Monday, June 9, 2014

What Do Teachers Want?

Recently, I went to a party and when the inevitable question rolled around....."What do you do for a living?".  I blanched.  Admitting you are a teacher has become awkward and controversial and an opening for a lecture from strangers who are woefully unfamiliar with what happens in a typical classroom.  And then someone asks, "What do you teachers want?".

That is the real question.  Columnists, pundits, media types and parents all want to know, and the answer is that teachers, above all, want redemption.  They want back the respect they once had.  They want back the kinds of supports they need that allow them to support their students.  They want back the salary increases they gave up in the 1990s in lieu of better class composition.  They want to be treated as professionals who understand their profession.  They want people to stop giving them the finger as they drive by.  They want an acknowledgement that they have been badly treated over the past decade or so.  One of the best postings to address these issues was written by Brad Farrell, a teacher from Northern British Columbia, who eloquently summarizes the anger, frustration and confusion that teachers have been feeling.

There is a lot of emotion and heartbreak on display right now.  So much has been written in blogs and tweets and columns over the past few weeks.  One of the best columns on this has to be Vaughn Palmer's summary of the decade or more of bad faith towards teachers on the part of B.C. Liberals.  When the government's chief negotiator admits on the witness stand in 2013 that the government put pressure on the teachers to instigate a full scale strike, this has to become not just speculation but fact.  So let's admit it and move on.  We need to ask ourselves not what do the teachers want, but what does the government want instead.  Lois Weiner, an education professor from New Jersey City University, was recently interviewed on the fact that teachers are out on strike across the planet.  Her thoughts:
Yes, the issues are all the same. The project of capitalism globally has been to deprofessionalize teaching.And it's important to understand that the reason there's this assault on teachers and teachers unions is that teachers unions are impeding the privatization and the defunding of public education--really, the destruction of the system of public education--and turning it into a source of profit for multinational corporations. That's what we're seeing globally. And so the unions are being compelled by the members to defend the profession, to defend the existence of public schools that are run without fees, the professional conditions and the professional autonomy that allow teachers to do their work.
The BCTF is one of these unions, whose members truly believe that the public education system is under attack.   With a reputation for militancy that Jim Nelson feels is unwarranted, teachers have dug in their heels and fought against underfunding and argued that reduced class sizes do, in fact, matter.  What do teachers want?  They want some help in this fight from parents and the general public.
We have been told that taxes will need to be raised to help finance teacher's exorbitant demands.  No-one , not even teachers want that.  Why then do we (and by we I mean the informed public) not do one of two things - either closely examine other government spending programs that can be eliminated and reduced and/or closely examine the sticky issue of corporate tax reductions and exemptions?  Or should we just continue along this path of privatization so that multinational corporate stakeholders such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can call the shots?  Better yet, let's bring in an organization like Teach for America, who apparently train their teachers in three days.  This is the result of an educational system that has been underfunded, has destroyed teacher morale and focuses on standardized testing to support their agenda. 

The Vancouver Sun helpfully points out that the number of Google searches for information on private schools has skyrocketed in the past weeks.  What they don't speculate on, is who is doing the searching - parents or teachers?  There has been a lot of talk in the staffroom about finding other jobs. I am leaving the public school arena, in large part because I can no longer teach the way I believe in.  I have written about the lack of professional support, the confusion teachers face (made even more intense by the demand we write report cards in some time frame we have been locked out of) and how the students are in peril.  We had better hope teachers get redemption.