I am really proud of the teachers in British Columbia.
They are fighting for what is right, for what they believe in.
There is never a good time for a teacher strike. All of our services are essential services to our kids. If it’s a child’s last days of Kindergarten, and he is transitioning to Grade One, those last days are precious. For a child ready to move into middle school, leaving the beloved elementary school, with the classrooms that hold fond memories and teachers who really know her and love her behind, those last days are precious. For the child moving from middle school to high school, where she knows there will be more choices and more pressure, those last days are precious. For the child graduating, leaving the school to be called an adult, celebrating the end of his childhood, those last days are precious. For the teachers, helping each child see herself as ready for the next step, giving words of encouragement and belief that the child can handle it, those last days are precious. Those field trips, those ceremonies, the closure of the year, all are lost in a strike.
This is the way it is with teaching. You aren’t dealing with numbers or with statistics. One child who cannot yet read is one child too many. We will go to the ends of the earth to help that child if we can. One child who is struggling with home life needs those extra moments of knowing she has adults who care about her, taking extra time to connect with her. One child who struggles with math can flourish if a teacher can take a few minutes to go slower, tell him she knows he will get it, and gives him a smile.
When we get a new curriculum, we seldom test it scientifically. We are generally told to give it a year as written before we start to modify if. I usually last until about October, when the gaping holes in the scripts and materials (no matter how good) start to be obvious. This isn’t because the curricula are bad. This is because the author doesn’t know MY kids. The writers haven’t been in MY classroom. We really should teach it the way it’s written so they can learn how to fix it, but that would mean doing less than my best with my kids, and that isn’t going to happen. This is that child’s year, and I will do my best to make it amazing. So everyone thinks the curriculum is good, when it’s really the teacher, taking his own time to modify it to suit the needs of those specific kids.
So for the teachers in British Columbia to give up those precious moments that come with the end of the year (or any time of year), and for them to leave the classrooms where they do their work, there must be a strong reason. No teacher wants to strike. No teacher wants to be out of the classroom! Do we look forward to summer? Absolutely! It’s when we refresh, experience our own lives on a different level, and think about school. No teacher wants to have to end the school year this way though.
The things the teachers are fighting for are integral to being able to do the job so that every child can learn. Class composition is a huge issue. How can you help those kiddos who need that extra when you have so many of the in your classroom with no support? In the school district where I worked (in Washington, not BC), we had a half time counselor. Children were only allowed to have grief, loss, family crisis, or anything else on Mondays, Wednesdays and ever other Friday. When a child throws chairs in your classroom and there is no support, what do you do? When you have children who are verbally abusive to everyone in the classroom, and there is no place for them, how do you teach? When you have children who are learning English, but you have 28 seven-year-olds in the classroom, how much time can you give them? When you have a nine-year-old who is reading at a Grade One level and cannot access any of the grade level material, but receives thirty minutes of support time a day, how do you make time for her among the needs of many others. Teachers are asking for something very reasonable when talking about class composition. Dedicated teachers cannot stay in the profession without burning out without this.
As far as pay goes, why are teachers villainous for asking for a cost of living increase? How is this unreasonable? Why shouldn’t teachers expect to be able to support their families with their MAs and years of experience?
There is a lot of talk about private schools. It seems like a bargain for the government, having to pay less per student? As someone who has just left the public system here in Washington to teach at an Independent school, this is tough. I left for many of the same reasons the BC teachers are striking. Class composition and size. Lack of support. Here, add in developmentally inappropriate standardized testing, and a severe departure from the kinds of learning I value. I figured I’d be looking for a new profession within 5 years if I had tried to stay.
The school I am going to is not funded under the same system as the ones in BC. It is a school that values diversity, and is about creating an educational environment based on a philosophy of education, not on making money. But I am still sad to be leaving the public schools, because I believe in public education.
I think that as a society, we have to provide an amazing education for every child. Children who come from homes that are struggling need MORE services, not fewer. If we don’t provide smaller class sizes and more support for schools in need, how are they going to help kids? Going to a private system as seems to be the political agenda in BC is not going to address this.
So thank you teachers, parents, students, and supporters in BC. Thank you for fighting for what is right, and making the sacrifices that need to be made in this situation. I am hopeful.