Contract negotiations and education budget cuts are top of mind as hundreds of elementary school teachers from across Ontario meet at a downtown Toronto hotel.

At a provincial meeting for the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), educators say they have been swapping stories about the effect of budget cuts and increased classroom sizes.

“We need to be grappling with, we need to be talking about managing the best education possible in the face of a Conservative government,” says Joy LaChica, President of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto.

“Teachers want to step forward in good faith, but we also want to be aware of the realities and support one another and how to deal with them.”

Christine Mason, an early childhood educator (ECE) with the Durham District School Board, says the new reality is “not ideal” as the teacher-to-student ratio is increased and the number of educators decreases

“We’ve got 29 kids in the classroom and two adults to deal with everything,” Mason told CTV News Toronto. “It’s tricky.”

Teachers affected by the education cuts have also been posing for pictures with placards emblazoned with hashtags such as #TellTheMinister and #ETFOStrong, while others scribbled their own messages on white poster board.

“I dare you to try and work in our constrained classrooms,” read one message, which was seemingly directed at Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

The government has repeatedly stressed that it injected $700 million into the education sector to offset the changes to come in September — including larger class sizes in some elementary school grades and all high school grades, reduced funding for school boards and a loss of teaching positions through attrition.

LaChica says much of the funding issues will also be dealt with at the collective bargaining with the province and the School Boards Association over the next few months.

“We’re determined to reclaim what was lost in the first round of cuts,” LaChica says.

Mason believes fighting to regain what teachers have lost should be the most important task for those representing her at the bargaining table.

“The public thinks that we’re always looking for money and that is not at all what is on anybody’s mind with this contract,” Mason says.

“We are looking for environments that are conducive to learning for four year olds all the way up to our high school students. I want the government to be putting more resources into having the right number of staff.”

ETFO’s annual provincial meeting will take place over the next two days at the Sheraton Centre on Queen Street, where union president Sam Hammond is also expected to update teachers on the relationship between educators and the government.

“As soon as Doug Ford’s government came to power, they started to make cuts and create mayhem and it quickly became clear they had forgotten about ‘the people,’” Hammond said on Monday.