As we realize that negotiations are getting nowhere with the provincial government, teachers are implementing Phase One of job action. I’d like to remind my colleagues (and anyone else who cares to read this) about some facts. Don’t worry about the spin that the government puts on things (and that the press reports). Here are the facts.
1. We care about the children we teach.
How could we not? The greatest moment for us as teachers is the “aha” moment when we see it in children. Of course we care! In fact, there are some kids in every school for whom we are the only adults who care. We volunteer our time. We actively try to engage the kids in various things, trying to hook them into education (and some of them are tough to hook). We pick them up when they fall. We volunteer far beyond the expectations of our job.
We should not feel shame that we are asking for smaller class sizes. We want to be able to do our jobs well. We won’t work less hard just because our classes are small, but we will be able to do more – to teach better. This will make our jobs more satisfying.
Our schools are currently funded at $1000 PER CHILD lower than the national average. This is unconscionable.
2. We are not greedy.
If we were greedy we would never have become teachers. We should not feel shame for asking for a substantial increase in pay to match teachers in other provinces. Most of us are primary breadwinners. We don’t make that much money. We’ll certainly never be rich. Our pension plans won’t put us in yachts. And it’s damn hard work. Most of the guest speakers who visit classes leave wondering how we do it. I hear this over and over again. Most people can’t do what we do.
3. Our union is not militant.
Believe me. I grew up in a steelworkers town. You want to see militant? I’ll show you militant. For us, it is one of the most dismaying things in the world to take up a job action, because not only does it affect our own families’ wellbeing; but it also affects the wellbeing of the kids at school THAT WE CARE ABOUT. In fact, I become very, very distressed over it.
A strike is the last thing we want, but when the government is as intractable as this one, we have no other way to fight. If they had their wish, we would continue to lose ground against the cost of living. That’s an awfully strange wish for a government to have for its people. We made much more money relative to the cost of living twenty-five years ago. A simple fact.
4. We should not feel ashamed to make good pay just because we belong to the public sector.
The fact that we are funded by tax dollars doesn’t make our service less valuable. We generate wealth by keeping kids off the streets and by educating them. Paying tax dollars is the same as paying for bread. You pay something and you get something. An educated society is the key to happiness, harmony and democracy. It also produces a huge savings in health costs.
5. We should be respected and not belittled by our government.
The current BC government has been cited numerous times by the International Labour Organization for disrespectful treatment of teachers. The government’s job is not to keep people’s taxes low; it is to make sure its citizens are well cared-for. We are citizens too.
6. We are the vanguard of the human rights movement.
We have stood up to a brutal government in gut-wrenching labour disputes. At the heart of these disputes was the issue of contract-stripping, which has been found to be unconstitutional. The Bill 28 ruling was never appealed, and it is a precedent for Canadian constitutional law for all of the future. Who else but the BCTF could have taken on this huge burden? Every union in the province — even in the country should thank us for affirming their rights. We can be proud of this!
Furthermore, our working conditions are also the children’s working conditions. When we stand up for ourselves, we stand up for children. Of this there is no doubt. This is true symbiosis.