June 7th, 2019: Teacher Surplus Day

Today is temporary surplus day in the Toronto District School Board. But what does that mean? Sure, there are the #CutsHurtKids and #FordIsFailing hashtags going around Twitter, but aside from a few errant tweets, how will people actually be impacted?

Despite the minister of education claiming that Ontario high school classes will only be increasing by an average of one student this year, that has had a detrimental impact on the education system. Classes are cut. Teachers are unplaced. Students don’t know if they’ll be able to take the courses they need to graduate.

We could talk about the impact of eLearning, and we could talk about the impact on student success, but today – June 7th, 2019 – the anniversary of Doug Ford being elected as Premier in Ontario, is not a time to talk about the students. It’s time to talk about the teachers.

Teaching is a Sacrifice

So often Teaching is represented as a profession unlike any other, where there are expectations that teachers should be willing to sacrifice everything for their students. And they are asked to stay silent, carry on, and act as if nothing phases them.

Today is a day for teachers to speak up and explain what it means for them. For many young teachers, which at this point means anyone with less than 12 years experience, they were up late last night trying to shut out all the intrusive thoughts. They were restless, not knowing if they’d be told they were out of a job the next day.

And then, when it was time to go to work, the real anxiety kicked in.

What it’s like to be told you’re no longer employed

Many people have been laid off. They know what it’s like. People are brought into a room, the bad news is given out, and off they go. Show’s over. Time to make peace with the change, and move on. Not so in teaching.


You arrive at work, not knowing if you are going to be told there is no more place for you in the school board, or not. You sit in your department office, and make jokes to pass the time, and cover up the dread.

Teachers with 15 years or more experience explain that nothing will be wrong, and that everything will work out. They mean well, but even they know how hollow their words are.


Students arrive, and you begin teaching your classes. Within seventy-five minutes it will all be over one way or the other.

Names are called over the P.A. system, “Cassie Rambough, and Lisa Nunan, can you please call the office.” This is how it starts. Teachers on prep, who can’t be reached by any other means find out they’re no longer needed by a call that goes out to the entire school.


Dread builds in every teacher, knowing that the phone calls have started. If you’re lucky, you are surrounded by colleagues who know not to knock on doors or interrupt classes. Every knock is one step closer to being told you have no more position.


“James Spitterfield, could you please call the office.” James has been working for 23 years. He can’t be declared surplus. That means the administration has called on him to go relieve the teacher that is about to be given the bad news. Now you wait in fear of seeing James at your door. And when he gets there, James has no idea what to say; he wants no part in this terrible game.


Streamed videos are played to make the students laugh, but more importantly to keep your heart from bursting from your chest. They play on the overhead, one after the next.

There’s a knock at the door.

It’s James. His head is hung low. No words are spoken. You both knew this was coming.


Sitting in the principal’s office, your Union Rep makes eye contact with you. Nothing needs to be said. This has been your entire career. You thought it might be different this year, because the school board is in a time of increased enrollment.

You know there will be more students in Toronto schools than there has been in years. But, you also know you have a premiere who is looking to cover up a one-billion-dollar fine for allowing beer in corner stores with a one-billion-dollar cut to education.

Your principal tries to make jokes, and tell you hey – it’s not so bad. Then they pass you a letter. It tells you that you no longer have a job in September. And, they tell you, if you are one of the lucky ones who is placed within the summer, you will no longer be working at the same school.

You make an awkward smile at the principal. You just want to get out. But they keep talking. Not to make you feel better, but to make themselves feel better. After all, they’ve had a hard time of telling half a dozen, or more, people this bad news all day. It has been rough for them.


You cry. And that’s fine. You’ve just lost your colleagues. You’ve just lost your students. You’ve just lost your commute, your way of life, your job, everything you’ve been building towards.

And then you stop crying.

And then you cry again. And, if anyone tells you how you should be feeling, or that it will get better, you seethe internally and walk away as quick as you can. But you dry your eyes quickly because your students are waiting.


You’re back in your classroom, acting as if your heart hasn’t just been ripped from your chest. You’re telling your students about the upcoming exam. You’re helping them finish their late assignments that were due well over a week ago. You’re going on with your life. Because there are thirty people who are depending on you.


The bell rings. The period ends. An announcement rings out, “All teachers have been notified.” It means nothing to students. It means everything to the staff who didn’t have to look at James. And it means everything to James who no longer has to be part of this terrible mess.

You pick up your phone and call all your friends in the building, and in other buildings across the city. You share stories. Some are safe. Some have only been moved schools. Some have nothing.

You make plans to commiserate after work.

For one afternoon you are willing to overlook 264.1(c) of the Ontario Education Act:

“[It is a teacher’s duty] to inculcate by precept and example respect for religion and the principles of Judaeo-Christian morality and the highest regard for truth, justice, loyalty, love of country, humanity, benevolence, sobriety, industry, frugality, purity, temperance and all other virtues;”

Tonight will be a wake. But there’s no time to think about that now.


The bell rings. There are three more periods in the day. And you have classes more to teach, students more to help, and so it goes. All the while you’re crushed inside, as you have no idea what the future holds.

All because your province, overwhelmingly did nothing to protect education. All because your province, overwhelmingly allowed a plan to put beer in corner stores cripple the education system for children everywhere.

The Impact on Buildings

Imagine a workplace where every year teams were reshuffled. Imagine the day before your deadline, you had half your members ripped away and sent somewhere else.

All the capacity building, for nothing. All the initiatives that were started, gone.

The September Camp that Lisa Jeanletti was planning? That’s not happening now. Those 200 students signed up will get their money back, and have to wondering about what could have been.

That EcoClub that was about to build a pollinator garden thanks to the supervision of Nonnah KypKap? It will have to be put on hold, because she won’t be working anymore.

The plans to increase cross-curricular support? They’re all gone now.

But this is just day one. And there are three weeks left until summer unemployment. Keep your chin up. Carry on. Don’t worry that you don’t have employment. Because teachers are meant to look out for their students, and not themselves – never themselves.

After all, didn’t you know? Teaching is a sacrifice.

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