Chapter Nine: Teachers and the Teaching Profession

9.6 Teacher’s Associations

Provincial teachers’ associations exist in all of Canada’s provinces and territories. In most cases, a single association represents the public school teachers of the province or territory; only New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario have more than one association. (See Table 9.6.1 for a list of associations).

Teacher associations are unions for purposes of labour relations such as collective bargaining, but in addition they perform a wide range of activities related to the well-being of their membership in particular, and to the provision and improvement of public schooling in general. Among the functions of teachers’ associations are: (1) professional-development activities for their membership, in the form of seminars, conferences, and workshops; (2) member welfare supports, such as counselling on personal health issues; (3) legal and professional advice to members on such matters as contractual rights and employee relationships; and (4) lobbying and consultation activities with governments and other educational stakeholders to promote both the interests of their members and the health of the public school system. However collective bargaining on behalf of their membership is generally considered the most important function of teachers’ associations.

Teacher unions were developed in the first part of the twentieth century to improve teachers’ pay and working conditions.  Prior to the development of teacher unions and collective agreements, teachers could be and were fired at the whim of their employers – for example female teachers were sometimes fired for getting married.  Teachers had no say in their own pay; male teachers earned more than female teachers doing the same job until that practice was stopped through collective bargaining.  During the depression of the 1930s, teachers in some places were required to bid for their own jobs each year, getting less and less pay for the same work.  Many of the rights discussed earlier, such as the right to voice one’s opinion or the right to a fair evaluation only exist because teacher unions fought for them.

Despite these important accomplishments, in recent years there has been a concerted attack on teacher unions, claiming that they interfere with effective education and get in the way of removing incompetent teachers.  Many states in the United States do not allow collective bargaining by teachers and the same suggestion has been made in Canada.  These criticisms are part of a general move to reduce the extent and influence of unions in Canadian life.

Like school districts or governments, teacher unions are not perfect organizations.  They face internal conflicts between the conflicting views of members.  For example, a collective agreement may accept less desirable working conditions for younger teachers in order to preserve the benefits of the majority of older members.

However, it is important to remember the vital benefits for teachers that exist because of the work of unions.  Where there are no teacher unions, pay is lower, working conditions are worse, benefits are fewer, and as a result it is harder to attract skilled people into teaching or to keep them there.  In fact, virtually all the strongest education systems in the world have strong teacher unions because when teachers form powerful advocacy groups, they also work for things that benefit students.  Teachers should certainly be seeking ways to make their unions better organizations, but the evidence shows that getting rid of unions would lead to a worse situation for students as well as teachers.

Most principals and vice-principals in Canada belong to teachers’ organizations. Although they may have their own subgroup within these organizations (e.g., the Manitoba Council of School Leaders), they have traditionally seen themselves primarily as teachers who share common professional interests with their colleagues. However, this relationship is not without its ambiguities, since principals are also expected to be management representatives in their schools.

In Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia principals are prevented by law from being members of teachers’ organizations. In these provinces, school administrators have their own provincial organizations. In Quebec, this organization has been long established, while in British Columbia the split from the teachers’ federation occurred in 1987 as part of the legislation that established the British Columbia College of Teachers (Robinson & Wallin, 1989).  In Ontario principals were removed from the bargaining unit by provincial law in the late 1990s.

Recently, there has been much more debate around whether administrators should remain “in scope” or “out of scope” of teachers’ organizations.  The arguments to remain in scope include the fact that most administrators are teachers, are affected by many of the same issues as teachers, and therefore should be entitled to the same protections.  Also, keeping administrators in teacher unions emphasizes their common interests rather than pitting them against each other.  The argument for exclusion revolves around the nature of principals’ role as managers of work and evaluators of teachers, so that when conflicts arise, very often they pit administrators against teachers (for example, dismissal proceedings).  The question then becomes, which “teacher member” does the association protect?

Table 9.6.1

Canada’s Provincial and Territorial Teacher Association

Provincial and Territorial Teacher Associations Province or Territory Association Website
Yukon Yukon Teachers’ Association
Northwest Territories Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association
Nunavut Nunavut Teachers’ Association
British Columbia British Columbia Teachers’ Federation
Alberta Alberta Teachers’ Association
Saskatchewan Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation
Manitoba Manitoba Teachers’ Society
Ontario Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario
Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation
Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association
L’Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-Ontariens
Quebec Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers/

Centrale de l’enseignement du Québec
New Brunswick New Brunswick Teachers’ Federation
New Brunswick Teachers’ Association
L’Association des enseignantes et des enseignants francophone du Nouveau-Brunswick
Nova Scotia Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union
Prince Edward Island Prince Edward Island Teachers’ Federation
Newfoundland and Labrador Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association
Provincial College of Teachers Ontario Ontario College of Teachers


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