Friday, October 21, 2011

Job Action

I have been hesitant to dive into my thoughts and feelings on the current discourse on the BC Teachers job action.  After all my husband is a teacher on job action and I have one child in elementary school and one in high school and many friends and colleagues who are educators - not exactly objective!

And yet in the midst of it all I do see the deep complexities of the system, both positive and negative.

I certainly don't want to be defensive, not all I have experienced of the education system in BC is defensible, but I am increasingly frustrated that the voices that are being heard publicly in this debate are the two BIG parties at the negotiating table - the BC Government and the BC Teachers Federation (the union) and most of that through the filter of the media who, sadly, has it's own agenda.

This week a teacher on Vancouver Island went Public on CBC radio about what her work life is like. It is not a pretty picture.  I feel great shame that in a country as well resourced as ours, children are that stressed and distressed in school and all bets are off how long that dedicated teacher will last in the profession.

I want to say 2 things I really believe:

1. Class size and class composition REALLY MATTER.  In my work in early childhood education our "class" sizes are legally mandated - we have to stay in set ratio's or we lose our license, our insurance in voided etc.  Not everyone in our field does this, some try and squeeze a couple extra kids in here or there but that is illegal and they can be shut down.  I have seen first hand how one or two children in distress can totally throw the whole group off.  A death in the family, divorce, immigration, hunger, fatigue, normal developmental stages of tantrums, toilet-training etc demand so much time from our educators to guide children through safely and with a degree of emotional assurance.  We still get to pull a child onto our lap and give them a bear hug and read a story on the couch, to stay close and offer consistent day-to-day love and guidance.  And we have 4 adults with 25 children and even then it takes huge dedication and effort to make the whole thing work for the children, the families, the educators.

One year later you have 1 teacher with up to 22 children and the problems don't lessen as the children grow -often the opposite is true.  Something gets lost in the shuffle even with the very best teacher. Sadly, it is most often the child and his/her needs.

A woodwork class with one behavioural issue can be a safety hazard.  30 children in Grade 12 physics leaves little time for those who need some extra help.

My son fell through the cracks - it made me angry but he was in a very mixed class with several children who had issues from learning challenges to poverty - I wanted to blame the teacher and the Administrator but I don't honestly know what else was on their plate.  And my child had me and his Dad to advocate, we know the system, we speak English and it was still exceptionally challenging and time consuming to manage and negotiate.

If we don't demand manageable and balanced classes with enough assistance for children who need it, whatever it is, hot breakfast, extra help with reading - there is too much at stake -  all the children suffer and good educators burn out.

2. Most teachers go above and beyond. Everyday.  All year.
The media is full of parents yelling about not getting report cards in November.  They demand to know how their children are doing.  I feel the same way.  So I met with my children's teachers.  They were happy to discuss my child with me, they welcomed the opportunity.  So pick up the phone.  These are the same parents who never attend a meet the teacher night.  Year after Year my husband sits in his classroom for 3 hours on meet-the-teacher night and sees maybe 2 parents, on a good night. I was shocked at my first meet-the teacher in highschool - the place was near empty, except for the teachers of course.

Teachers are teaching, right now, they are assessing your child's learning - there are 270 marked physics tests on my coffee table.  Teacher want to teach.  And they are.

Today is the Provincial Pro-D day when hundreds of teachers are in workshops and attending conferences (often, as in our case, paying their own transportation and accommodation costs to do so) around the province to better educate themselves so they can be better teachers.  Last Pro-D day some teachers took alot of flack because they had a fun team building day of playing games and getting to know one another - they were lambasted in the media........but I bet they went back to work feeling more energized, more connected to their colleagues, more ready to face the week, month, year ahead.  I want an educated, motivated teacher for my children.

Teachers do not want to strike. 

But teachers, most teachers, care enough about our children to fight for an education system that serves children, the teachers, the administrators and all the other support people well. 

I am standing with them.

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