Shawn L. Bird

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

poem- fire again August 5, 2015

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 1:04 pm
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Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, they say

and all around me is grey.

The hills are obscured by haze

the acrid scent of it bites my nostrils

creates an ache in my throat, until

I want to go anywhere but here, where

there is fear of fires leaping valleys

razing the city.  July in BC, seems to mean

burning bushes, without any sign of divinity.

 

commentary- working for free September 11, 2014

Filed under: Teaching — Shawn L. Bird @ 9:05 pm
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One of the interesting things that happens on a picket line, is that people talk to one another.  In a school, most teachers are so over-worked, they rarely get out of their corner of the world to interact with their colleagues.

This week, we were discussing an interesting situation that we’ve seen increasing over the years.  I work in a VERY small high school with grade 8-12.  There are generally only 25 students in the whole grade, so class size isn’t a huge issue for us, though composition definitely applies.  In our staff of 10 teachers there are only 5 who work full-time.  Of those 5, four of them have non-enrolling blocks (library, counselling, distance ed- that is, blocks used for data entry or dealing with one or two kids at a time, rather than a class)  The fifth teacher is single (and exhausted!)

The other five teachers on staff, could be full-time, but they have all chosen to take part-time leaves.   That means they have chosen to take a cut in pay to buy some mental health.  Aside from occasionally coming in a bit later, those teachers are in their class rooms working when they’re on leave.

Working.

For free.

Most of the population has been to school, and you’re used to seeing teachers in the class room, presenting lessons, coaching, directing plays, etc.  When student teachers arrive to do a practicum, they are prepared for their brilliant and innovative lessons, planned with care.  They are astonished to see the rest of the job.  Teaching is a lot like an iceberg.  What you saw as a student is only a small fraction of what we do.

When I present workshops at writing conferences to adults, I will spend about ten to twelve hours planning, creating a power point for one hour lesson.   Participants crowd around to ask additional questions, and shower me with praise.  I think when I started teaching, I imagined that was how teaching was.  It’s not.

If I have 4 blocks in a day, I will have spent hours reading materials, planning lessons, learning innovative ways to present the material to meet the four learning styles, laying out a long term schedule to cover all the learning outcomes of the course, developing unit plans, structuring group and individual instruction, creating projects, arranging speakers, finding resources, etc.  Because I’ve been teaching a long time, I have a lot of resources and experience to draw on, but even so, it seems that planning time is at least equal to the time the lesson takes, so 5 hours of class time probably equals 5 hours of planning time.  For a new teacher, it will be longer.

A full-time high school teacher teaches 7 of 8 blocks.  In a regular large, semestered school, that means 3 classes and a prep block one semester, 4 classes and no prep the other. I am predominantly an English teacher.  Throughout my teaching career, I have aimed to work .857 FTE so that I have a planning/prep block each semester.  I make it a goal never to bring work home, but  I work in school until five or six o’clock to do marking, make phone calls, manage my school webpage, enter data into my electronic grade book, and photo copy.  At home in the evenings and on the weekends I’ll make hand-outs or plan units, read, and research.  That is in addition to the assigned prep time in my schedule (usually 75 minutes a day).

A high school class generally has 30 students in it.  At 7 classes that’s 210 students to keep track of.  210 interesting young people with unique problems, fears, joys, and concerns.  That’s 210 parents to inform, 210 paragraphs to mark each day (at 5 mins each that’s 18 hours of marking), 210 essays to mark three or four times a semester (if each takes 15 minutes, that’s 53 hours of marking).

There are not enough hours to actually do the job.  Employment Insurance says a teacher’s workday is 9 hours, and I think they’re probably under-estimating, because a part-time teacher will work 9 hours to manage two or three high school classes.  A full-time teacher?  Let’s just say, they’re not sleeping.

So if a teacher wants to spend time with her husband and children, she will give up a block, which is between$5-10,000 of pay.  She will drop to 180 students,  (180 essays will only take 45 hours to mark).

The teachers on part-time leave are still in school for the same amount of time, working to get enough completed at school that they can have a life in the evenings and on the weekends.  I have a friend in Alberta.  She is paid $15,000 more than I am, but her classes are 40 students.  I don’t think the extra pay is worth it, if you can’t do the job well.  That’s why class size and composition becomes important.

If you have a CEA supporting a student, you need to brief the work, provide different materials, and meet to discuss the student’s progress.  If you have a student with an IEP you have IEP meetings with student, parent, and the Learning Resource teacher who manages the caseload.  If that student has a CEA, you’re lucky.  Most of the time you will be trying to give specialized attention to several children without a support worker.  In my school 25% of the student body has a designation identifying them as having a special need (these include things like gifted, mental health concern, violence concern, autism spectrum, Fetal alcohol syndrome spectrum, hearing or vision impaired, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, English as a Second Language, etc).  In practice, generally 25% of every class has a special need and requires specialized individual attention.  In Physics 12, you probably won’t see more than one, if any.  In Drama or Art, we’re going to see more of them.   Kids with designated needs require extra time, and there simply isn’t any.

I bring this issue up as a talking point.  I’m interested to know whether subsidizing public education by taking a part-time leave is a common phenomenon throughout the province.  Does the public know how many of us are taking part-time leaves and subsidizing the Ministry of Education by working for free in those class-free blocks, just to be able to do the job and maintain our mental health?

What would happen if we stopped doing it?

What would happen if we only used our assigned ‘preparation block’ to do marking, planning, etc?

How would it impact our schools?

Could they function?

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I brainstormed all the meetings that happen throughout a school year just out of curiosity.  Some are optional, but most are not.  If you’re a member of the public, did you know about these?  If you’re a teacher, are there any I’ve missed?

Meetings:

*Informal staff meetings weekly to high light the week’s events, check on kids, disseminate information like a police incident involving a student or family, suicides, family traumas, etc.

*Formal staff meetings monthly

*Committee meetings- montly Pro D, Safety, Sunshine, Staff, Literacy, Numeracy, Athletic, etc

*Department meetings- monthly for teachers in multiple departments (a regular thing) this can be several a month  Math dept, Science, dept, English dept, Socials dept, Phys Ed, Applied Skills, Fine Arts, Business

*Student Services- weekly Students that draw concern for any reason are brought up to put a plan in place to see to their safety and success, this inevitably leads to more meetings

*Student meetings- as needed with individuals for extra help, tutoring, planning, concerns

*Parent meetings- as needed either by phone or in person.  These are rarely short

*IEP meetings- 2-3X year to go over students’ individual learning plans

*Support Service meetings- as needed with community health workers, mental health workers, aboriginal support workers, band counselors

*Staff committee- monthly meetings about school organization

*ad hoc planning meetings for things like dances, assemblies, and other events

 

commentary- BC government extortion & Orwellian life September 7, 2014

I am not a political person.

I voted conservative most of my life.  I have never canvassed for a political party.  I have never held any union position, even  something as innocuous as shop steward.

I write a daily blog of POETRY, not political commentary.

I believe in a ‘live and let live’ attitude about most things, but I have voted every election since I was old enough.  I take my responsibility as a citizen very seriously.  I try to be educated about my opinions.  I seek information from those who know what’s going on.  I don’t trust the news to tell me the whole truth.  I am living in an Orwellian world these days where politicians and some news stories are making declarations completely opposite to what I know is true.  Because I am a BC teacher, I live in an alternate reality to the one the government describes.

Calling a black cat white does not change the fact that it is a black cat!

Here’s what I know.

After then Minister of Education Christy Clark ripped up contracts with BC teachers in 2002, I watched money leak out of our schools.  We haven’t been able to replace text books. Our rooms don’t get cleaned thoroughly because custodial time is the bare minimum.  I’ve seen libraries closed, until to be  full time a librarian must work at 3+ schools. I’ve seen arts education cut.  I’ve seen learning disabled kids unable to be diagnosed because there isn’t funding for it.  I’ve seen needy kids partnered with kids who have a designation so that a Education assistant can help several of them together when they each need one on one help.  I’ve seen buildings and equipment falling into disrepair.  I’ve seen copying budgets run out months before the end of the year.  I’ve seen teachers feed kids.  I’ve seen parents and local corporations donate food to kids who would otherwise not have breakfast or lunch.  I’ve spent a fortune on supplies for my class room- supplies that I can not deduct from my taxes like other professionals can.

The BC Liberal government announces that they’ve ‘increased funding to school districts’ and on paper that’s true, except they’ve also required districts to pay millions of dollars from their budgets, for things that the government previously funded separately.  Money that used to go to students now pays for earthquake proofing and the like.  Hydro has gone up.  Gas has gone up.  But the allowance to pay for them hasn’t.

During the strike the government announced that teachers are demanding triple the benefits of any other group.  Such doublespeak!  They don’t tell the public that what they call ‘benefits’ in that statement refers to ‘everything that isn’t wages’.  In other words, things like class size and composition funding, support staff like teacher assistants, and non-enrolling teachers like librarians and counsellors. These are not benefits!   Those are properly staffed and funded schools!  Does a doctor call his nurse, receptionist, and stethoscope ‘benefits’?   The public, of course, imagines ‘benefits’ are simply extended health and dental and so believes the government lie that teachers are greedy.

We’re not.  We’ve taken YEARS of zero, zero, zero on wage increases.  At 2.3% inflation, we’ve been losing money every year.  Our current offer is also less than inflation.  We’re not unreasonable.  Our extended health benefits are not even slightly out of line with other public sector groups.  All those contracts are available on line if you want to investigate.

Think about it.  Would you give up thousands in wages to stand on a picket line in the rain for a few hundred dollars worth of benefits?

We wouldn’t either.

This is so much bigger than that.  The government is trying to distract you with sound bytes.  The only folks after unlimited massages are the government as they massage the truth.  Their misrepresentations and bald faced lies definitely seem unlimited!

One thing is holding up the settlement:

Twice the BC Supreme Court has ruled that the BC Liberal government bargained in bad faith when they ripped up the contract in 2002.  They were ordered to pay a settlement and court costs.  They don’t want to.  They’d prefer to spend millions of our tax dollars appealing the judgement.  Honestly, they did not expect to still be in power by the time this worked its way through the courts, so they were sure it’d be another government’s problem.  They were wrong.  Here it is, and (God help us) they’re still in power.  They don’t want to pay the settlement they’ve been ordered to pay twice. That is the infamous clause E80 that the BCTF will not accept.

Imagine for a moment:

Thieves break into your home and steal, let’s just say, 2 billion dollars.

You know who they are.

You take them to court.

The court says, “Give back that money, and pay him the court costs!”

(Imagine a box full of money that belongs to you, just sitting there in front of the judge).

The thieves say, “Ha! Can’t make me!” and appeal.

They lose again.  The court says “Give him his money!”

They appeal again.

Your money is still sitting in that box.  You don’t have it yet, but the final judgement is close.  You need that money.  It’s expensive taking rich thieves to court.  Your house needs some work done, because while you’ve been busy with court, the thieves have been sneaking by to break your windows, dig up your flower beds, and scrawl graffiti about how greedy you are across your front door.

The thieves know that the next time, the judge is going to say the same thing that’s been said before.  So they say, “We’ll make you a deal. It’s very generous!  We’ll take this box and give you $75 million in exchange!”

What would you say?

I would say, “Let the courts decide.”  

And I would actually MEAN “let the courts decide,’ unlike Mr. Fassbender.

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The BCTF requested binding arbitration because contrary to what Fassbender says in his media moments, this government does not want to negotiate.  What they call ‘negotiation’ is really extortion.  They want that upcoming court settlement nullified and they are willing to leave teachers on the picket line until it happens.  Rumour has it, “Let them starve!” was heard to be the plan.  They will tell the public they want to ‘negotiate’ and that they want to ‘let the courts decide’ but those terms mean very different things to this government.  It’s Orwellian double speak of the first order.  The BC Liberal government is holding your kids hostage because they don’t want to face the consequences of their violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights.

Think about that.

Justice Griffin in her decision last February pointed to the government that you can’t claim to be negotiating if one side refuses to move.  Nothing has changed.  This government is still bargaining in bad faith.

The BC government seems to have an agenda to destroy public education.  They’re holding the kids of this province hostage by refusing an impartial arbitrator to settle the deal.  They know that an arbitrator will be objective, and that will not go well for them.  An arbitrator will see through their doublespeak.

You should care about this.  When a government thinks that it is above the law, and that it is immune from respecting the citizens’ basic rights, no one is safe.  The middle class is at risk.  Democracy is at risk.  BC public education is at risk.

This sounds ridiculous.  But think.

When the government orders MLAs to close their office doors,  because it’s dangerous to speak to the public, what is it afraid of?  When MLAs are ordered not to speak to constituents about education issues,  is the leadership afraid that if individual MLAs hear the other side of the story, they will disagree with what leadership is ordering them to do?  Their JOB is to listen to you!  They are paid (starting wage!) $101,859 to listen to constituents.  One hundred thousand dollars!  And they are not listening.  (Let’s deduct 10% a day because they’re not doing their jobs, shall we?  cough)

Write your MLA.  Write Premier Clark.  Write Minister Fassbender.

Demand that they settle this strike by accepting neutral arbitration.

If you don’t?

Well.  I’ll be Nostradamus for a moment:

If the government doesn’t accept arbitration, I predict that sometime around September 23rd,  an announcement will be made that the teachers are so intransigent that it is impossible to work with them and that the government is saving the day by bringing in a whole new system.

One that further widens the gulf between rich and poor communities.

One that destroys the middle class.

One that will change life as you know it.

You should be afraid.

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Do something to stop it!  Demand the government accept binding arbitration!

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PS.

Another literary reference is probably appropriate here.  Have you read Dicken’s Bleak House?   There are some unfortunate similarities to that story, as well.

PS2

The BCTF is not a ‘whipped organization’ like the BC Liberals.  We are free to meet with whomever we like.  We are free to voice our own opinions.  This commentary is my opinion as a BC teacher, and a BCTF member.  The BCTF does not hire professional unionists to govern our union.  We are all teachers.  We don’t hire ‘image consultants’ for our leader (that is probably obvious). 😉  Our leadership learn to serve by serving.  This may be a disadvantage against professional union-busters hired by government, but it means we are genuine, caring professionals, not slick polished shells with dubious motives.

I receive no compensation for this blog.  (Any ads you see pay Wordpress).

Paid Liberal  social media trolls are not welcome to comment here.  Seekers of truth are invited to do so.

 

And just because this is so stinking depressing, I suggest you now go read this poem:

http://www.shawnbird.com/poem-pudding-on-the-premier

 

Here is a really great blog post explaining the issue of class size and composition:

http://30daysofautism.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/i-am-a-greedy-teacher-bctf-bced/

 Here is a lawyer’s explanation of E80 and why the BCTF is right to demand it be removed prior to binding arbitration:

http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2014/09/09/e80-what-lawyer-joel-bakan-has-to-say/

 

Response to Maclean’s magazine op-ed re: teachers’ strike August 29, 2014

The following is a response written by Tobey Steeves to a Maclean’s magazine article about the BC teacher’s strike.   It was posted on http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/b-c-teachers-strike-readers-respond-to-macleans-editorial/Since I can’t link just to his comment, I’m pasting it here, because it is a very informative explanation for those who don’t understand why BC teachers are striking.

(Reprinted with permission of Tobey Steeves.  Twitter: @symphily)

………………………………………………..

In an unattributed op-ed published on Aug. 12, Maclean’s frames the current bargaining impasse between B.C.’s teachers and the B.C. government as a “perpetual clash over salaries and education funding” (B.C. Uses Shrewd Negotiating Tactic in Teachers’ Strike). Setting a stage for readers, the editorial states that:

Little has changed to smooth things over in the past three years. In April, the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) began an escalating series of job actions. Teachers first refused to supervise students outside of class time, or to communicate with administrators. Rotating strikes followed, closing every school in the province one day per week. Finally, a province-wide walkout in June shuttered all schools two weeks early. Forcing an abrupt end to the school year has long been the ultimate weapon in any teachers’ union arsenal.

Left unaddressed in this framing is the fact that teachers in B.C. are attempting to bargain with a government that broke laws to cut services for kids. B.C.’s Supreme Court has twice ruled that the B.C. Liberals used illegal bargaining tactics to strip contracts with teachers and health care workers. The International Labour Organization has ruled a handful of times against the B.C. Liberals—declaring multiple pieces of legislation illegal under international agreements. In other words, the United Nations agency that looks over labour standards and advocates on behalf of justice for workers and decent work for all has positioned B.C.’s ruling government as flouting international treaties to push its political agenda.

Admittedly, the B.C. Liberals have chosen to appeal their most recent loss at the B.C. Supreme Court, arguing that it would be too expensive for them to implement the Court’s ruling: placing money and profit above laws, and kids’ needs. To fight this appeal, the B.C. Liberals have hired a high-priced “legal superstar,” “an expensive, top-drawer corporate lawyer.” That is, instead of investing funds and resources in serving public education, the B.C. Liberals are investing funds and resources in fighting to uphold (illegal) cuts to services for kids.

Meanwhile, during this round of bargaining, the B.C. Liberals have tabled more concessions for teachers and cuts to services. For instance, there has been a refusal to address the student-to-educator ratio in B.C., currently the worst in Canada. Similarly, there’s been a refusal to address operating grants per student—currently the lowest in Canada. The B.C. Liberals have also denied the impacts of cuts to learning specialists and rejected the need for meaningful intervention to improve classroom composition. In other words, while classrooms across B.C. are getting more complex—more students who don’t speak English at home, more students with special needs, and more poverty—the B.C. Liberals would rather spend money and resources to legitimize further cuts to kids’ access to learning specialists than spend money on providing kids with access to learning specialists.

Also left unmentioned in Maclean’s framing is the fact that before the teachers escalated their job action, teachers struggled to broker an agreement for more than a year before the B.C. Liberals locked them out and cut their pay by 10 per cent. Then, under direction of the Labour Relations Board of B.C., teachers were “directed” to be off-site 45 minutes before and after school, and were “directed” to avoid using any school facilities and to avoid helping students during lunch and breaks.

However, Maclean’s op-ed does mention that the B.C. Liberals plan to pay some parents $40 a day to offset the costs of child care, should the teachers’ strike go unresolved by the start of the 2014-15 school year. Only students under the age of 13 will be eligible, parents will need to register online, and payments won’t go out until October—at the earliest. Limited access to child care and students over the age of 13, apparently, aren’t much of a concern. The program will reportedly cost the government around $12 million a day—to keep schools closed and kids at home. Alternatively, some parents may use the $40 subsidy toward tuition and fees at private schools. In effect, the $40-a-day plan is akin to school vouchers, and is best understood within the context of a privatization agenda and a broader push to attack and diminish public education. (See, for example, “Public Education in British Columbia: The Rise of the Shock Doctrine or Kindling for a Shock-Proof Otherwise?”)

Notwithstanding, Maclean’s op-ed encourages the re-direction of “savings from public sector strikes to taxpayers’ pockets,” and insists that:

The most productive and fruitful negotiations are those in which both parties have equivalent power and face similar risks. Compensating taxpayers for their losses from savings generated by a strike balances out the power in public sector labour talks and gives everyone a reason to settle. That seems like $40 a day well spent.

It takes a special genius to view the current bargaining impasse in B.C. as one in which teachers are inordinately advantaged. And there is no warrant for casting a government that has shown a willingness to let politics trump laws—and kids’ needs—as facing “similar risks” as teachers who have lost thousands of dollars in pay fighting for more equitable access to public education in B.C.

Malcolm X said, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Maclean’s anonymous op-ed ought be seen in this light, and recognized as a push for an anti-democratic policy agenda regarding labour negotiations. From this vantage, it seems like reading unattributed op-eds in Maclean’s may be something other than time well spent.

Tobey Steeves, a concerned citizen and public school teacher in Vancouver

 

Why are teachers so upset? March 6, 2012

Filed under: Commentary — Shawn L. Bird @ 9:33 pm
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Teachers are upset because we were under the impression that Canada was a democracy, and we are very confused about why more people aren’t very, very concerned about a legislature that doesn’t understand that it is not above the law.  Laws are made to protect citizens.  International law exists to protect people in countries with poor legal systems.  Time and time again the BC government’s actions have been ruled illegal, both here, and in international courts, and they continue to violate the rights of citizens to fair labour practice.

Here is an article by Joe Bakon, a university law professor, explaining why every citizen needs to be very concerned about what’s happening in BC.

 

 

the 180 day birthday party March 1, 2012

Well. Teachers in BC are apparently going out on strike Monday.

Why? It is all about Bill 22 that strips the rights of teachers to negotiate contracts that protect learning conditions. Check out the bill- the provincial government will appoint a mediator who will only look at things the gov’t approves, and the gov’t doesn’t have to follow the mediator’s recommendations (just in case s/he doesn’t tow the party line and actually uses common sense). Does the gov’t not know what a mediator does? It’s a neutral third party, acceptable to both sides, who looks at ALL the issues, and finds an equitable situation for both sides of the dispute.  What they are imposing is a mediator in name only.  It’s a de facto puppet.

Do you want an American style, prescriptive system where teachers are not allowed to personalize their class room to the best needs of the students in the class?  Are you okay with your child in a room with 39 other kids, half of whom have learning issues, (behavioural, medical, genetic, etc) without adequate support workers?    How would you feel if someone could show up at your place of work, decide you’re not suitable, and fire you on the spot, without giving you an explanation of what ‘suitable’ means, or allowing recourse to appeal?  Yes, I know that happens sometimes in private business.  Minimum wage places do it all the time.  Is  it right?  Do you like it?  Is it fair?  Is it professional?  Is it what you think public education should be like?

Here is a brilliant blog post from Cheryl, a teacher in Port Coquitlam, explaining the things that have been happening in schools and what we’re fighting for.

I love my job, but it’s getting harder and harder to do it well because of the supports that are disappearing.  One of my colleagues was frustrated enough to leave last year.  She has taught in elementary and high school.  She is doing an MBA program. After semester of study, she was accepted into an internship, and as an intern she is making more than she made as a teacher  at the top of her pay scale. i.e. with a degree and a decade of experience.  I repeat: as an intern!  We don’t do this job for the money, we do it because we love being with kids, and helping them learn.  It’s not an easy job.  Like Cheryl quotes in her blog, it’s like planning a birthday party for 30 (or in my case 100) kids every day.  The gov’t needs to value our professionalism and our skill.  They need to work with us to maintain one of the best educational systems in the world, not continuing to undermine it.

It’s scary in our profession right now,, and what the gov’t is trying to do is going to make it a whole lot scarier.  We’re under attack.  How much do your kids matter to you?

 

 
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