Kids going back to school under a cloud


By David F. Rooney

Revelstoke’s children return to school tomorrow but there is something you should know: the school system itself is under serious stress from the ongoing bargaining struggle between the British Columbia Teachers Federation and the Ministry of Education.

As outlined in a letter BCTF President Susan Lambert to her membership the union is seeking the fulfillment of three  objectives:

  1. Teaching conditions that support all students (including prep time);
  2. Fair and reasonable salaries and benefits; and
  3. Local solutions for local issues.

“These objectives are about attaining respect for the profession, which government and the employer refuse to show by their unwillingness to negotiate,” she said in the letter

“That is why the BCTF Representative Assembly decided in the spring to authorize a strike vote and subsequent job action plan to begin as school resumes this September. Members voted overwhelmingly to commence Phase 1, which is designed to put pressure on administration and government but not on students and parents. This is a ’teach-only’ phase in which you can concentrate on teaching and leave aside the many other tasks that have accumulated around the job.”

This kind of work-to-rule campaign is a regular tool used in the contract negotiations and is designed to turn the screws on management and, ultimately, the provincial government.  Of course, this also puts pressures on parents and families. Work-to-rule essentially means that teachers will not put in time on any task that falls outside their normal classroom hours.

In her letter, Lambert said the BCTF is working “to support a viable future for public education, which is now under attack throughout North America.”

Certainly, many teachers do not believe the education system in British Columbia is a healthy one. They say students are simply pushed through the system regardless of their performance. They complain, too, that the results of the so-called Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) tests administered to children are manipulated to produce results that are not reflective of the true state of learning in our schools.

You can find out more about the BCTF on its website.

For its part, the Ministry of Education appears to be soft-peddling the difficulty of the negotiations and is saying little publicly about them.

In an opinion piece sent to newspapers across the province, Education Minister George Abbott says, “What British Columbians need now are cool heads focused on the task at hand, honest, open negotiations that will treat our teachers fairly in the context of today’s realities and ultimately result in what is best for students, parents and families.”

While Abbott said he is “disappointed at the timing,” he said Lambert assured him the pending job action won’t affect student learning and that teachers will continue to focus on students in the classroom.

“However, like many parents out there, I am naturally concerned about the ramifications around teacher-parent communication,” he said in his op-ed piece. “What are the implications for parents who won’t have access to updates on their children’s progress in school? The union says its members won’t be supplying report cards.

“Our concern is that parents may not get the information they need about how their children are doing. It is, to say the least, a difficult situation. The teachers of this province are second to none, and they work hard to create a teaching environment where every student can reach their full potential – not only as learners, but as human beings. My hope is that all parties can quickly come to a rational solution so that job action can be avoided and we can truly return the focus to maintaining and improving our great education system.

“For our kids’ sake, B.C. teachers need to be the best-supported in the world. To do that, we must raise the bar for pre-service training and standards; we must have the highest standard of conduct; and we must have teachers remain current and demonstrate continued excellence throughout their career.”

You can find out more from the BC Ministry of Education website.