I think most people would agree that the current situation between government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation has reached a severe impasse and that change is needed.
I believe that to prevent another job action at the end of whatever agreement is made this year, we must overhaul the delivery model and delivery practices for education. In the revised model, all parties have an important role to play; all must want to improve our system.
Here are my suggestions, based on a perspective gained from many years as an educator, an administrator, a supervisor of student teachers, a school trustee and now a director of Nanaimo Ladysmith School Foundation.
Government and school boards:
Take back education policy from the BCTF; work co-operatively with the union when it brings forth positive initiatives and realistic concerns concerning funding.
Look at ways of reducing downloaded costs to districts. Develop in-district statistics on use and misuse of benefits. Streamline administration, commit to regular teacher evaluations, ensure and develop professional-development activities that pertain to hot-button issues such as class size and composition.
Take a strong position in terms of changing the delivery model. Should not all schools have a special-needs component? That is, each school needs to design instructional strategies for its catchment area. Inclusion is a wonderful and idealistic concept, but it puts too much stress on the expansion of the scope of learning abilities within each class. Fund the classrooms to address individualized education.
Consider year-round schooling. This would provide a better use of facilities, reduce staff absenteeism and, most important, reduce loss of retention caused by a seven-week summer break. Do a study on utilization of school libraries now that research can be done using technology. Let’s catch up to the kids.
Demand that teacher-training institutions dedicate significant curriculum time and research to special-needs training. Hire only teachers trained to deal with children of this generation.
Implementation of new programs in technology, trades and construction must be fully funded for at least five years, then those programs should be reviewed. Reinstate the graduation portfolio program.
Publish the payroll costs for all employee groups in each school district. Expenditures need to be public and understood.
Public schools are not a babysitting service, where teachers are often dealing with issues that should be handled at home. Prepare your children for elementary school by having them recognize letters and numbers. Teach and model sharing, social skills, manners, inside voices and how to behave in a large social setting.
Feed your children at home — that is a basic parental responsibility. Breakfast programs are there only for those who need them the most.
Monitor your children’s progress and communicate regularly with teachers and the school. Support your local parent advisory council.
Keep children active at home with physical and mental activities.
Teachers and educators:
Your 190-day contract is fairly compensated with generous benefit packages. Asking more than what other public-sector unions get is unrealistic.
A good school offers a variety of activities beyond the curriculum: physical activity, music drama and clubs. Be a part of one, as that was probably one of the reasons you chose your career.
Be professional; present yourself as a professional in dress and demeanour. Be prepared to work outside contract hours. Precious teacher/student contact time happens outside the classroom. Preparation, marking and parent nights are a reality. If you do not accept this you chose the wrong profession. Support ways of change that will allow new models of delivery that address your needs.
Demand support from your local union by organizing and planning professional development days that address special needs and class composition issues. All educators need to attend these sessions.
The BCTF used a portion of your union dues to fight a political battle, and so far they have lost. Take back your union, rid your local of the hardliners. Replace them with those who want to work co-operatively with education stakeholders to effect changes to the system that will modernize public education. Stop the name-calling.
Step out of the “silos”: your school and your classroom. Make an effort to look at how others in your community are compensated and the demands they face.
Most of you do a fantastic job and I commend you for doing so.
If we continue to do things the ways we have always done them, public education in B.C. will continue to be dysfunctional. Do we really want that to continue? Change is necessary.
Ron Dale is a director with the Nanaimo Ladysmith School Foundation and a former teacher, administrator, school trustee and University of Victoria supervisor of student teachers.