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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 15, Number 4, March 2003

Fair call-out for TOCs

by Patrick Schreck

Changes are needed to the way teachers on call (TOCs) are called out to fill the absence of a contract teacher. TOCs, like contract teachers, should have their opportunities for employment—even a one-day call-out—governed by seniority or some other objective criterion. Their opportunities for employment should not be simply left to the determination of an administrator or another teacher.

In most districts, the practice is for contract teachers to call or select the TOC to fill in for their absence. This is understandably convenient and comforting for the contract teachers to know who will be in their classrooms during their absences. However, there are serious and negative consequences of the practice. I believe the practice is unprofessional, is contrary to the spirit of the BCTF Code of Ethics, is contrary to trade-union solidarity, compromises TOC workplace rights, and is contrary to BCTF principles of social justice.

Professionalism: TOCs are required to have the same professional qualifications as contract teachers, and they are hired as teachers on that basis and in the same manner. For contract teachers to express a preference among TOCs undermines our professionalism.

BCTF Code of Ethics: Article 5 of the BCTF Code of Ethics makes it inappropriate for members to openly critique the teaching performance and related work of a colleague. Contract teachers rightly expect not have their teaching performance openly ranked or evaluated by their peers. The selection of one TOC over another implies that a contract teacher has evaluated the performance of the TOC. This appears to be contrary to the BCTF Code of Ethics.

Solidarity: Divisions, competition, and power inequalities among the members of any trade union undermine the effectiveness of the trade union to achieve its goals and bargaining objectives. A system where contract teachers express a preference for TOCs creates an informal employer/employee relationship. In addition, the need for TOCs to "sell themselves" creates competition among TOCs. This also undermines our solidarity and the dignity of our profession.

Workplace rights: Contract teachers have fought for, and rightly demand, due process. In appointments to teaching positions, contract teachers rightly expect a clear objectivity based on seniority. This removes favouritism in a process where teachers’ livelihoods are at stake. Transparency, due process, and accountability are great assurances for contract teachers. A call-out is the livelihood of the TOC and, as teachers, TOCs deserve no less. When a contract teacher calls out, selects, or expresses a preference for a TOC, there is no transparency, no accountability, and no due process available to the TOC.

Social justice: In a system where contract teachers select their preferred TOCs, those TOCs that have the time, money, and assertiveness to market themselves receive the most call-outs. This puts those who are less assertive, without transportation, or unable to bear additional childcare costs at a distinct disadvantage and runs counter to the BCTF principles of social justice.

Contract teachers rightly expect to be treated in a way that respects their professionalism, their bargaining strength, their rights, and their sense of fairness. Contract teachers expect this, they have fought for it, and they count on the BCTF and their local to defend it. TOCs deserve the same.

Patrick Schreck is a TOC in Greater Victoria.