This air is thick enough to drown in
Wading through your words
Lightning flashes in the hills like my
anxiety after the press conference.
Summer storm raging.
They announce back to school plans.
I’m watching the hills for forest fires,
fearing the burning.
Brief respite: rain splatters on the back deck,
before oppression descends again,
and our power goes out.
poem-care March 8, 2018
She shouldn’t care more about you
than you do yourself.
Your success should be on your shoulders
not on hers.
She can guide, support, aid,
but you must do the work,
think the thoughts, stretch your brain,
believe you can.
There is no easy way.
You need to care enough to be your best,
trust the tools and safe venue for risk,
let her cheer from the side,
as she watches you ride
away into your future.
You need to trust, this isn’t a place
poem-snow day January 6, 2015
The radio announces
the school districts are cancelling school.
The radio announcers laugh
at how happy the kids are to have extended vacation.
Meanwhile the teachers
text one another messages that always end,
Living in Canada, we’re used to snow. We have the equipment and infrastructure to clear it. As a result, neither as student nor teacher had I experienced a “snow day” before. Sometimes when we lived north in Prince George, BC if it was below -40 C (or F they’re the same at that temperature) the buses wouldn’t run, but schools were still open and teachers were expected to be there. It started snowing Saturday, January 3rd and then it kept snowing Sunday and Monday. Yesterday (Monday) at 9 pm 20 inches (51 cm) had accumulated on our back deck. The snow clearing machinery couldn’t keep up. The side roads were plugged. Cars were stuck all over the place. Because plows were clearing roads, they couldn’t clear school parking lots. So school was cancelled! Yesterday and today!
Yesterday I used the time to do some reading I didn’t get to over the holiday, because I was finishing work on my latest novel project, While I Was Out. Last night, just when the second closure was announced, I got the syllabus and links for my latest Masters class in my email. This class is delivered online. So! Lucky me, I get five bonus hours to work on my course. That makes today a professional development day for me. 🙂
poem-soul rain September 18, 2014
It’s grey and misty out
like our future
Rain on our
(This is actually about the BC Teachers’ ratification vote, but since Scotland is also in the midst of its independence vote, I dedicate it to the Scots as well!)
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.
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 need you.
(c) Shawn L. Bird.
(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).
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.
commentary- working for free September 11, 2014
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.
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?
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?
*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.
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.
Do something to stop it! Demand the government accept binding arbitration!
Another literary reference is probably appropriate here. Have you read Dicken’s Bleak House? There are some unfortunate similarities to that story, as well.
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:
Here is a really great blog post explaining the issue of class size and composition:
Here is a lawyer’s explanation of E80 and why the BCTF is right to demand it be removed prior to binding arbitration:
poem- fight for rights #Iwillholdtheline August 29, 2014
I will fight for what’s right.
I will demand my government obeys the law.
I will fight for what’s right.
I will stand in defence of contracts illegally torn.
I will fight for what’s right.
I will not blink when it threatens
I will fight for what’s right.
I will shout about injustice and lies
I will fight for what’s right.
I will shame them before the world.
I will fight for what’s right.
I will hold the line.
Our British Columbia government illegally tore up our contracts in 2002 when our current premier was Minister of Education. We have fought for the last 12 years against this injustice. Two provincial Supreme Court decisions ruled against the government, stating that they violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The decision demanded the government reimburse us for what they took away. As well, the United Nation’s International Labour Organization ruled against their flouting of treaties and international agreements. We are on strike because a government that acts illegally must be held to account.
The most recent Supreme Court ruling was in February, 2014. You can read the ruling here. You will see constant references to how the government bargained in bad faith, provoked strikes, and acted illegally. They are still behaving the same way, so we are fighting to preserve fair bargaining for all working people, because if they destroy us, they will destroy every union in the province. You should care about this. You should care a lot.