10 September 2011

Am I a Teacher or a Human Being First?

I'm still "smarting" from a run-in with my professional union this week, one that broke my heart.

According to our new job action (precursor to a strike), teachers in my province are not participating in a whole host of activities, such as staff meetings, meetings with parents outside of instructional time, and fundraising — which I assumed meant raising money for school supplies that our government funding should pay for.

So I went ahead and planned our annual harvest luncheon as a soup potluck and invited students to bring pennies from home for famine relief in East Africa. "Soup for Somalia" we were calling it. I even contacted my union to make sure this was okay, and the rep told me my students and their parents could collect the money.

But my colleagues decided that this was "sidestepping the spirit of the current teaching strike initiative." One told me, "Although I agree that fundraising for Somalia is important, I also believe that it is not appropriate at this time. I would fully support a fundraiser after our job action." Another suggested that "using the school as the vehicle [for this fundraising] ... is problematic." This colleague thought that my unilateral organizing of this event (which I did last year, too, and no one complained) "does us a disservice at this time. What is the rush?"

Well, I put in a call to Somalia, and they said they can't postpone their famine til after we've settled our contract. But, like a coward (and I'm ashamed of my cowardice, especially after last week's entreaty to teachers to be courageous and compassionate), I cancelled the event — we're putting on a community soup dinner and benefit concert that evening instead.

Meantime, if you live here in Canada, anything you donate by September 16th will be matched by our federal government. (Visit the Humanitarian Coalition, or a similar group in your country.)

I know, I know, "donor fatigue" and "we've seen it all before." Here in my community, there's a huge benefit tomorrow for a young boy with cancer. And an all-out search elsewhere in my province for a child who's been abducted.

But Somalis and Ethiopians and Kenyans love their children, too. And so many of the factors leading to this drought, well, our lifestyles are implicated. Please, give what you can. And shame on teachers who think that helping our students become more compassionate is ever the wrong thing to do.

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?