[As I write this the BC school system is on the brink of a province-wide general strike after three weeks of rotating strikes. The teachers have voted overwhelmingly to walk out completely, starting on the 17th. Apparently there is bargaining happening all week-end, although neither side is providing updates. Perhaps this will be over before Tuesday.]
I am hesitant to write this, as I have friends who are wonderful teachers, and whom I respect and like. But I have a right to my opinion and with all the time I have spent at various education meetings, I do believe I have some insight as well.
I am so frustrated both as a parent and as an advocate for education, by this situation. I am tired of being told what to think, by both sides. I am tired of being told who is right, and how if I’m not with them I’m against them. I’m tired of having numbers twisted and my emotions manipulated.
Here is what it boils down to. The teachers in this province would like a wage increase. They would like smaller classes. They would like better class composition (meaning tighter restrictions on numbers of children with high individual needs per class without aides). They would like more specialist teachers.
The government has said the amount of money it would cost to fund these requests is simply not available. They have offered wage increases less than what the teachers want, and are not willing to talk publicly about the other requests it seems. There is no question the government has bargained in bad faith in the past and is not friendly to the teachers’ union.
I am not in disagreement, in principal, with any of the things the teachers want. I simply ask that it be acknowledged that all of these things would mean more money in the pockets of more teachers. It does not mean, as some teachers are trying to imply, more supplies for the classroom. It does not mean better computers, more library books, new text books, art supplies, photo copy paper or any of those other things required to run a school. It does not mean more playground equipment or sports equipment. It does not mean new blackboards or smart boards, it does not mean new chairs and tables. Granted, many of these classroom supplies come out of the pockets of teachers. And many of the things on that list come from the pockets of parents either directly or through PAC fund raising. More teachers and more classrooms, means more janitors and more desks and more demands on the system. Where does the funding come for those things? These are questions that need to be asked.
I have spent more than enough time in a classroom helping to have great respect for many teachers. I see that they care, and that they are tired of seeing children get lost in the system. I applaud their advocacy for those children and share their frustration in a system that seems to be overwhelmed.
I also know that the rest of the school community – the administrators, the support staff, the board office staff and the trustees – are also fighting for more support and funding for our education system. There is more than one solution to this problem, and it will take everyone hearing all suggestions to solve it.
Because there’s the rub. The school system in this province is in need of more funding, there is no question about that. The question is, who should make those decisions about more funding, and where should it go? There aren’t unlimited resources, as much as the teachers’ union would have us believe otherwise. And when the union starts manipulating numbers as much as the government, then they all lose my confidence. Yes, the number of teachers is quite down from 2005. So are the number of students – quite noticeably (in our district alone it went from 8,000 to about 5,000 in six years, and is still slightly dropping) which thus would mean fewer teachers needed. When I see ads and press releases about how terrible this government is for cutting teachers, then I start to question what else the union PR team is trying to manipulate.
So here we stand, the teachers saying all parents should be standing with them as this is the education of our children we are talking about, and if we aren’t with them then we are for the government. The government saying it can’t afford the demands of the teachers and tax payers will shoulder the burden. And a whole lot of people who care deeply about the education system once again left on the sidelines, watching the two school yard toughies knock each other about and wondering when we can get back to talking about the whole community, not just the two loudest members.
**I fully respect everyone’s right to an opinion on this matter, and welcome healthy discussion. But considering the heated nature of this situation, please keep it respectful. And remember, this is my opinion on my own blog.**