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B. Erickson made some good points in the letter about the teacher dispute, and as a teacher I’m very thankful for the appreciation for our work. However, I’d like to inform readers, including the author, of some things they might not know about teachers, funding, and the job action we’re all going through. But first, let me say that I’m not in this job for the money. I teach because I love this job, because I make a difference for kids and help them succeed and grow.
In my district (SD #83), a teacher-on-call (TOC) with my education qualifications makes $213.90 per day. As a TOC, I usually teach at the school 8-10 hours a day, so that works out to $26.74 to $21.39 an hour. This is a wage I am very thankful for, but it is short of the $36/hour wage that was claimed the lowest paid teacher makes, and a far cry from the $72/hour one.
Also, the estimates are flawed in assuming that teachers only work six hours a day, which I worked out from your wage calculations. Yes, these are the hours of a school day, but I assure you, full-time teachers work many more hours than this, both at school, and at home, including weekends. For the first classroom I taught in 2011-2012, I was at the school for an average of 10 hours a day on school days (with some 12 hour ones), not counting the homework I took home and times I went back to school on weekends to plan and prepare. For that year my gross income was $44,631, which after pension, EI, income tax, medical/dental and union dues came to $31,248. I am grateful for this salary, as I am in a better position than many. I also went to university for seven years and earned two degrees.
Health and pension benefits get deducted from my pay, not added to it. We supply much of our classroom materials out of our own pocket. Also, many teachers, including TOCs and specialist teachers with skills like music, library and counselling travel to different schools each day of the week, and even two in one day. And just like many readers, we do this without mileage being paid.
But back to the labour dispute. Unfortunately, wages seem to dominate the discussion in this job action, and that’s not the critical issue at stake. I’d be happy with a cost of living increase, especially after two years of zero. More importantly, I am on strike to return the class size and composition language that was unconstitutionally removed by the government from our collective agreement in 2002. Without that language, there are no limits to class sizes or amounts of special needs students that can be crammed into one class. Teachers are dedicated, and we do our best, but I invite anyone to volunteer in a class with eight or more IEPs (individual education plans), and say that we have enough supports to fully meet the needs of our students.
Cuts to education budgets ($275 million each year since 2002) have also reduced money for field trips, art supplies, teacher-librarians, learning resource teachers, family life education, technology, bus routes, counsellors, psychologists, basic maintenance and custodians. There are schools in B.C. needing seismic upgrades, and some have toxic mold that need to be condemned and replaced, but school boards can’t afford to do it with the shrinking budget the provincial government gives them.
Yes, the population of students enrolled in local schools is less than it was years ago, and budgets and costs should reflect that, but much needed upgrades and maintenance shouldn’t be dependent on enrollment numbers. And it doesn’t seem fair that funding for each B.C. student is worth around $1,000 less than the national average.
I agree that there is too much hostility between the BCTF and the government, and we are not setting the best example for our kids. I feel sorry for all families and students who have found this strike costly, and I hoped there was another way to protest the lack of progress at the bargaining table. I teach my students about cooperation and peaceful conflict resolution, and I’d love to see more bargaining in good faith. I also teach critical thinking skills, and that we must always try and find the truth of the matter. For me, it seems the truth is that most teachers care deeply about our students and found we had two options: 1. Go on strike, or 2. Accept bigger, busier, needier classes with less resources and less one-on-one time for our students. The majority of us found option 2 unacceptable.
I’m also a new dad, and I want the best public education system possible not just for my son, but for all our kids. We can make this happen if we all inform ourselves of the issues and firmly yet respectfully let our elected officials know that we need to reinvest in our education, our future. It’s entirely affordable too, by the way, if the government chooses from a variety of progressive tax options. For example, increasing 5th tax bracket (greater than $103,000) income taxes by a few percentage points would recoup the funds that have been removed, and this is just one option. The solutions are there; we just need political will, which means we need an active, engaged and educated public to give the government direction. Please, help me speak up and be heard for our students so we can give them the best possible school experience in September, and put the years of labour turmoil behind us.