Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

commentary- Dear Parents of BC September 18, 2014

Filed under: Teaching — Shawn L. Bird @ 10:40 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The following is my own opinion.  After discussions with many friends and colleagues, I feel secure in using a collective ‘we’ rather than the singular ‘I’.  We’re voting to ratify a negotiated contract, and the vote is in no way guaranteed.  However it goes, here’s what many of us are feeling.

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Dear Parents of BC:

Every year at the end of the school year, teachers with continuing contracts wave off the students, worn out from a long year and a longer month (June is always that way), bid farewell to the growing ranks of our colleagues on temporary contracts, and lock up our class rooms.

We leave the building pondering the challenges of the year.  We analyze our successes and failures.  Which lessons or units worked well?  Which students had unimagined gains?  Which strategies will we try again?  How will we modify them?  Perhaps we record our thoughts.  Perhaps we let it go.  We breathe.

We walk through our front doors, and introduce ourselves to our spouses and children.  For about three weeks we focus on them.  We relax.  We recharge.

Somewhere around BC Day, we start thinking about the next year.  We consider units.  We research.  We file ideas.   By the middle of the month we may be back in our rooms, hanging borders, photo copying, making posters, preparing for a new year.  We are enthused by our plans, by the potential of the year to come.  We are invigorated and enthused to face the kids, the challenges, the meetings, the classes that get switched up at the last moment.

By Labour Day, we’re ready.    We are energized and ready for the year.

Not this year.

This year we face our class rooms with a weariness that weighs down our bones.  We have been vilified, lied to, and lied about by our employer, the Provincial Government.  We, who have sacrificed our time to other people’s kids, who have shored up years of under-funding with our own money purchasing supplies for our class rooms, have been fined 10% of our wages because we were no longer volunteering our time, and called greedy, to boot.  We have stood up for our rights, and faced jeers.  We have explained about our Charter Rights and Supreme Court decisions.  We have argued with strangers, friends, and loved ones about different definitions of ‘benefits.’  We have discussed massages and propaganda.  We have educated with a passion and effort that rivals our most challenging classes.  We have learned that ignorance is a special need, requiring a skilled approach.  We have given up thousands of dollars of salary to stand up for public education in BC.

We have been embattled.

We have been besieged.

We have been drained.

We have sacrificed our emotional, mental, financial, and physical health in this fight.

We don’t have anything more to give.

We need you.

We need you to continue to fight for public education.

We need you to keep pressure on this government.

We may have a contract, but it is not the contract that will provide the best services for your kids.  It may be the best we could have gotten from this government, but it is not good enough for BC’s kids.

So we are passing the baton.

We will teach.  We will give our very best.  But this year, our best is not going to be our all.  We don’t have anything left in us.

When your child is not going to receive the testing he should have, we’ll tell you.  You can phone our MLA, Mr. Fassbender, and Ms. Clark and demand to know why your child isn’t getting the support she needs.  When we don’t have tissue paper during flu season, or enough textbooks, or are using the same textbook you wrote your name in twenty years ago, please write the Ministry of Education and demand that they fund schools properly.

When no one is available to coach the basketball team, please step up.  When a dance needs supervision, please volunteer.  You’ll see why we love doing these things.  You’ll understand why after a work day, they are an exhausting add on!

The government can dismiss teachers as greedy whiners, but it can’t dismiss an army of enraged, engaged parents.

Your kids deserve better than what they’ve been getting for the last twelve years.

We can’t fight alone any longer.

We’re weary.

We need you.

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(c) Shawn L. Bird.

http://www.shawnbird.com/commentary-dear-parents

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(Feel free to reprint and redistribute this as you like, but please respect my copyright, and leave my name and the link on it).

Proper citation: Bird, Shawn L.  “Commentary-Dear Parents of BC” http://www.shawnbird.com/commentary-dear-parents-of-BC collected (insert date).

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Sept 19/2014

NB-  This is my blog.  

I am a teacher.  I am declaring how I feel after a bitter fight against an unreasonable government with its own agenda.  This is MY reality, and the reality of 40,000 of my colleagues.  We’re entitled to our feelings. 

If you think that  I don’t work hard enough, I don’t care enough about my job, or I am whining, feel free to leave your opinions inside your own head.  I will not reprint them.  We’ve been fighting against such ignorance all summer. I have no patience with it now.

The Supreme Court said twice that this government bargained in bad faith, and they used all the same tactics this time.  If they had been willing to negotiate last June, this would have been settled last June.  They have lied to you, and  they’re laughing at how easily you are manipulated.  

I am thankful for the parents (and perhaps the Chinese ambassador) who put pressure on this government to finally come to the table.  I don’t think the government anticipated your fury being turned on them; their expensive spin doctors are likely losing their jobs.

Be thankful for those who are willing to stand up for public education.  If you’re a parent, please keep up the fight, because this government is not done yet.  We’ll be beside you once we’ve recovered.

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38 Responses to “commentary- Dear Parents of BC”

  1. Elouise Says:

    I think your statement to parents is right on target. Yes, I’m an outsider to BC, but the scenario you paint is all too common today. Makes me wish I could vote, too!
    Elouise

    • Thanks, Elouise.

      Citizens vote for school trustees, municipal councils, MLAs, and MPs. I hope they’re going to bring education into all of those elections, not just in BC, but across the country.

  2. sharon Says:

    Dear Shawn Bird,
    A good summation of the experiences of teachers. Unfortunately, the same old tricks of media/gov/t teacher&union-bashing going on.
    Is there any hope for working conditions/class composition to be resolved if teachers go back to work? The gov’t will do ‘business as usual’ without resolving even the court decisions, yes?
    Thanks for your shared experiences.
    sharon

    • You know, I have no idea which way this vote is going to go.

      Most of us debated all afternoon. Don’t be surprised if it is not ratified.

      • Further thought- the illegal stripping of the class size and composition is now on its 3rd trip to the Supreme Court as the government tries to delay its consequences. The case will be heard next month. Who knows when a decision will be made. I don’t anticipate this government to change anything in its agenda to dismantle public education while it’s spending several taxpayer’s fortunes on lawyers.

        When a final decision comes down (next year? in a decade?) we’ll sort that out then. At the moment, the government has finally removed the clause that says if they lose the case again, they don’t have to follow the judge’s decision. That was a deal breaker for most teachers.

        We’ll be back to work, and we’ll do our best.

  3. Dario Says:

    Embattled, besieged and drained?? All due respect, you sound like you’re giving a narrative from Vimy Ridge. I think your union has lost sight of reality. Regular private sector folk have little to sympathy for your “struggle”

    • Private sector folk who don’t want a properly funded middle class are short-sighted.

      If your government attacked you, Dario, misrepresented facts, altered reality, and were trying to get you to sign a contract that meant you gave up your rights under the Canadian constitution (as awarded twice by the Supreme Court of BC), you would probably feel like you’d been in a war, too.

      You would also be very thankful for the people who educated themselves about the issues, instead of buying into government spin, because all of those people are definitely sympathetic, and their calls and letters to their MLAs, their rallies, (and pressure from China?) are what forced Christy to allow the government to actually negotiate instead of telling the public they were, when they weren’t (You really should read Justice Griffin’s decision, if you wish to be informed).

  4. Natasha Macdonald Says:

    Thanks for your perspective. This has been a tough battle and I appreciate that the teachers have been under a lot of scrutiny. I would be lying if I said I was not looking at this situation and passing judgment here and there myself. However, you are right, the Liberals have been very loud in this dispute and I am certain they have perpetuated lies and propaganda. It is a shame that teachers have been cast in this light but I think as parents, we would be foolish not to support teachers. As a working parent, I know that the teachers have spent more time with my kids during the week than I have. I can’t imagine that teachers would have anything but the best interests of our children in mind. Thanks again for your thoughtful perspective, Shawn. I will try to keep the in mind tonight, no matter what the results.

  5. Eva Says:

    AMEN!!!!!!

  6. Andrew (J) W Says:

    I think the BCTF brass have work to do. They could use some help developing more sound political maneuvers to take on such an adversary. My message to BCTF: Hire a political strategist and a publicist.

    I still scratch my head at the BCTF decision to strike. Why go into a battle with few weapons, a shipment of weapons hopefully coming in a year or two (court appeal), and little to no supplies (strike pay)? Why flaunt “class size and composition” as the main reason for their fight and in the end admit contractually that nothing can be done until after the court rulings? Why state time and time again that this fight is for the kids and then demand a $5000 signing bonus etc.? Heck, why go into a fight about the kids without asking the parents first?

    And as a result many teachers are now stating that they are “demoralized, exhausted, spent” etc. as their efforts have seemingly been all for naught. And many are now asking parents to take up the fight. I am a new parent and it concerns me that in 5 years from now when my child needs ‘better’, one of our strongest allies – teachers – will still be too drained and too broke to advocate on our behalf. I’ll be ready for the next struggle provided there’s sound, smart tactics, and a unified vision. I’m not, however, stepping over the bodies of comrades who don’t have a political strategist and a publicist in their camp. Baton passing won’t work. Teachers and parents need each other, united but concurrent – synchronized. We can’t achieve ‘better’ if one ally fights alone.

    • I think that’s a difference. Parents woke up. If now they realize what has happened to education and are thinking about it. If they continue to hold the government responsible for adequately funding their schools, then we will have that partnership you speak of.

      Teachers have been doing this battle for 12 years with Christy Clark, who has a definite agenda. As people began to look at what we were telling them, studying the documents, watching how their MLAs responded, they joined the fight.

      I just hope they continue to do so. No other profession has to fight for supplies. Nurses don’t have to buy bandages and syringes in order to have enough at their offices.

      Right now, we’re too exhausted to do more than pass that baton, and pass along the facts that will help parents be activists for their children.

  7. Judy Hermary Says:

    Hello Shawn, I would like you and all the teachers and support staff to know that I do not know of another occupation where people give so much of themselves for someone else for kids other than those in healthcare. I have the greatest respect for all of you, I know I personally even after sitting in the classroom with my granddaughter on special I wonder how you get through the day. So many different personalities and behaviours and talents , kids are very special , creative, some are very good others not so much, some have challenges whether physical or health and you teachers are there for all of them and you go above and beyond what would be expected of most any other employee in any business, your volunteer time for the kids and the school is unprecedented and I for one would not do your job for a million bucks.. Cudos to you and all the other teachers and aides and principles, janitorial staff and all others connected with looking after all our kids in school and for all the volunteering you do for them before , after school. I am only sorry I am unable to fully express the admiration I have for anyone taking on the responsibility of teaching children… Thank you so much
    Judy

  8. cmadland Says:

    Reblogged this on mere learning and commented:
    I suggest you have a read of this blog from a BC teacher who is understandably knackered.

    The following is (c) Shawn L. Bird.

    • ‘understandably knackered’
      What a wonderful description! 🙂

      • cmadland Says:

        Shawn,

        I’m a certified teacher in BC and AB, although currently working at TRU in Kamloops. I remember when I was teaching HS, the stress of having to find summer work was bad enough, but you all have also sacrificed 5 weeks pay over and above what you normally have to cover during the summer ‘holidays’.

        Kudos to you!

        To say ‘knackered’ properly, it must be spoken in a rather hoity toity British accent, and its even better when preceded by the word ‘completely’.

      • lol I WAS saying it in the British accent! 🙂

    • cmadland Says:

      So, it turns out that this ‘reblogging’ business doesn’t work going from your wp.com hosted blog to my self-hosted wp blog. Bummer. the link to my post is http://merelearning.ca/uncategorized/to-the-parents-of-bc/ It’s obviously up to you if you want to include that link here. Currently the link on my original comments goes to a 404 error.

  9. Dennis Matechuk Says:

    Thanks Shawn for so eloquently expressing the thoughts and feelings of so many of your colleagues. It was with a heavy heart that many of us voted yes for a contract that we know will provide little or no improvements for our students. I can’t shake the feeling we have let our students down and I still can’t fathom a government that simply doesn’t care enough to make things right.

  10. Vic Says:

    Shawn,

    I am a parent with children who have gone through the BC school system (1998-2014). We too have been embattled, besieged, and drained by both sides – the teachers and the gov’t. I thought that finally with a negotiated settlement that there was a glimmer of hope and that we might be able to see both sides work together. After reading your blog and the reaction of teachers (not the BCTF) I am wrong and sad because there is no end in sight.

    The system is not perfect. There is good and bad. All teachers are not equal. There are some excellent teachers and some bad teachers with the majority in the middle much like any other profession. Overall this is the system that we have in Canada and I am grateful for it. We as a nation are lucky to have it, even with all it’s faults.

    It’s time for everyone to stop dwelling on the negatives and start working together – Teachers and Gov’t !!! As a parent, I did not complain or blame the teachers or the gov’t when there was not someone to coach volleyball for my daughter. I stepped in and coached the team. I took unpaid time from my work to help out so that the kids had the opportunity to have the experience. Was I bitter at the gov’t? NO. The teachers? NO. I just did it.

    Anyway, my point is it is time to stop this kind of cancer. Both sides. Stop now!! Let’s make the best of what we have and work together to make it better. Please. Please.

    vc

    • The thing is, it is what we have, but it’s not as good as what we could have.

      Compared to the US, we’re miles (kilometres?) ahead. But how about Finland? Do we have things to do better? Of course! My school is a BC Ed Plan show piece because of our innovations. I write articles for media about the amazing things we’re doing. We are showcasing the best of educational theory in practice. 1/2 of our teaching staff have Master’s degrees or are in process of them. We believe in excellence, inspiration, and inventiveness. Folks come from schools all over the province to see what we’re doing.

      But of the many things we do, there are so many more things we could be doing, if we had the resources, and I don’t think we should pretend that everything is all right, because it’s not.

      Over the course of the last month parents have come up to us and asked, “Why didn’t we know about this? Why haven’t you been telling us what’s been happening?” So now we know that we should not protect them from the facts that impact their kids’ opportunities.

      I hope that means things will be better for everyone.

      • vic Says:

        Nothing is perfect and I do not think that we should pretend that the fight between government (NDP, Social Credit, Liberals) and teachers will end anytime soon. It’s not new and has been going on for more than 40 years (50 strikes in 40 years according to the Globe and Mail). I honestly believe that the majority of politicians and teachers work hard and are good people who believe they are doing what is best for this province. They may not agree but the negativity coming from both sides (and to be honest more from the teachers since the negotiated settlement) is toxic and unproductive.

        When I went to school in the 70’s we often had classes with more than 30 students. I don’t have a class picture (which I have saved) for all the years in Elementary with less than 30 students. I remember sharing textbooks and having to bring in extra supplies. I am still very proud to be a product of the BC public school system and proud that my kids are also a product of the same system. I have the means to have sent my children to a private school but believe in the quality of education in this province.

        Instead of focusing on the negatives, both sides should be uniting and working together to make the best possible system. You are correct in that it isn’t perfect and that we shouldn’t pretend that there are not issues however we shouldn’t be focusing and dwelling on the negatives and pointing fingers at each other. It needs to stop for the sake of our children.

        It was nice to see such a positive response to my original posting. I am hoping that some teachers will take a leadership role and stand up and be positive about the situation and the positive, negotiated changes that will or can take place over the next 6 years. It’s actually a pretty unique opportunity and I think the BCTF did a great job negotiating a deal that everyone can be proud of. It’s not perfect, but it is a start of a new era between BC Government and the Teachers. Glass half full.

      • The Globe and Mail’s strike comment was simplistic. I have been on strike 3 times since I began teaching in 1992. All 3 were since 2002 and directly related to issues around Christy illegally tearing up our contract, bargaining in bad faith, and not honouring the Supreme Court’s decisions.

        Provincial bargaining began in 1994. Any strikes prior to 1994 were DISTRICT strikes, not province wide. So if, for example, in 1983 47 districts were out for a day during the general strike of the Solidarity movement, in the Globe’s reckoning, that would be 47 separate strikes, and would equal 50 in thirty years.

        It’s rather misleading, and paints a very inaccurate picture.

        I, too, was in those classes in the 1970s. We brought supplies from home like you did. We brought our supplies and kept them all year. Today’s kids don’t. I will have a quarter of a class needing to borrow a pen in order to take notes. Never mind they needed a pen in their last class. They don’t have it. They borrow paper from their friends. Some kids buy extra, because they have several friends who will never have it. Can you imagine not coming prepared in the 70s?! Added to that, funding levels for schools were significantly higher in the 1970s.

        Did you ever have kids that had trouble learning in your class back then? How about a kid with a physical disability? Or any that had trouble keeping his temper? Those kids were booted out of school, and either didn’t get an education, or spent their lives in menial jobs. Today, we work with those kids. We have special programs for them in alternate schools, etc. Some times they’re partially or completed integrated in the schools. This is not a bad thing, but it means there are lots of supports needed.

        According to The Fraser Institute 25% of my school’s population is designated with some form of special needs, and that number doesn’t get us into the ‘Top 10’. There are schools with up to 60% special needs! REGULAR HIGH SCHOOLS! Those student need support. They need time. They deserve it, if we want them to become productive, well-adjusted citizens. They’re worth it.

        Let’s not even look at the distractions of personal technology, the impact of massive child poverty, the 15 second attention span from over stimulation, or the change in attitudes about who’s to blame if a child doesn’t work. (Have you seen the cartoon?)

        It’s just not the same as it was in the 1970s. It’s profoundly more complex. And you know what? By purchasing power, teachers in the 1970s earned far more that today’s teachers do! Ironic, eh?

        Bottom line- Public education needs to be properly funded.

  11. Ian Says:

    As a fellow “greedy, whiny, lazy, can’t do anything else, loser” teacher – I can see where you are coming from.

  12. Reblogged this on Life's W2S' and commented:
    Help BC Teachers!

  13. rmnic Says:

    Real people have jobs that they work 9-5, Monday to Friday and don’t get 1 day off per month for “professional development”. They also get 3 weeks holiday, not 3 months.

    • I’m presuming you actually believe these comments, so I’m going to respond to them to clarify some common misapprehensions.

      1. Teachers work a compressed year. They don’t get 3 months ‘off.’ They do 12 months of work in 10. Teachers on full-time contracts are not eligible for EI because they are considered year round employed. For temporary teachers (those without contracts the following year) Employment Insurance purposes teacher’s work day is 9.5 hours (though apparently it varies by district). What does ‘compressed year’ mean? “Real people” work 40 hrs/wk for 49 weeks (if they get 3 weeks off). That’s 1960 hours in a year. At the low estimate teachers work 9.5 hrs X 5 days = 47.5 hrs/wk= 1960 hrs in 41 weeks.

      2. It’d be nice to only work 9-5 M-F. Do you know many teachers who do not routinely work evenings and weekends? Between marking, coaching, directing, planning, and chaperoning dances/trips, teachers don’t just work in the school building. “Real people” leave their work at the workplace, and if they work 9.5 hours, they get over-time. Teachers volunteer their time in schools outside of class time, AND they do preparation and planning time on weekends and in evenings. Not a complaint. Just a fact. It’s part of that ‘compressed year.’

      3. Professional development is paid for by teachers. The days (6 in most districts) are added into the school year, separate from instructional days; they are not days off, they are training days. Teachers attend classes, workshops, planning meetings and/or other skill building opportunities. “Real people” also get training to do their jobs better, but they usually don’t fund the training themselves. Pro D funding comes out of union dues, NOT school district funds aka taxes).

      I’ll also throw in here that teachers have at least one university degree. E.g. B.Ed. Many (particularly at the high school level) have at least two (B.A./B.Sc + B.Ed). Frequently they also have Master’s degrees. In society, people (both “Real people” and teachers) with tertiary education generally earn more than people without it. A beginning welder makes $50,000 (w 2 years training). A beginning BC teacher makes $46,000 (5 years training). This should be a no-brainer. If a mill-wright at the top of the pay scale makes $87,000 year, what’s the problem with a teacher at the top of the pay scale (10 years experience and a Master’s degree) earning $83,000?

      All work is valuable. Work that is different from your work is valuable, just like yours is. If you are unskilled and not earning as much as a skilled worker (be it welder, teacher or mill wright), go back to school and get the training to raise your standard of living, but don’t complain about the wages and schedules of people who have made the effort to become skilled.

  14. Many BC teachers have recently argued eloquently and compellingly to explain why their current fellow citizens should support greater collective investment in the education of the province’s future citizens. Unfortunately the government controlling the purse-strings appears to be at least wilfully deaf, if not also mendaciously arrogant in repudiating the decisions of its judiciary.

    I trust that the teachers, sufficiently exasperated to have chosen a summer of strike action, will have recovered their spirits and energies before citizens have their next opportunity to select their representatives in the provincial legislature and other elected offices. Those who exercise power through the ballot box may need to have a timely reminder at the front of their minds of the likely consequences of their choices!

    • There seems to be a rising army of parents making that their mandate. Recall campaigns have already begun. It would be wonderful if the concern remains relevant. The decisions of the next Supreme Court will open the negotiations again. That will be another opportunity for spotlighting the issues.

  15. Pat Nicholson Says:

    As a Senior I want more of my Tax Dollars put in to Public Education.
    I do not think that Mr Iker negotiated a good deal, would look at replacing him.
    This deal seemed to come together too fast for my liking before Ms Clark leaves for India, how convenient . For several reasons I want her and her Government gone. I was talking to someone today not a senior who agreed with the Government according to her this has been going on for 40 years with different parties in town, is she correct?

    • If you read through the comments, you’ll see the explanation of the change with province wide bargaining. Previously any strikes were localized in single districts, so if 10 districts were on strike in one year, those are all counted separately in many reports of ‘labour unrest.’ I was in schools in BC from 1970 until 1982 and never lost a day because any teachers were on strike. I became a teacher in 1992, and went on strike 3 times. All 3 strikes have been caused by Clark, due to her illegally ripping up the contract in 2002, bargaining in bad faith, and not honouring the Supreme Court rulings requiring compensation due to those illegal action. There is still a clause in the new contract that says when the NEXT Supreme Court ruling comes down, the Class size and Composition part will be re-opened, presumeably so the government can take more money away, despite whatever the Court orders.

      NDP weren’t generous, and there was some anger with Harcourt, as I recall, but at least they never acted illegally, which is the problem with Clark and Co.

      You can read a good article about it here: http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2014/01/29/Why-Clark-Refuses-to-Hear-What-Supreme-Court-Tells-Her/

  16. Great explanation of how we feel at this point. Would you be willing to share this on the BCTF member portal?


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