Why BC Teachers Will Walk Off The Job on Monday

| March 3, 2012 | 2 Comments

B.C.’s 41,000 teachers announced Thursday that they will exercise their right to strike and walk off the job for three days starting Monday, March 5 as contract negotiations with the province remain at a stalemate. While many parents may be waving their fists at the prospect of having to scramble to find three days of child care for their school-aged children, the walk-out is much more than an inconvenient disruption to every-day life.

Teachers have indeed invoked their right to public protest in order to shout loud and clear that those whom we rely on so intrinsically to educate our children must be respected, dealt with fairly and compensated for the unending hours of dedication they provide to the children of British Columbia.

To not back them in their efforts is akin to telling our children that investing in their future is too much to ask of us today.

I am disheartened by the ongoing debate over whether teachers should have the right to strike. That somehow they are abandoning their essential services jobs and letting down the tax-paying public. Time to have a talk with your MLA folks. Teachers are striking because their essential service jobs are being mandated by a team of politicians who have nothing but re-election in mind. Shall we not forget that Premiere Clark was the Minister of Education during the last contract negotiation and took a hatchet to the already relatively slim benefits enjoyed by this province’s educators.

While Liberal leaders throw around messages such as balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility, British Columbia’s teachers continue to be one of the worst paid in their profession throughout Canada. B.C. teachers have been without a contract since June and have been staging job actions since the start of the school year in September. No one has budged and many teachers are saying that the job action had little or no effect on how they teach every day.

But, what does effect them – and everyone really because once a government begins to dictate who has the right to basic tenants of Canadian workers rights it treads a slippery slope leading away from democracy – is the liberal government mandating how contract negotiations will play out.

Earlier this week, the Labour Relations Board ruled the teachers can stage a three-day strike once, and then strike one day a week after that. But just after that was issued, the province tabled legislation that would make any strike illegal until Aug. 31. That means teachers will only be in a legal strike position until the legislation is passed.

That is why they will strike on Monday.

And while the liberals are touting a net-zero budget in the public sector, this province’s leaders are sliding in a $50 million budget line for advertising to publicize the Liberal agenda. Really, Premiere Clark, could you insult the children and families and educators of B.C. any more with your blatant disregard for public education? I think not.

I feel duped a bit, really, as I was nearly hopeful earlier this year when Clark and her team rolled out what was billed as a dynamic plan for the evolution of education in B.C. What many parents who yearn change in the system saw was an opportunity to create a distributed learning process that was all about the individual child. What it was, in reality, was a primer for the slash job the province is now perpetrating on the BCTF and its members.

While there is much to discuss, I would rather share the insight of a local teacher who – because of the potential backlash to her – asked not to be identified.

Her perspective is one of a mother, an educator, a woman and a socially conscious citizen – not a budget line or rhetoric, instead the human cost of the current state of education in B.C. She will walk the pickets on Monday, with pride, and with a determination to keep saying that education matters. We need to believe in it and support it.

Here she is:

Yesterday, I heard on a CBC radio podcast, a discussion with Tzeporah Bermen, an environmental activist who, in the 1990’s, was one of the lead protestors at Clayoquot Sound. She was recalling a time in her life when she met one of her enemies from McMillan Bloedel, a woman named Lynda Coady. As chance would have it, they were both out walking their child in a stroller, identical strollers. After Lynda awkwardly introduced her husband to her “arch nemesis,” the two women agreed to sit down and talk over coffee.

There they were – one a MacMillan Bloedel employee, the other a young, idealistic environmentalist. They ought to have had nothing in common. Nothing. They ought to have both crossed their arms and walked away. But, they looked at each other’s children, and then, eventually, looked into each other’s eyes. In that moment, the beginnings of a truce was born. After many more quiet and human meetings between small groups of the two sides, both agreed to stand down, and just two years after that, MacMillan Blodel stopped industrial logging in the Clayaquot area.

Tzeporah remembers how that truce was earned. “We stopped presenting the facts, statistics that supported our point of view. Instead, we talked about values. What did we value? It turns out that we all valued the forest.” By switching the discussion to shared values, by turning off the same-old antagonistic rhetoric, they found a peaceful solution.

I am sure that The Ministry of Education is currently being bombarded with facts, statistics, anecdotes that support the BCTF’s stance. I am just as certain that the Minister of Education is hurling right back his own analysis, rhetoric, statistics and facts.

But, I’m tired of rhetoric, and even more exhausted from mud-slinging and crossed arms (do you know how hard it is to teach about justice and fairness and moral character to vulnerable teenagers in this kind of contaminated climate?).

I’m sick of the disingenuous table talks.

I want to know what our values are!

What do British Columbians value about education? Do they value education? Do they value teachers?

From my singular point of view, I can see that my BC government does not value teachers, this is thinly concealed, but a disdain is there with every step; I see that my BC government wants to make the bottom line priority number one; I see that my BC government wants to bully teachers into submission so that we can be policed; I see that my BC government does not mind if larger and larger numbers of high needs students take up the time and energy of classroom teachers and take away from the learning of other students; I see that my BC government is asking me to contemplate how much more I can take before I pick up my family and move.

Me? I’m a teacher. I’m a mother of three. I value my students, in many ways as a value my own children. I value giving them room to be who they are. I value erudition – I want my students to think critically, and live in possession of an active mind, an educated imagination, and a kind heart. I value my students’ interest in new and old ways of learning – I value being open and flexible. I value my colleagues – each one has something distinct and vulnerable and beautiful to offer their students. But, most of all, I value education. Our culture needs all of us to keep learning, keep thinking, keep reading, keep writing, keep adding it all up and dividing it all down; our students need to innovate, invent, test, articulate, dissect, and create. And, our students need all of us to prove that we too value education.

Please, Mr. Abbot, Premier Clark, and all of my BC government, please put down the phoney rhetoric and put up your values.

Photo courtesy of CTV.ca

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About the Author ()

Robin Rivers is the Project Development Director for Vancouver-based Mherge Media Group. Often can be found leaping tall buildings with the help of great friends. Predisposed to odd hats and the color orange. In love with imagination, her kids and that crazy guy who married her.

Comments (2)

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  1. Stacey K says:

    Here is another look into BC’s classrooms.
    http://cherylangst.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/teaching-in-bc-3/

  2. A colleague says:

    Thank you to my colleague for her eloquent statement distilling the crucial point of this entire conflict… whether we value education in our province. If we do, then we need to stand in support of education, students, and teacher. We cannot allow the government to further erode our public education.

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