Sunday, April 27, 2014

Around and Around We Go

I am so dismayed by the events taking place in the education sector in British Columbia.  For those people who haven't noticed, once again the BCTF and the provincial government are poised to agree to disagree and the result is walkouts and lockouts. It is a no-win situation for everyone affected - teachers, parents, students.

There are a lot of issues worth discussing - class size and composition, the recent court win by the BCTF that is once more under appeal, the downloading of capital costs and seismic upgradings to the districts, the loss of librarian and counselling positions, new curriculum changes, questions around assessment, how to meet the needs of the increasing number of special needs students, how to fund field trips and presenters when we can't ask parents for money...............and more.

I have heard parents commenting on how dirty the schools have become and how overwhelmed the teachers seem to be.  And I have had parents tell me how lazy teachers are.  There is a chasm between the stakeholders that I don't believe can be breached. Instead of focusing on what really matters, there is finger-pointing and name-calling.  It is bewildering to me.

One thing I do not understand is where is the press?  Where are the journalists and where is the "respected" media willing to sift through the rhetoric and actually report the facts.  I recently saw a news item on the cancellation of Vancouver School Board's string program - a video of children with their instruments trying hard to convince the public they should still support funding their program.  The fact is that many, many programs have already been cut.  Library programs, learning support programs, counselling programs, early literacy programs - the list goes on and on.  Where is the public discussion?  If we, as a society, are fine with these cuts, why would we care about a strings program? 

Immigration and refugee policy is set by government, but it is teachers who deal with the lack of prior schooling and the trauma.  It is teachers who teach the children English and social skills.  Who funds this support because there is very little of it? And the impact on our most at-risk students is significant.  (To learn more, read this article about the impact of privatization on low-income students.)

The truth is that the only programs that have not been cut are ones guaranteed in the teacher contract... AND that is why teachers continue to fight for reduced class sizes and library, counselling and learning support.  These guarantees became part of the teacher's contract in the 1990s when teachers agreed to zero wage increases in exchange for better student support.

I heard about people circulating an email about the BCTF in which they mock the practice of thanking our First Nations for the use of their traditional lands.  Why is this the most important part of the conversation?  Why ridicule anyone for being polite and respectful, irregardless of your own beliefs.  This is the crux of the problem.  We focus on the superficial issues and miss out on what really matters - the educational experience of our children.

I think that the government needs to be honest with the public and admit that they can't or won't continue to fund public education at the level to which we expect.  Their proposal of a two-tier wage for new hires, no significant raise, a threatened sanction for not doing recess supervision and their avowal that they cannot afford classroom compositions that are manageable, all suggest the government is looking to pinch their pennies to limit the education costs.  That is a no-brainer.  They have their position and they are committed to it, but I suspect they know there would be limited public support if they had a frank and honest dialogue with the public over their endgame (I suspect privatization and teachers replaced by untrained staff).

I believe in sustainability and I think that if we can no longer afford public education in its' present form, then we should start to have public discourse on what needs to change.  (Read the about the government's position on the affordability of teacher's demands.)  Do we need to change our funding priorities, change our curriculum, charge a fee to parents, change the way we deliver education?  (To learn more about how educational funding is siphoned off read this article by +David Truss) These discussions need to be help publicly not behind closed doors in Victoria.

I think they need to acknowledge the teachers are doing the best they can with the resources available and admit that they are still entitled to be respected.  There is a lack of support for the needs of  the teaching profession that need to be addressed.  Why send your child to school all day to a teacher you rage against and disparage at home?  Teachers are a pivotal part of any child's journey.  Recent studies carried out in the United States show that there is a significant disparity between the salaries of teachers from the U.S. and teachers from countries where students are ranked by PISA as high-performing.  Canada and British Columbia possess one of these high-performing educational systems. Higher wages ensure that candidates for teacher training and positions are plentiful and that only the "best" candidates are chosen.  Countries with lower wages, such as the United States, have difficulty attracting effective candidates.  In many places, if ineffective and incompetent teachers were fired there would be no possibility of replacing them due to the low wages and difficult working conditions.  Strong candidates can find other work.  The morale of the get what you pay for.

I think the public feels free to criticize teachers because they believe the school system is the same as it was when they were working their way through it.  It isn't. It really, really isn't. Teachers work in an environment where their only audience is children.  I think parents should actively volunteer in their child's class.  Maybe Premiers and Education Ministers should too.

I think that the stress of doing the job, fundraising, defending, planning and fighting over resources is driving teachers away from the classroom.

I think that is sad.