Thoughts on BC Teachers’ job action

For those Canadian readers of this blog, I’m sure by now you are well aware of the job action by the BC Teachers Federation, the union of which all public-school teachers in the province of B.C. are required to belong. For those unaware, forgive my lack of a preamble or backgrounder, if you will. I just wanted to share a few of my thoughts on the matter, spin and hype from both the government and the union excluded.

Say what you will about the BCTF, I do find them to be about as militant and confrontational as labour unions go in this country, and often, I believe their demands are too much. I believe that, perhaps, a 15% salary increase over three years when other unionized government employees had to endure 0% increases during the BC Liberals’ wrong-headed, abysmal first term in office is perhaps too much to ask. However, to require the teachers to essentially continue for another two years (retroactively to June 2004 and continuing until summer of 2006) for less money by paying nothing extra (not even to cover the average cost of living increase of between 2 and 3 percent per annum) is a terrible proposition and one with which I would be personally offended.

In addition, I believe the current system of collective bargaining in the public sector is broken. When your employer is the government, and by extension, the legislators that make up the government caucus, and your employer has the power to move the goal posts in negotiations and make up (or change an existing) “rule book”, the potential for abuse is real (as we’ve seen this year). By imposing a contract, and having the ability to impose contracts, is too much power. It offers no incentive to give the government’s bargaining agent, the B.C. Public School Employers Association, real power to negotiate over things like wages, class sizes, and class composition.

It’s true the B.C. PSEA and BCTF don’t like to negotiate and would rather bat around hot-aired rhetoric. It’s also no secret they dislike each other. However, I believe that the industrial inquiry commission the government struck (arguably the only decent thing they’ve done on this front) to look into a new collective bargaining regime should look into the possibility of forcing the government to pass a law prohibiting the legislating of labour contracts and requiring them to use binding arbitration when they’re at a stalemate.

As well, some say the B.C. PSEA should be eliminated. I think they are a good organization in place that simply has no mandate, no mission. Instead, they should be strengthened and given the ability to negotiate whatever options they choose and bring them on (or take them off) the table.

Finally, I read in The Daily Courier today that one teacher thought the government should get out of the education business. I’m not sure what she meant by this. Surely she doesn’t advocate turning it over to the private sector and having publicly-traded companies contracted to run certain schools, such as they do in parts of the U.S. I don’t believe she advocates this at all – she was referring to the fact that school curriculum and Education Ministry policies change at the drop of a hat, or the appointment of a new Minister of Education. She’s right – it’s got to stop and it must change. So, why not have the government ceasing designing the curriculum? Essentially, they should be responsible for forking over the funds for the education system and printing the educational materials (but not creating them). A provincial committee, made up of rotating representation of the various school districts, should be struck and would be responsible for designing the K-12 student curriculum.

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One thought on “Thoughts on BC Teachers’ job action

  1. First of all, I’d like to say that you’re right regarding the militancy of the BCTF. Even when I was teaching in Alberta, I knew about the differences between the BCTF and the ATA. The ATA was more of a “professional association” even though it did bargain for wages. Second, you’re right in saying that the bargaining system is broken. The BCTF has not negotiated a contract in 10 years… and that’s with various governments.

    The teachers want “classroom conditions” to improve, and that is an admirable goal. However, they can not be given the ability to make those decisions… kind of like the fox guarding the hen house. It has to be up to the employer to decide such things… with input from the teachers, of course. Personally, I think the reason teaching has become such a draining occupation goes much deeper than “30 kids in a classroom.” You hear teachers describing their “typical” classrooms and have to shake your head. When you have 6 behaviour disordered students, 4 students with learning disabilities, and 4 ESL kids, and another who needs special care, I don’t care whether you have 30 kids or 15 kids– that is NOT a workable classroom. The question is: “Why are there so many students with behaviour disorders.” (Hint: Dr. Spock… a whole generation that was not disciplined by another generation that was too interested in “finding themselves.”)

    For 20 years I’ve been saying that we’re trying to get every square peg in the system through the round holes created by the system. Here’s where “the good old days” really were good. A student who wasn’t academically inclined could drop out after grade nine and get into a vocation that he/she enjoyed and make a decent living. Now, we’re pushing to get those same students through a rigorous academic load. NONSENSE, I say!

    As far as the government getting out of the education business. No, I don’t agree with that. Education should not be placed into the hands of the private sector. B.C. have a good “independent schools” association and opportunity for private groups to set up their own schools. This is a good alternative. The government saves millions (or maybe even billions) of dollars as they don’t pay for capital costs. Teachers in these schools often make less (I make 20K less than my public school counterparts), but the take-home pay isn’t as much less as one might think (BCTF dues are pretty hefty). These schools undergo rigorous evaluations by the Ministry of Education (we just had ours) to ensure that the provincially-approved curriculum is being delivered. This evaluation is a good thing– it keeps fringe groups from teaching questionable material. Too bad the public system didn’t get evaluated the same way. I’ve heard stories of teachers who in no way should be in the classroom.

    Curriculum must be set by the government. In fact, Canada and the USA are two of the few countries in the world that don’t have a national curriculum. That’s a real disadvantage to students who move around (and we are a mobile society). For more information on this though, check out Ed Hersch’s book, “The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them” or “Cultural Literacy.”

    Another problem I see here in B.C.: The administrators in a school are in a different bargaining system than the teachers… that often results in principals and teachers being adversorial (sp.?) rather than collegial.

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts, Doug. Keep on blogging!

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