Who We Are: A Backgrounder of OSSTF/FEESO
It took a full year before anyone dared to send out a press release announcing that the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation had been organized by a small group of principals and teachers on December 30, 1919.
In those days a teacher could be fired for any reason, but especially for joining a union. An Ottawa Valley principal who did not even attend the founding meeting in Toronto was fired by his board for encouraging his staff to sign up.
Today, OSSTF is recognized as one of the most vigorous advocates in North America for teachers and other educational workers, demonstrating leadership in collective bargaining, educational research, political action and, above all, the defence of quality public education.
That first OSSTF press release, issued in late 1920, set the tone for the Federation's subsequent readiness to speak up on social issues. Led by Ottawa teacher Jesse Muir, a feisty champion of women’s rights, OSSTF's first annual meeting unanimously passed motions calling for equal salaries for women and men teachers with the same qualifications.
Women members of OSSTF have always held a prominent role in the Federation over the decades. At the height of the Depression, Aileen Noonan, a Windsor teacher and OSSTF's 1934 president, helped establish a research committee to suggest ways of improving what was offered in the classroom.
OSSTF launched the first Education Week in Ontario in October, 1930. This was an early attempt to raise the public’s awareness of the key role education plays. The event continues to be celebrated annually by our members and all education workers across the province.
OSSTF is now the acknowledged leader in educational research among education groups in North America. In the mid-70s, the Federation spent a quarter of a million dollars to prepare a report on public secondary education in Ontario, At What Cost? which led to a re-introduction of compulsory core subjects, including English and history.
The most comprehensive survey of secondary education in Ontario's history was carried out over a seven-year period by Queen's University in cooperation with OSSTF's Educational Services Committee, culminating with The Good School, which is now being used by many educators and school staffs to improve their own local school programs. OSSTF’s study, The Numbers Game, was the first extensive analysis of student evaluation in Ontario.
In 2004, OSSTF sponsored a 15-month study entitled From Applied to Applause, led by researcher Fabrizio Antonelli of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto and in conjunction with a panel of researchers from the University of Western Ontario and York University. The study focussed on how to improve the success for Applied level students and made several recommendations.
Bullying in the workplace is of great concern in the education field. OSSTF/FEESO, along with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario commissioned James Matsui of Lang Research to conduct a survey of Ontario’s elementary and secondary schools. The results of the study, entitled Bullying in the Workplace, were released in 2005. Phase 1 documented the incidences of bullying of Ontario teachers and education workers by students. It focussed on how to better understand the nature of bullying, how it starts and evolves and how to prevent it, while Phase 2 documented incidences of bullying by parents or guardians, school administrators and their own colleagues.
Studies now draw a direct link between bullying, anti-social and aggressive behaviour to the consumption of media violence by children and adolescents. As part of the Media Violence Coalition made up of trustees, parent groups, principal and student organizations from publicly funded schools, the OPP and other educational workers, OSSTF/FEESO and the coalition began work to develop new media literacy resources for kindergarten to Grade 12 students. At the same time, the Coalition produced a list of helpful hints for parents entitled Media Violence: What Can Parents Do.
As a leader in collective bargaining with the first breakthrough in pregnancy leave, OSSTF has attracted other educational workers to its membership which now include school psychologists, audiovisual technicians, teacher assistants, speech therapists and pathologists, lunchroom supervisors, school board office and clerical workers, custodial staff, social workers, school secretaries, payroll supervisors, psychometrists and non-teaching workers in universities. Over the year 2008/2009, working under the auspices of the Provincial Discussion Tables, negotiators from OSSTF/FEESO settled 132 collective agreements for teachers and support staff across the province without having to resort to a single job action or work disruption.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation can point to 90 years of progress since its inception in 1919. The Federation is committed to serving its membership and public education in Ontario as effectively as it has done in the past.