Saturday, September 17, 2011

Knowledge is Power

We're in the midst of interesting days here in the land of politics in British Columbia.  No sooner was the HST referendum held, (it got scrapped, by the way) that the B.C. Teacher's Federation began to take job action in their quest for a new contract from the Provincial Government.

Before I hear you non-teachers start saying, "What - are they crazy?  Teachers are overpaid as it is - what do they want now?"  Let me tell you that surprisingly, teachers in B.C. are among the lowest paid in the country.  This seems crazy, doesn't it?  Remember that the cost of living in Metro Vancouver is substantially higher than in Winnipeg, but their salaries are considerably less. 

The Teacher's Federation is not only looking to increase their salaries, they're also looking for a reduction in class sizes and more support for those learners in their classrooms who have special needs.  They sound like pretty reasonable requests, don't they? 

The Provincial Government has not budged on their negotiations.  This has led B.C. teachers to begin to take job action - we are in "Phase One" right now.  Phase One has resulted in teachers refusing to undertake administrative tasks in the classroom (collecting money, forms, filling out paperwork, etc) as well as not taking part in staff meetings called by administration, and not taking duty supervision.  So far, this really hasn't affected the day-to-day experience of the students at all. 

"Phase Two" of their job action will begin in a few weeks unless a deal is reached.  This phase has the potential to disrupt student experience a lot more, as in it, teachers are being asked by the Federation to not take on any extra-curricular activities.  At the girl's school, Confederation Park, a huge part of the school experience and what makes it such a great place to be a part of, are the amount and quality of the extra activities and clubs the students have the chance to be a part of. 

"Phase Three" is a full-fledged teacher's strike - something that is not beyond the realm of possibility.  In 2005 teachers in B.C. went on strike for several weeks until they received a new contract they could live with.

As the beginning of the school year approached, I talked to the girls about the looming job action and what it means.  We also talked about what the teachers wanted from the government.  That night Hannah was in tears worrying about the possibility of missing out on things like Dance Club, Choir, and The Jump Rope Demo Team.   As she was getting more and more worked up, I said, "Hannah, worrying about this is not going to do anything - but you can DO something".   A long conversation ensued which resulted in a plan.

The next day Hannah researched the B.C. Teacher's Federation web page and checked out the Ministry of Education web page.  She drafted a letter to her classmates explaining the situation.  We guessed that most of them had absolutely no idea that any of this happening in the first place.  After she wrote her letter, she and Mike wrote up a statement to put on the top of a petition she drafted which she wanted students and parents at the school to sign.  Her goal was to collect as many signatures as she could at recess and after school and then send it to the Education Minister, George Abbott.

Here's the letter she handed out to her classmates:

Did you know that teachers in BC are trying to get a better contract from the Provincial Government?  Right now, our teachers are some of the lowest paid in Canada.  They would like a new contract which would give them a raise, as well as smaller class sizes and more support for students with special needs. 

The government doesn’t want to give the teachers what they’re asking for.  You might be asking, “Why should I care about this?”  Well, to pressure the government into giving them what they want, teachers have taken job action.  Part of this means that extra-curricular activities and clubs (like Volleyball, Dance Club, etc) may not be offered until this is settled.

I don’t want to miss out on all the fun things Confederation Park usually offers students.  I’m guessing that you don’t either.  We can do something about this!  If you want to support the teachers, come and find me at lunch recess and after school all week.  I will be holding a clipboard with a petition that you can sign.  When I have enough signatures, I will send the petition to the Education Minister.  Tell your friends and siblings.  Even your parents can sign.

Hannah Penner
As of yesterday afternoon, Hannah had 72 signatures from just a few days.  Is this petition going to change anything?  I don't know.  But if we all did nothing - nothing would change. 
We'll keep you posted on what happens.


  1. Way to go Hannah!

    - Tania

  2. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!