Recently, I attended the EdTalent job fair for teachers in Toronto. I graduated from teacher's college (University of Ottawa) in 2008 with honours and have been looking for a steady job ever since in the GTA and Ottawa.
Teachers like me are so desperate for work that the line-ups at the job fair just to speak to recruiters from Ontario public school boards like Peel, York Region and Durham were literally over a hundred teachers long. Some public districts were so overwhelmed with applications that they weren't even taking resumes — just giving advice on the application process. The majority of my original teacher's college classmates either spent years fruitlessly volunteering, left the profession completely or found work overseas.
This situation is only aggravated further by the openly discriminatory hiring practices of Ontario's Catholic school boards.
At the job fair, I met with representatives from five different Catholic school boards in Ontario. At first, recruiters greeted me warmly and seemed interested in my resume. They encouraged me to apply for teaching positions at their schools, but when I asked if I needed any extra qualifications, I was gobsmacked to discover that I needed a letter from a priest and proof that I was baptized to work for them.
I was frostily told that this is the law in Ontario and written in the constitution. End of story.
Thinking I had misunderstood — because surely the requirements for a job teaching elementary school couldn't be so ridiculous — I asked again, and they explained that I had understood correctly. I was open to apply as a day-to-day supply teacher, teacher's aid or janitor, but not a permanent or long-term occasional teacher. When I spoke up to say this was a violation of the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I was frostily told that this is the law in Ontario and written in the constitution. End of story.
Far from it. In no other avenue of work are employers allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion like this. Ontario is the only place I have taught where rules of this nature are observed. The unspoken assumption underpinning this law — that Catholic children might somehow be irreparably corrupted by contact with a non-Catholic teacher, or that only other Catholics are worthy of a child's trust and respect — is frankly disgusting.
At the same job fair, I approached an educator from a Sikh school in B.C. He seemed interested in my qualifications, too. When I asked if my religion would be an obstacle to employment, he promptly said it would not matter and explained that the religion classes were taught by Sikhs — and everything else was taught by whoever was most qualified. Now, isn't that sensible?
The same ethos can be observed in Reform and Conservative Jewish day schools. Teachers of secular subjects don't have to be Jewish to work at these schools. Is the approach to teaching math or chemistry any different whether the students are Catholic, Jewish, Sikh or any other religion?
The matter of restrictive hiring was presented to me as if it were common sense — that Catholic schools should have Catholic teachers. But having lived and worked outside Ontario, I can tell you this is garbage.
In Los Angeles, I worked in a Korean Christian school. That I was neither Christian nor Korean troubled no one. I was there to teach English as a second language (ESL), and that's what I did.
Teaching in London, U.K., I saw that all schools, regardless of religion, received public funding if they agreed to teach a government curriculum and undergo inspections. There, I worked in all kinds of schools: public, secular private, Catholic, Church of England, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu. I even stepped in for the religion teacher in a Catholic school for a day.
This is what being a courteous professional means.
How did I manage? As a professional educator, I am trained to deliver lessons in a professional manner. I am capable of researching subjects I am not familiar with. It was assumed correctly that, as a professional, I would be respectful of the culture of the school and conduct myself accordingly. My own religious practices were my own business. If there were dress codes, I dressed in accordance with them. For lunch I only brought what was acceptable to the dietary restrictions of the school or I ate elsewhere. This is what being a courteous professional means.
In practice, I think having one publicly funded secular system makes for better policy, both socially and fiscally. At least that would create more equality than by providing preferential funding to one religion's schools only.
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One of the reasons many Ontarians don't speak up about this unfair favoritism is because they falsely assume that they help the government choose which school board to send their taxes to via our tax forms. In fact, every person's taxes in Ontario support ALL FOUR publicly funded school boards — secular English, secular French, Catholic English and Catholic French.
Why are four school boards and four expensive separate administrations necessary? Why should I pay taxes for a school board that won't hire me based on my religion?
How in 2018 is this still acceptable?
While the law stems from the original Articles of Confederation, it is not written in stone. Newfoundland and Quebec successfully added amendments years ago that eliminated funding to religious schools, so it is clearly not impossible.
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