Media misrepresentation dismays teacher

Editor’s note:

Joan Maskell’s daughter Jane is an outspoken teacher who has written a letter regarding some of the real issues that prompted  the BCTF strike. She thought local residents would appreciate her words and we agree.

As an employee of the Vernon School District, I am dismayed by the lack of honest, specific information regarding our job action by the television media and by major B.C. newspapers.

All the public hears is that teachers want a raise.

It is imperative that the public know the truth about the legislation that the government is ramming through.

For one thing, it strips teachers of seniority, so that an employer can dismiss any teacher — even those in their last year before retirement— if the employer deems that the teacher is not the best one suited for the job.  There is no criteria for this.  Teachers with enough years of experience to be at the top of the pay scale can be replaced by inexperienced teachers who can do the job cheaper.  The legislation also removes any due process for dismissing teachers.  There will be, in effect, no job security.

As for the “mediator,” the government says that it will appoint the mediator, and that the final recommendations from the mediator must meet all of the demands of the employer, including concessions.  What kind of mediation is this?  One side holds all of the cards, and the other side can do nothing.  And the right to strike?  Fines for the BCTF to the tune of $1.3 million per day, $2,500 per day for local union reps, and $475 per day for each teacher.  And that is on top of losing all pay for each day teachers are on strike.

I have been teaching in this district for more than 22 years now and have seen first hand the damage that the government has done to schools.  I currently have five special needs students in a class of 30, as well as numerous students with severe behaviour problems.

A fellow colleague has nine special needs students in a class of 30. The maximum number of special needs students is supposed to be three per class, but all the school administrator has to do is have a meeting to discuss the situation, say that there’s nothing that can be done, and then the class carries on with no changes.

This directly affects how much individual attention a teacher can give to each student — both special needs students and non-special needs students — so those who need extra help often cannot get it. As if that isn’t bad enough, now the government wants no limits on class sizes and no limits on the number of special needs students per class.  This is the education “improvement” plan?

We are fighting for your children. Throughout the province, our schools have fewer librarians, fewer special needs teachers, fewer ESL teachers, fewer custodians, fewer secretaries and, of course, fewer teachers, because of overcrowded classes.  Students suffer as a result.

We are also fighting for labour to have a right to bargain in good faith.

This spring, contracts are up for nurses, doctors, BCGEU, and CUPE.  I wonder if the government is going to treat these groups the same way they are treating teachers.

My hunch is that the answer is going to be yes.

Jane Maskell,
Vernon, BC