March 10, 2012

My mother is a teacher.  My uncle is a teacher.   I am not sure how both of them decided to be teachers.  My uncle teaches high school science, my usually teachers grade 5, 6 or both.   None of their children are teachers, or plan to be teachers.  My cousin coaches soccer, and I manage teams, but all of us have stayed well away from teaching.  With good measure I often think. 

When I was a kid and starting to grasp the concept of university, I realized that my mom had to go to university to get her teaching job.  I was in intermediate school at that point, and thought that university would be so hard, so difficult for everyone except teacher.  After all, to teach a kid in grade 2, you would only need to pass tests that checked to see if you knew Grade 2 materials right?  So, what adult didn’t know basic math, or easy science.  (after all, I was a smart kid in grade 5, even I knew it).

I asked my mom about this, telling her that her exams must have been so easy.  She reacted like any parent would do when their kids say to them, “What you have accomplished is easy”.  She answered precisely with “No, Susan, our exams were NOT easy.  They had question on them like:  Please put together a development plan for a learning disabled child for 3 school years to improve poor math skills to satisfactory level in their current grade.” 

Well, as much as I didn’t want to admit it at the time, that sounded hard.  Apparently, you needed more than knowing the material to be a teacher.  I think I slunk off to my room and didn’t bring up the subject again.  At that time, Mom was not teaching as she was a stay-at-home parent, so I didn’t know too much it.  My frame of reference was only 9-3 that I saw my teachers in classrooms and I was a good student. 

Later, after I graduated from High School, Mom decided to return to the classroom.  It was a difficult road for her, as she had lost much of her seniority, had not completed a 4 year degree (at the time, it wasn’t mandatory), and had been out of the schools for 15+ years.   My experience with Mom teaching has always been a vague understanding of her earlier career (as a kid) and long distance discussions (now as an adult).

I have since visited her classrooms, read articles about the schools and classes, listened to her stories – successes and frustrations, enjoyed her Christmas and Year End goodies and but still generally been an outsider to my mom’s teaching career.  My brother on the other hand, lives here with her.  He can attest to the late nights, the amount of personal money spent on supplies for the classroom, hours spent fund-raising for classroom items like textbooks, the concerts, the field trips, the time spent worrying about a child in a dangerous home life, the Professional Development days, weekends spent on report cards, the lack of pay in the summer, the days when she doesn’t think she can stand for another minute and generally watch how much effort it takes to be a great teacher.  Last night, I went to Fabricland with her and she spent $40 of her own money on trim for a craft later this year.  And after that, she worked with my brother on how she needed him cut up some of the other pieces for the same craft.  It’s a good thing he has a jigsaw.  (she’s on spring break right now too)

For those of you who know me, you know that I do not believe in unions.  I think that it only makes financial and business sense to treat your team members as they deserve – fair wages and benefits, health and safety, and with respect and honestly.  Therefore, the team members did not need another organization – militant, often in my opinion – asking for dues and complicating the workplace.  I have avoided working in unionized environments, and avoided discussing the topic with my mom.   There is no need to debate something that will not result in any meaningful results for either of us.  Fortunately, my mom is not staunch union member, she is about middle of the road I would guess and a reasonable person.  So instead, we talk about her kids and what is happening. 

Many of you are residents of Ontario and are probably not familiar with the difficulties the government and British Columbia Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) are having with each other.   The BCTF has been without a contract since September 2011, and therefore have been working to rule.  From my outside position, I am not totally sure what this means, but I do know it meant no report cards and no outside of school activities.  (therefore, fundraisers to get the required items for classrooms and other activities cannot be done).

Think about this for a minute.  In my world, a “white-collar” worker in a non-unionized environment.  If my contract ended, I would stop coming to work.  Wouldn’t you?  If you were on contract, and the company did not renew your contract, you’d stay home and knit scarves for the cat.  Right?  But the BCTF kept working, I guess using their old contract, other than to curtail some work as per my notes above.

A couple weeks ago, the government introduced Bill 22, that basically (from my limited understanding) would eliminate seniority, give additional management rights to the principals, and remove the current class size caps.  Therefore, removing the need to negotiate a new contract – just legislate the teachers back to work.  Some of these things sound reasonable to me.  Shouldn’t principals have management rights?  Aren’t they the leader of the schools?  Shouldn’t people be judged on merit, not how old they are?   Sure, I agree, but how do you move these changes into such a huge and currently disfunctioning school system?   But it isn’t the matter of what is being legislated, but whether it should be legislated at all. 

Ok, again, in my “white collar” world.  So, you negotiate an employment contract with your company.  You show up to work only to find out that your boss has decided that it would be better for him and the economy to reduce your pay and make your job harder.  Most of us would probably quit or shout “You misled me, that is not fair!”.  But in this case, there is no where else to work, no where else to go if you want to stay in your chosen career.  And your team members are counting on you – they need your coaching and guidance.

That’s exactly what the BCTF said!  “We’re going on strike!”.  The labour board said they were not allowed to go on strike, but they could take 3 days and handout leaflets with no pay of course.  No signs around the neck, no picketing, no stepping on school grounds and no blocking other unions from entering the school.  Did it make any difference?  I am not sure, alot of inconvenienced parents for sure, and the government got $33M in wage savings.

No, I don’t believe in unions, I believe in fairness and equity, and negotiating in good faith.  I believe that life has become more complex, and our children are more unique than ever.  I think people should be promoted and hired based upon merit not how long they have been doing it.  I think that teachers are insane to take such a difficult job.

I believe something is not quite right here in BC with the BCTF and the Provincial Government and Bill 22, but I cannot offer any solutions or tell you that anyone is the villain. I can only admire how good a teacher my mom and my uncle are.   It’s not a career I would ever choose – the university exams are just too hard.

I will not turn The Daily EO into a soapbox or a link place, but today someone sent my mom this link and it hit me how much of my life was shaped by those who have stopped to take the time to teach me throughout my life. 

Here is the link for you if you wish to look at what struck me today:

March 10, 2012 Extra-Ordinary Event:  Remembering Mrs. Paschal, Mrs McDonald, Mr. Price and so many other teachers that have decided the frustrations of their career are less important than their passion for guiding children.


Author: Susan

Susan has a lot to say about a lot of things.

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