The editors answer you | Teachers’ right to speak

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Posted at 11:00am

Nathalie Collard

Nathalie Collard
The press

Do people know that teachers risk disciplinary action, up to and including termination, if they reveal to the general public the shortcomings and slippages of their school or service center (CSS)?

Sonia Bahl, teacher

The least we can say is that a large number of teachers were stung by the words of Gregory Charles published on our pages last week.

Mr. Charles interviewed our colleague Alexandre Pratt, who wanted to talk to him about the differences between his various cohorts of students in music and voice over the years. Sports columnist Alexandre Pratt had done the same exercise with coaches athletes. During the discussion, Gregory Charles shared some of his proposals for our education system.

This interview provoked a veritable tidal wave of reactions. One of the most common: “Let’s leave it to the experts, the teachers, to find solutions to the problems of the education system. They are the ones who know the reality of the schools. However, we never listen to it enough. †

You often hear this criticism from teachers. The latter have the impression that their expertise is not valued at fair value. That their voice is not heard. And this is all the more true, they say, since the passage of Bill 40 (An Act to mainly amend the Education Act with regard to School Organization and Governance) which was adopted under a gag order in February 2020, without the teachers having been consulted.

mme Bahl writes to us that teachers have no right to speak in public. But on the pages of the papers, The press and elsewhere, teachers are often given the floor. We report on their successes, we interview them, we present their views and those of their unions. So what’s wrong?

In fact, it seems that their freedom of expression is variable.

Take the case of Sylvain Dancause, a math and science teacher in the Quebec region. Mr. Dancause maintains a blog and signs a column on the pages of the Montreal Journal and Quebec newspaper† It can also be heard on QUB Radio. He did not need permission from his superiors to express his opinion, but he recognizes that not all his colleagues enjoy the same freedom.

In fact, most teachers remain very cautious when speaking in public. Some are even hesitant to “like” a status on Facebook for fear of retaliation. It is said that some school service centers (CSS) and school principals are particularly controlling, others less so.

There are no rules that prevent teachers from talking about education. On the other hand, there is one that imposes a duty of loyalty to their employer.

Is this exaggerated as an arrangement? We could point out that this is the case with most companies, that we cannot condemn what happens internally on the square. But the teachers are state employees in the service of the population. Some of them are therefore very reluctant to be able to warn the public if something is wrong in their workplace.

Before COVID, therefore, Sonia Bahl had launched a petition for teachers’ freedom of speech, an impartial approach, she emphasizes, born in the wake of Bill 40’s adoption. Two years later, as we slowly emerge from the pandemic, the teacher took the torch. In essence, she asks that the duty of loyalty required of teachers should not affect their right to speak when exercised in the public interest. The petition, sponsored by the Member of Parliament for Joliette, Véronique Hivon, will be in circulation until May 21.

For his part, teacher Sylvain Dancause is working with a group of colleagues to set up a professional teachers’ association that would give them a voice as pedagogues. “We have unions that represent us as workers, but we want to express ourselves as education professionals on education issues,” he explains.

As we can see, teachers have things to say and want to be able to say them freely. This partly explains their strong reaction to the words of Gregory Charles. They do not doubt his right to speak. But they also want to be able to express themselves. With reason. In 2018, the Minister of Education, Jean-François Roberge, pledged to “break the law of silence” in the education sector. The teachers are still waiting.

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