Let me begin by stating I am not a teacher. I do not work within the education industry, and I do not have children. I am, however, highly concerned at the state of education in Canada, and believe that these negotiations are simply the beginning of what must be a wave of countrywide education reform.
The level of pushback from the Government of BC, certain parental groups and other bodies is surprising, considering the intrinsic value of educating our young, maturing populous. These are the minds waiting to create the politics, businesses, workforce and taxpayers of tomorrow, and offering the most effective educational advancement is key to the responsible development of a nation.
To leave future generations at the mercy of a growingly half-cocked educational system, buckling under itself from strain and lack of committed resources, is appalling.
It’s not about the unions
The media and governments love to vilify the concept of a union. While unions, like other workforce organizations, have the potential to be flawed, we cannot forget the root of this particular issue – a failing by the government run public school system to acceptably manage Canadian children’s education.
Hating unions is a moot point, and education of new Canadian generations is more important than bickering over a bargaining style. Teaching is not a luxurious career for the laissez faire; educators have a high workload demanded of them, often assisting unsupported special needs students and marking student work – much, if not all of these taking place prior and post school operation hours.
The myth of the ‘lazy teacher’
While we could debate the individual performance of educators, the point is to understand their basic workload, and understand how this impacts their students, and themselves.
We have heard that the average salary of a teacher is $71,000 per year. This is true for a number of high seniority educators, but to assume that most teachers are taking home that level of pay is folly. The average time an educator has been teaching to each $71,000 is about nine years, unless a Master’s Degree is achieved, requiring additional years spent as a student, and higher loans to repay. That base pay rate for nearly a decade of experience is standard in many industries.
Secondly, the salary negotiations are on behalf of teachers that have enough seniority to achieve “Continuing Status” only. That means that Teachers On Call (“TOCs”, or substitutes), which comprise a great many of teachers in rotation, are not included. Much less money is on the bargaining table, since there are fewer qualifying bodies for the raise.
New teachers face difficulties
Stress level for new teachers is high. During the first two years of teaching, an educator often must work as a TOC for two years, during which days do not count towards acquiring seniority, in order to be applicable for “Continuing Status”. This depends on if the class being taught is specialized (ie. Shop class, etc.), while generalized positions in Elementary and Secondary schools, the timeframe is longer.
This means that a new teacher is paid a daily rate that never changes for as long as they are teaching as a TOC, no matter if they have taught for one year or ten.
Being paid a daily rate [for many] involves arriving at school 45 minutes early, working through lunch, and spending hours marking work after class is complete. If a teacher is being shuffled between schools, grades or class topic, the stress load is increasingly high.
“Teachers only work 188 days per year”
This is a favourite point of argument for many, which is simply untrue. If you count hours spent working with students and their work prior, during and after school, the number increases. Many teachers volunteer to coach sports, and be involved running student’s extra curricular activities, which can make for long days supporting your child’s early life experiences, and often requires working weekends if tournaments [etc] take place.
Additionally, teachers do not get paid during summer months. There are options in some districts to have pay docked during the year in order to receive a paycheck during the summer, but there is no additional pay during summer break. To survive, teachers are left to get a summer job or save throughout the year.
Class size matters
Class size is often called a “common play” bargaining tactic. This is because class size matters to the education of your child. If you have doubts, ask your child about the stresses they experience when there is an overloaded teacher attempting to ensure every student in the class understands and properly processes their daily lesson. Their education is likely suffering because of this.
Teachers cannot properly support individual learning if there are too many kids to personally work with each one. Because of classroom sizes, there are many times when teachers cannot provide attention to kids with special needs, who are excelling, or simply requiring a little encouragement to get through a difficult subject.
When there is a lack of one-on-one attention to students, frustration arises on both student and teacher sides. When there are students with learning or developmental disabilities within the class with specialized lesson plans, there is increased stress to be able to assist them throughout the day, without sacrificing the needs of the rest of the class.
Lower aptitude students require much of a teacher’s time and resources, and higher aptitude students may become bored, disruptive and cause the rest of the class to struggle. Alternatively, if a learning or developmentally disabled student is frustrated with a lack of assistance, other disruptions in learning may occur. Assistance of all types of learners is a fine, daily line teachers must walk.
While high class size may be a point of contention, we must remember the high level of learning or developmentally disabled students placed within classes. Depending on the degree of disability, there may be a high level of in class disruption, while the student struggling fields their frustration. This time takes away from their learning, as well as their classmate’s.
There is a startling lack of Special Education Assistants (SEAs) to assist developmentally or learning disabled students. For all the time the teacher must spend calming or assisting a disabled child, learning halts.
The lack of SEAs in classes is due to, in part, only certain categories of special needs students are eligible for assistance. Mild developmentally or intellectually disabled students, or students with mental health issues get zero funding.
Imagine having ten special needs students and twenty others in varying degrees of learning aptitude in one class, and no additional learning support. Each of these ten students will have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) with learning and individual behavioral goals, which requires teaching essentially eleven different lesson plans to one class.
If a student struggles with all subjects and does not have a diagnosed or tested learning or developmental disability, they receive zero additional in class help, other than what time the teacher is able to spend with them, individually.
The point with class composition is not to create a parade of geniuses, but to offer an environment that fosters learning and growth without frustration during such on behalf of students and teachers alike.
The job stress is real
Often times, teachers are working without a contract. A teacher may have a Continuing Contract, or Continuing Status, which means that a teacher has earned enough seniority to be given a position each year, but haven’t been offered a position of your own, yet. This leads to an often feeling of uncertainty, as the teacher may be bounced around to wherever they’re needed. In this situation, the teacher is not eligible for E.I. during Summer Break.
Depending on the class being taught, there is much additional time during a teacher’s day spending marking assignments, and providing requested help for students. Some essays may take one or more hours to properly mark, each. This is a lot of additional time that adds up, quickly.
Teachers have families, too, and the additional work time required before and after classes often provides stress on themselves personally, and on their relationships. Many teachers are on anxiety and depression medications, in order to cope with their daily life. Many teachers opt for stress leaves from the weight of balancing classes with difficult students, or opt for early retirement.
My personal experience
During the mid to late 1990s, I was enrolled within an elementary school within the Fraser Valley, that featured a high contingency of ESL students, and my early educational career suffered as a result of a lack of motivation. Many years, classes were delayed due to the language component, and while my teachers dealt with this the best they could, there were often disruptions to basic lessons, and advanced classes were not offered for lack of government funding.
It was no thanks to my particular Elementary School that I developed a passion for text, and filled educational holes with reading and self-instruction. This is a highly unfortunate fact to report, due to the amount of onus my school put on me, as a pre-teen. Many students opt not to take these measures, and often get distracted with negative habits or become socially disruptive to keep their interest levels up.
I dabbled in poor behavior, but was saved by books. I don’t wish to gamble Canada’s future on the thought that there may be enough self starting children, eager to learn, whether the government’s schooling system supports them, or not.
This is why I am pro BCTF.
Featured Image: Teachers via shutterstock