He spent about $150 on entertainment, $50 on Joy’s music lessons. Income tax was $117. He gave $160 to his church and charities. He’s thankful he had no medical bills. Dentistry cost them $80. Some money was invested in the future: $409 for insurance and $94 in his superannuation fund.

Varsity Was a Grind

Petch’s first teaching job, at Florence, Ont., paid $1,300. He came to Drayton Composite school 18 years ago at $1,500, in the depth of the depression was cut to $1,400. When he returned from the RCAF in 1945 his salary was $1,750, gradually climbed to $2,600. Under Drayton’s present salary schedule he can count on a $150 annual raise until he reaches the $3,300 maximum.

Petch’s qualifications are good. He spent a year at Toronto Normal, has a B.A. from Queen’s and holds three special certificates: physical education, agriculture and secondary - school assistant’s certificate.

All these, except his Normal training, were obtained the hard way: by spending 10 of his annual vacations at summer school. It took him six summers of actual study and an “iron constitution” to get his B.A. Several summers he had to interrupt his university work to mark papers or work in the woods to finance the next year’s tuition.

Most country schools haven’t a patch on Petch’s. Many are little more than dingy shacks while Drayton Composite is pin-new, bright, modernlv designed and equipped. Enrollment in each of the school’s two sections, public and high, is about 80. The public school has two teachers, the high school four and two part-time teachers.

Petch works considerably more than a 40-hour week, is mildly amused by laymen who envy the schoolteacher’s “easy hours.” “If teachers were only paid overtime,” says Mrs. Petch wist-

fully. (She was a schoolteacher, earning $1,000 a year in St. Jacob’s, Ont., when she married her principal.)

Petch usually leaves home around S.30 a.m., seldom returns before 5 or 5.30. Classroom work is the most important but not the only phase of his duties. In the fall he spends many hours preparing for the Drayton and District School Fair in which 22 schools participate. Many afternoons he stays late coaching students, directing plays, preparing his courses, keeping records up-to-date. Once every fifth week he supervises the program for the school’s general assembly. Many a night, especially when there are exam papers to mark, he takes a stack of work home.

He teaches mathematics, history and English and some citizenship and health to grades nine to 13, inclusive. Though he teaches citizenship, Petch has not full citizen’s rights himself: Ontario teachers can not hold elected public office.

Petch helped organize, and is now secretary of the Drayton Athletic Association which sponsors the town’s major sports—tennis, curling, baseball, hockey and lawn bowling. He judges fruit exhibits at the Drayton Fall Fair, helps with the prize list.

Drayton’s public library is considered one of the finest of its kind in Ontario; Petch is chairman of the board. He holds three offices in various organizations of Drayton United Church, has taught Sunday school as well.

Back to Army for Cash

Most country teachers don’t sink their roots as deeply as Petch has sunk his; after a year or two of experience in the country they head for the cities where the pay is a little higher.

Andrew (Andy) Sinclair, 27, a health and science teacher at Harbord Collegiate, Toronto, is typical of many who serve their apprenticeship in the country.

Sinclair, now in his third year of teaching, went into debt in 1946 in Walkerton, Ont. (pop. 2,700), when he took his first school position. He began at $1,800 and $20 a month cost-ofliving bonus, was boosted to $2,100 at Christmas. Father of two children— Sharon Lynn, six, and Thomas, four— he had housing troubles, became desperate one week end and almost rejoined the Army in which he had served as a lieutenant.

In the summer Sinclair earned $41.40 a week as production chaser on the assembly line at the Massey-Harris plant in Toronto. The job required no specialized education; the pay was exactly the same as his teacher’s salary.

The next fall, 1947, Sinclair headed for Toronto and Harbord, landed a position at $2,300, reached $2,500 that Christmas and $2,700 at the beginning of 1949. This is $51.92 a week. In August, 1948, the Workers’ Educational Association reported, after a thorough survey, that $72.98 a week is required to provide an adequate standard of living for a Toronto family of four.

The Sinclairs scrape by, but just. He has bought only one new suit since before the war, can’t afford a car, a telephone or insurance on his family, though he has some on himself. He packs his lunch, can’t buy all the milk he’d like to for his growing children. This summer he intends rejoining the Army for two months, will draw lieutenant’s pay and allowances.

He has built, his own house, valued at $8,000, under NHA. To raise the $2,500 down payment he borrowed $1,000 from the bank, the rest from

the Provincial Government. Exclusive of bank-loan payments, the house costs him $40 monthly; it will be his in 20 years.

Sinclair holds a B.S.A. from the Ontario Agricultural College, spent a year at the Ontario College of Education, has specialist’s certificates in agricultural science, physical education and health. He would like to obtain his master’s degree and Ph.D., but can’t afford to spend his summers on them. In 10 years he’ll be eligible for a year’s leave with his tuition paid. “By then,” he says, “I may have lost my initiative.”

During a single school term, Sinclair estimates, he spends about 185 hours on extracurricular work. On a 40-hour week basis this is four and a half weeks, or a large chunk out of his summer vacation. This does not include marking papers or the many hours spent at home preparing lessons. He coaches basketball and rugby, referees hockey. Last rugby season it was usually 7.30 before he sat down to a warmed-over dinner. In summer he devotes a good deal of time to revising his courses. “No good teacher is satisfied to teach the same course year after year without improving on it,” he says.

Sinclair, like Petch, is better off than thousands of other teachers. The 1947 average provincial salaries were: P.E.I., $816; New Brunswick, $977; Nova Scotia, $1,241; Saskatchewan, $1,265; Manitoba, $1,304; Ontario, $1,514; Alberta, $1,546; and British Columbia, $2,042.

Quebec does not report its teachers’ salaries to Ottawa, but they are notoriously low. Even today the average rural salary in Quebec is $900 for Catholic teachers and $1,065 for Protestant teachers, according to the Canadian Education Association.

True, teachers’ salaries have risen since 1947, but soaring ahead of them, say teachers, have been living costs. In May, 1948, the C.E.A. observed that “in spite of salary increases . . . teachers are not as well off as they were in 1939.”

Teachers feel their services are as valuable as those of other professional men and that their earnings should reflect this. They don’t, of course. In 1946, according to Government incometax statistics, doctors earned, on an average, $7,466; lawyers, $6,528; architects, $5,984; and dentists, $5,289. The average for all taxpayers was $2,044. Urban teachers averaged $1,906 and rural teachers $1,181.

They’re Quitting School

The teachers’ averages are, in fact, higher than the average teacher’s salary, for many did not earn enough to be taxable. In P.E.I., for instance, only 40 teachers earned enough to be taxable.

Summerside, P.E.I. (pop. 5,000), provides a striking example of teachers’ earnings compared to the average Canadian’s income. In 1946 the average taxable income in Summerside was $2,292, the highest for any Canadian town or city. Yet, in 1947-48, teachers in Summerside earned, on an average, only $1,362. James R. Murphy, a highly qualified Summerside highschool teacher and a former school inspector, earns only $1,850 today.

Fed up with leading lives of genteel poverty, thousands of teachers are leaving the classrooms for more lucrative fields. Of the 60,000 teachers trained in Canada in the last. 10 years only 40% are still teaching.

Many turned their back on teaching after war service. Says A. E. Kress, RCAF veteran, 10 years a teacher at Humberside Collegiate, Toronto, now in the office-furniture business: “I

have five children. If I had stayed with teaching I’d he out on the street now ! with a tin cup.”

Lack of job security is another factor in the teacher shortage. Comments Gerald Earner, secretary, Saskatch; ewan Teachers’ Federation: “Teachers have ceased to kid themselves they have any security. They haven’t. There is an open season the 30th of June and teachers can simply be let out . . . without any redress whatever.”

In P.E.I. contracts are signed for only a year, can be revoked on three months’ notice.

In rural districts living conditions are bad, sometimes shocking; the schools are often dilapidated and poorly equipped; busybodies often pry into the teacher’s personal life, frown on his smoking, playing cards or taking a social drink in his off hours.

Often, especially on the Prairies, the teacher is provided with a teacherage which is usually a oneor two-room shack. Recently the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation had to deal with a complaint from a teacher in the Sokal school district, near Wakaw, that the teacherage was dilapidated and rat-infested. The school walls were encrusted with dirt, had not been washed in at least six years, the teacher complained.

Failures Can Teach

In Quebec—where Catholic teachers’ salaries are sometimes as low as $600 and sometimes hard to collect—about 500 trained male teachers and 1,000 women on the lists of the Catholic Teachers’ Employment Office are working at other jobs.

G. W. C. Ginn, executive secretary, Quebec Protestant Teachers’ Association, claims that a few Quebec school boards deliberately delay advertising for a teacher until they are certain all the available teachers have been hired. Then they may hire an unqualified permit teacher at a low salary. (A few Protestant teachers in Quebec earn only $700 to $800.)

These hardships have resulted in a shortage of teachers and a constant lowering of qualifications. The end result is less tangible and more dangerous: second-rate education.

What can we expect, asks the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, when one out of every 10 persons teaching in Canada holds only a permit or a temporary certificate; when in Ontario (by no means the worst province) 85 persons who have failed at Normal I School have teaching jobs?

Concludes the C.E.A.’s famous La! Zerte Report: “It is unreasonable to I

assume that more than a minority of ; Canadian children are receiving or can receive a suitable education under : existing conditions.”

Dr. M. E. LaZerte, Dean of Educaj tion at the University of Alberta, who j headed a committee to study the status j of the Canadian teacher, had this to say when this reporter asked him about teachers’ salaries:

“In the last 30 years the schools i have failed to keep pace with the : society they serve. Teaching as a j profession has become unattractive.

! Salaries, living and working conditions of teachers, school buildings and equip| ment are all much as they were decades ago. The schools, and education, suffer.”

Who is suffering most? The children in the rural areas. Equality of opportunity in education simply doesn’t exist. Rural children are taught by I teachers who are paid only $1,207 j (1947 national average) while city i children are taught by teachers paid an average of $2,120. The rural teacher is

a transient who changes schools every two years or less (against a 10-year average tenure for city teachers) and gets his experience at the expense of country children.

British Columbia pays the highest salaries and has the highest percentage (31ry ) of university-trained teachers. Prince Edward Island has the lowest average salary and the lowest (2%) of university-trained teachers. The Army found that its most poorly educated recruits came from rural areas in the Maritimes.

What must be done? Dr. LaZerte plugs for a twoor three-year program of teacher education, and says that school boards must pay salaries proportional to the time and energy spent on training and to the quality of the teachers’ work.

Seeking Federal Aid

Which must be raised first, standards or salaries?

“If standards were raised before salaries thousands of schools would remain closed,” says Dr. LaZerte. “It appears wise to raise salaries and then demand higher standards ¿ill along the line.”

Who is going to foot the bill? The Canadian Teachers’ Federation, representing 55,000 teachers, contends the Federal Government must help the provinces finance education and has made federal aid its number one objective. At the same time, the C.T.F. insists that the Federal Government must not infringe upon provincial autonomy in education.

Federal grants, the C.T.F. thinks, should be on a per pupil capita basis, should be contingent on the provinces not reducing their own education expenditure, and should be earmarked specifically for education.

The C.T.F. has lined up broad support for its federal-aid campaign. It has been endorsed by the CCF, the Progressive Conservatives, both national labor congresses, Canadian School Trustees’ Association and Cana-

dian Federation of Home and School. Many government members have also spoken in favor of federal aid.

But Quebec is against it; Quebec M.P.’s fear an invasion of provincial rights.

This month, as teachers gather throughout Canada for their annual provincial conventions, the whole problem is bound to be aired again. We can expect the teachers to be more militant than ever. They are already restless.

In B. C. the teachers have affiliated with the Trades and Labor Congress (AFL). B. C. teachers have the right to negotiate with school boards, while in most other provinces the teachers merely present a brief on salaries, and hope the board will give it consideration. B. C. teachers also have security: They can be fired only for gross immorality or gross incompetency, which must be proven.

In Montreal in January schoolteachers showed they are capable of striking. While Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis roared about the “revolutionary mentality” of Leo Guindon, the strike leader, 1,700 Catholic lay teachers walked out of 54 schools—and stayed out a week. By arbitration the teachers had been awarded elementary school maximums of $3,200 for men, $2,500 for women, but the Catholic School Commission, appointed by Duplessis and Archbishop Charbonneau. cut the award by $100. The teachers went out, demanding maximums of $3,500, and $2,500.

They went back when the Archbishop promised to help negotiate i a settlement. Guindon’s assistant, j Leonard Turcotte, says, “We’ll go out again rather than accept a cent less than we demand.”

While we go on spending only two per cent of our national income on education, men like Harold Petch and Andrew Sinclair, and their children and our own, are being left to foot the rest: of the bill. The »Sinclairs and Petchs pay in a lower standard of living for their families; the price to our children will be toted up in years to come. ★