My experience proves striking teachers’ concerns are valid
Ontario elementary teacher strikes have been in the news recently as unions remain in a deadlock with the province. The funding and policy changes that have spurred this strike action include an increase in class size, cuts to programs for at-risk kids and those with special education needs and refusal to increase wages for teachers.
Reactions from the public regarding the strikes have been mixed. While many are in solidarity with teachers and against the proposed changes, there are also voices that support the deal the government has proposed and who accuse teachers of being selfish for their actions.
While the government insists that funding has increased and that the changes will improve education — unions, independent audit boards and activist groups have argued that the budget does not keep up with inflation and that the changes will decrease quality for teachers and students. Resources from the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) assert that while all students will be affected by the increased class sizes and cuts to services, “students that need additional support are impacted the most.”
During my time in elementary school, I had the opportunity to benefit from teachers who had the time and energy to notice my challenges, as well as special education services. These resources allowed me to go from a struggling student who couldn’t even hold a pencil correctly, let alone succeed in English class, to someone who is about to graduate from one of Canada’s top journalism schools. The changes to Ontario education will make it harder for children like me to overcome their individual challenges and learn to thrive — a cause that is definitely worth striking for.
I can trace my struggles with fine motor skills all the way back to kindergarten. While other kids effortlessly tied their shoes and zipped up coats, I started the process early and usually made it outside for recess late. As I got older, my fine motor skill challenges made an impact on my handwriting and typing ability, which left me frustrated and behind in class.
When we began to learn cursive, I ignored the lessons by reading books under my desk and made no attempt to recreate the unattainable fluid lines that I couldn’t read, let alone write. At the time, I had decided it was better to seem indifferent than stupid.
At the start of the fourth grade, my teachers compared notes on my challenges and requested that I be assessed for special education resources. I was able to get this assessment done quickly, but funding cuts could result in longer wait times for students who now need to be assessed for special education services.
The importance of getting students assessed and into treatment goes beyond improving performance at school. Research has shown that fine motor skill disorders are associated with anxiety, low self-esteem and depression, due to the constant challenges that come up in simple tasks such as tying shoes or doing up buttons. These traits are evident in the paperwork from my first assessment, where it was noted that I was frustrated, unorganized, felt left out and had trouble making friends.
Following the assessment, I was referred to an occupational therapist (OT) — a person who specializes in helping people with lower-than-average mobility or fine motor skills navigate everyday life. I met with my OT once a week, proudly carrying my red folder of exercises to the library where we would dress Barbies, cut out shapes, play with balloons and practise balancing. It was there that I finally learned to hold a pencil, with the help of special grips that told me where to place my fingers and pencil weights that helped me build strength in my wrist and hand. I was exempt from cursive and started to do my spelling tests and writing assignments on a computer, which made it easier for me to keep up with the rest of the class and actually hand in finished work.
It sounds cheesy to say, but my time in OT helped nine-year-old me realize that I was not, in fact, “stupid.” The answers were in there, I just needed help putting them on the page.
I continued OT, free of charge, until the fifth grade. I could finally hold a pencil, write legibly, type faster and even joined the sign language club. For years, I proudly wrote my full name in cursive on each assignment — the only cursive I know to this day. My OT discharge report reveals that my grades had improved, I was raising my hand in class and was beginning to feel more confident.
I still run into challenges with my fine motor skills and always have to take a minute to make sure my fingers are in the right place when I pick up a pencil. But knowing the reason behind my inability to perform some tasks allows me to cut myself a break and move past them.
My experience makes it easy for me to look at these ongoing strikes and know that teachers have students’ best interests in mind. Teachers know that these changes to education will result in many children missing out on the chances I had as a student. I will be watching closely in the hope that lawmakers can come to their senses and invest in the future of kids like me.