Teachers fully understand the importance of school for children and teens and we want to teach students in classrooms, face-to-face. What we don’t want is to risk our lives in order to do our jobs.
I’ve not heard of any teacher dying from a flu they caught at school. No teacher has died from being around students who have measles or mumps.
Covid-19 is not in the same category as the flu as we’ve been told for months so please don’t tell us something different now.
The reason education assistants, teachers, vice-principals, and principals have concerns about the Restart plan is because we are the adults who actually spend time with children in schools. We know what students and schools are like. We are not pontificating about the importance of schools from an air-conditioned office while relying on memories of school from decades ago.
It’s infuriating to have to listen to lectures on the importance of school for students’ mental health when every teacher knows about dozens of students who have suffered because of a lack of psychologists and counsellors in schools for decades.
It’s infuriating to hear about schools being important for students’ health as long as Adopt-A-School has to exist to provide for schools what governments fail to.
It’s infuriating to continue to be ignored when we voice our concerns based on our professional experience and knowledge. We’re treated as though we are idiots when many of us have Master’s degrees and decades of experience in classrooms.
We are being gaslit at a time when our skills should be utilized in order to create the safest situation for students.
The least effective way to ensure students’ social and emotional health is to create distress in their teachers by ignoring our valid concerns. We know what we are talking about.
For weeks now teachers have been receiving newsletters from the Ministry of Education that tell us in one way or another how important schools are for students. After the first few I started to get a visceral reaction whenever I saw one in my Inbox. I couldn’t quite articulate why until the latest newsletter stated:
Global research tells us that school closures disrupt the learning process and long-term outcomes of students. The adverse effects can go beyond learning loss and include implications like food insecurity or loss of access to health services that can be potentially harmful for students. As educators, you play a significant role that reaches beyond the classroom in children’s lives …
This one was the last straw.
To explain the impact of these newsletters, we need a second definition for the term ‘gaslighting’.
The original meaning refers to emotional abuse where the victim is made to question their sense of reality.
What the Ministry of Education is doing is more like political gaslighting.
It’s as though teachers have not struggled for decades to get the attention of governments about the needs of students in schools.
As though we did not forgo salary increases in order to ensure there was class size and composition language in our contracts so that students would get the supports they needed.
As though we did not spend 14 years in a legal battle with the government to regain the class size and composition language that was stripped from us.
As though we have not decried the uselessness and emotional cost of the Foundational Skills Assessments that the BCNDP promised, while in Opposition, to end.
As a teacher, I would feel less anxious about schools reopening next week [edit: in September] if the Public Health Office expressed confidence in a return to in-school instruction after they had conducted random checks of a sample of schools in a range of socio-economic areas to see first-hand the facilities that public schools in British Columbia actually have.
Restaurants are regularly inspected to ensure that meal preparation is hygienic and safe; all businesses frequented by the public know that their facilities have to be in safety compliance or their reputation will suffer and they will lose clients. Public schools in B.C. seem to exist in a different category when it comes to health and safety.
It’s only recently that there has been progress toward seismic safety but ongoing problems with mice infestation and the lack of drinkable water in many schools seems to be an inconvenient truth that we should all just learn to live with.
For almost two decades under the BC Liberals, there was little money for failing and inadequate infrastructure. It’s understandable that the current BC NDP government cannot reverse the damage of decades of neglect within a short time.
That neglect was at best tolerable during the Before times. But then Covid-19 came along and shed blinding sunlight into the darkest of health and safety corners within the public education system in B.C.
Like many people in B.C. I’ve been riveted to regular Covid-19 updates by Dr. Henry. I admire her calm demeanor and steadfast handling of an unprecedented crisis. I have been especially impressed by the way she responds when concerns are raised about the number of people lining up to board a ferry or the number of people enjoying the sun at a local beach.
She refuses to fan any frustration that some may feel at the apparent violation of her orders. Instead she expresses confidence, backed by data, that people are in fact following her orders.
Dr. Henry is reasonable and expects people to be as well. She has instructed the Ministry of Education to ensure that schools are safe for students’ return. I’m sure she expects that the Ministry of Education will be reasonable in its execution of her orders.
The problem is that teachers have vivid memories of the Ministry of Education being anything but reasonable. Whether it was when they demanded concessions to our collective agreement in recent bargaining or when they ignored pleas for more funding for students with special needs, being unreasonable has been the Ministry’s default setting for quite a while.
For years teachers have said that it’s not reasonable to expect students to learn in hot and stuffy portable classrooms; that it’s not reasonable to expect teachers to spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms.
And teachers know that it’s not reasonable for the Ministry of Education to expect that after decades of cuts to budgets that there will be enough money in each school district to ensure that all Dr. Henry’s protocols are followed.
Covid-19’s presence has led to the opening of the government’s purse in ways unseen since the Great Depression with many programs available to support various sectors of society during this challenging time.
So where’s the money for schools?
In fulfilling Dr. Henry’s orders, how does one ensure thorough hand hygiene when taps have to be held down to get a 4-second spurt of cold water?
How will overworked, skeletal custodial staff manage with the much longer list of cleaning tasks when they barely had enough time for cleaning classrooms during the Before times?
In BC we can expect that any hospital in the province has standardized facilities to protect the health of patients and staff. No such standardization exists in BC schools.
Whereas one school may have a mice infestation and warnings posted at drinking fountains not to drink the water, another school may have ergonomically designed classrooms with beautiful bathrooms in wide hallways, lots of natural light everywhere, and easy access to outdoor classrooms.
Teachers all across the province know that, in some schools, it will be easy to follow all the guidelines for a safe return to school but in too many schools it will not be.
When all schools have lead-free drinkable water, when all school washrooms have taps that don’t have to be held down in order to work, when all schools have fully-functioning ventilation systems, then we can be confident in there being reduced opportunities for viruses to spread when we return to schools.
That would take money though. And the education budget, as a percentage of our GDP, has been kept low by both major political parties when they’re in power.
In the Before times, the impacts of regular reductions to education budgets have been borne by students who have fallen through the cracks in the system.
In this time of a pandemic, the impacts of neglected infrastructure could spread well beyond classroom walls.
In the spirit of the season of peace and goodwill, let’s talk about being friends again, shall we?
But first you’ve got to reconfigure BCPSEA.
Their actions as your bargaining agent with teachers do not reflect progressive values about public education.
I would have expected a BC Liberal government to demand concessions at the start of bargaining, not you.
I would have expected a BC Liberal government to continue Foundation Skills Assessments, certainly not you, after the many years you agreed with teachers about the FSA’s inefficacy.
It’s the style of the Fraser Institute to promote ideas like the prevalence model of funding, turning students’ learning needs into probability statistics.
The last thing I expected was all this from a BCNDP ministry of education.
And then there’s the matter of our Supreme Court of Canada win.
For 14 years you stood by our side as an ally in our legal fight against the stripping of our Constitutional rights.
And then, when teachers won, instead of acknowledging that struggle, you claimed the court-ordered hiring of 4,000 new teachers as your government’s idea.
It hurt so much that for the longest time we did not want to even look at our win from your point of view: your new government was saddled with the bill for the actions of all BC Liberal governments since 2002. You had to spend a billion dollars to clean up the mess that you did not make.
I now acknowledge that, and the spending on seismic upgrades, the opening of new schools. Smaller class sizes and more schools are good BCNDP achievements for public education in our province.
But, can we talk about being the lowest paid teachers west of Quebec?
Can we talk about recruitment and retention with a bargaining agent that shares our values of public education being a sacred trust, of public education being the heartbeat of every community, of public education being about all of our futures?
These are values we believed you shared with us, the teachers in public schools in BC. They do not seem to be the values shared by the current configuration of BCPSEA.
So, in this time of season turning, of endings and of new beginnings, let’s be friends again … after you’ve realigned BCPSEA with BCNDP values.
In the classrooms at my school, students who get a $60,000 car for their 16th birthday sit next to students who walk an hour each day to and from school because bus-fare is an unaffordable expense. Students who go home to their own bedrooms equipped with the latest technologies, collaborate on projects with students who don’t have a bed to call their own. And students who struggle to read a sentence in the third language they’ve had to learn grasp desperately for meaning when their fluent peers speak.
The conceit of public schools is that our classrooms will somehow be the levelling space of these stark socio-economic differences through the provision of an equitable education.
Teachers who spend an average of $1600 on classroom supplies each year do so in the hope that the right resources will magically bridge the chasm between what is funded and what is needed.
Stories of families who have had to sell their homes in order to pay for learning supports for their children are heart-wrenching. Now just imagine what happens to those children whose families have no such assets, whose parents are simultaneously battling the legacies of colonialism and poverty.
Because public schools are often the only places where marginalized people can access support, insisting on classroom composition language in teachers’ collective agreement should not be seen as a luxury the government cannot afford. Especially not a government boasting about billions of dollars in surplus.
It’s astounding that a government that launched a Poverty Reduction strategy to great fanfare continues to ignore calls for more funding for public schools, the very places where the 20% of children who live in poverty in BC get their only meal most days.
As a party in power, there must be at least 50 ways you can make billions of dollars disappear from where they’re supposed to be: delivering services to people. You could go the brutish route of Doug Ford in Ontario and slash billions from public health and education services.
Or could do it the Christy Clark way, smilingly, while she introduced legislation that would effectively remove four billion dollars from education funding over 15 years.
This latter strategy is a rather legally cumbersome way to disappear education funding though. It took the BC Liberals a lot of maneuvering through the legislature and the courts over a long period. And in the end, the Supreme Court called foul.
Besides, mimicking the BC Liberals shenanigans could not be your first choice because you campaigned on a platform to fully support public education, not to undermine a collective agreement with teachers. Definitely would not look good.
You’re in a tricky situation because you spent 15 years in Opposition, criticizing the short shrift that teachers and students in public schools were getting from the previous government. Over and over again you promised that you would do better, provide more funding, and fully support students with special needs.
But the accountants have declared that keeping your promises would cost about a billion dollars more than you have currently allocated for students’ education. That’s a lot of money. You have other priorities.
Back in 2001, when you last formed government, education funding comprised 20% of your budget. But things have changed.
But you can’t just blatantly state that there’s not enough money for education.
Your base would be enraged. They voted you in on your public service platform and they want to see results.
To be fair, you have increased funding by 12.4% for Level 1 Special Needs. That’s good news for 570 students. Level 2 funding (affecting 22,352 students) was increased by 4.1% and Level 3 Special Needs funding was increased by 4.6% for 8,390 students.
You are well aware that there are thousands more students who need learning support. They’re the ones who fell through the cracks over the 15 years when a lack of school psychologists meant that waits for a diagnosis averaged 3 years. A lifetime in a child’s development.
You know that your meagre funding increases do not even begin to address the impact of inflation on costs.
But $5.7 billion is such a big number. It sure looks like it should be enough.
You hope that parents don’t notice that the money allocated for education is actually only 11% of your total 2019/20 budget. They might begin asking questions about why you don’t invest more in students.
This would be an awkward question to answer. You know for your political image that you need to make it look as though you are increasing funding, even though you have no intention of doing so.
So, you announce that a group of experts will review the funding model. Thanks to the Supreme Court win, most parents are well aware that the model was drastically changed in 2002 and so they will have some familiarity with what was lost.
And, through the work of parent advocacy groups, many parents will also know that what was restored still left too many gaps for too many students.
You do not include a single teacher on the funding review panel.
It would be inconvenient for teachers to be represented there where they could remind everyone of how, throughout your tenure as the Official Opposition, you consistently agreed with teachers when they called for significant increases in funding .
You could do without teachers raising a ruckus when they discover your plan to implement a funding model that will essentially turn students into statistics.
You know that many parents may not have the time to study the details of the new funding model. You know that some may feel intimidated by convoluted statistics and you know that you will need a slick way to get the public to think that prevalence funding is the way to go.
You know that terms like “accountability” and “equity” are popular with the public.
You don’t want any of your supporters to remember that “accountability” is exactly the reason Christy Clark gave for stripping teachers of their contract, leading to the loss of 2500 teachers within the system.
So long before you begin bargaining with teachers on a new collective agreement you start a stealth marketing campaign, ensuring that there is a widespread belief amongst the public that the current collective agreement with teachers is the reason that students are falling through the cracks and not getting the services and supports they need.
The message is spread that the newly-restored class size and composition language in the collective agreement is too restrictive, that it hamstrings school districts in their provision of services to students.
You would like parents to believe that if only teachers were more innovative, and more flexible, all students could have their learning needs met. You want parents to believe that it’s not the lack of funding for supports that’s the problem: it’s teachers’ lack of flexibility, creativity and empathy.
You would prefer that the public not know that teachers gave up salary increases from 1988 until 1994 in exchange for the establishment of minimal supports for students.
You would prefer the public not to know that the concepts of inclusion and integration are not new to teachers. That their commitment to inclusion goes far beyond any government policy.
You’d rather the public believe in the prevalence model even though it abdicates your government’s responsibility for delivering the public service of education to all students in public schools, regardless of learning difficulties.
You don’t want the public to ask questions about who collects the data that the prevalence model demands. You don’t want the public to ask about what parameters will be used to interpret the data.
You don’t want the public to know that “trends” in public education are hardly ever captured by statistics. If they were, thousands of parents would not be clamouring for more schools to be opened in areas where “statistical trends” decades ago predicted that no schools would be needed.
You don’t want the public to know that the map is not the territory, that no amount of statistics gathering can replace what teachers know is happening in their classrooms to students whose names they know.
But teachers can let the public know.
There are at least 50 ways to show parents what’s actually happening with education funding.
Just as in a shell game, those who watch carefully know under which cup the object is.
We’ll show parents where the billions disappeared.
In a recent article, candidate for Burnaby school board Laura-Lynn Tyler Thomson is quoted as saying that she was scared and cried every day when she attended a school in the Arctic where, as “the only white, blonde girl”, she “stood out like a sore thumb”.
When most of the dolls on the toy store shelf look like you, when entire rows of magazine covers have faces that look like you, when people who look like you have occupied multiple positions of power and influence for centuries, it takes a convoluted cognitive sequence to see yourself as a victim of the descendants of people who were starved to death and treaty-tricked out of the land you live on.
It’s not really convoluted though. It’s just regular racism but with a particularly Canadian nicety: implied, not stated.
Given what Tyler Thomson has said about her experiences in the Arctic, what can the 3% of Burnaby’s student population who identify as Aboriginal expect from her if she was elected trustee? Probably not any acknowledgement of the role of education in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
Students who identify as trans or queer are supposed to expect that she will “love them to pieces” even while she denies their right to be educated about what all humans have in common: a sexual orientation, a gender identity.
As a teacher I’m curious about what Tyler Thomson means by us not being trained “to help students dealing with gender identity”.
Does she mean that teachers should ignore the 2016 directive from the B.C. Ministry of Education that “all B.C. school districts and independent schools are required to include specific references to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in their anti-bullying policies”?
Does she mean that teachers are not trained to create safe learning environments for all students?
Does she mean that teachers should ignore the fact that “lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are seven times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide” ?
How exactly does one teach “manners, reading, writing and arithmetic” to students who are feeling unsafe?
How does one reduce bullying without educating students about human rights?
There is nothing ideological about teaching students that all humans have a sexual orientation and a gender identity just as there is nothing ideological about teaching students that all humans have a brain and a heart.
Some brains are different, some hearts are different. Sometimes one’s biological identity matches with one’s gender identity. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Why would anyone not want youth to know this?
Why would anyone, let alone a school trustee, want to deny students access to information that would reduce discrimination and increase safety, respect and acceptance in schools?
What purpose is served by keeping students ignorant of what it means to be a human with a sexual orientation and a gender identity?
Voters in the October municipal election should ponder these questions when they make their choices for school board trustees.
Schools should be safe places for all students.
No child should feel scared at school.
Not students who are the descendants of the First Peoples to occupy this land.
Not students who are blonde or brown or bisexual.
If you don’t believe that, you should not be running to be a school trustee.
I wish I could also experience the optimism you expressed in your recently published op-ed but I’m burdened by the memory of my dashed hopes over the past school year and also quite distracted by the absence of any acknowledgement of the work of teachers to ensure that our province continues to be a “world leader in education”.
I know that you are quite familiar with the work that teachers do because you had been the education critic since 2013 when you wereappointed education minister in July 2017. I was thrilled when that happened because finally there was someone who did not have to be convinced about what teachers and students needed. You had regularly raised our concerns at the Legislature and had made compelling arguments for the needs in our public education system. Your appointment felt like we teachers were finally within sight of the finish line after running an exhausting marathon.
When you said there wereurgent priorities we expected you to aggressively move to recruit teachers as soon as you occupied your new office in Victoria. But when the new school year began, recruitment of teachers seemed to have slipped off the urgent list because hundreds of students started the year without teachers. Although 3,700 teachers were eventually hired, there were too many students who had had to wait over 100 days before they had a teacher assigned to them.
On your watch, there were months of lost learning opportunities for students who had been eager to begin learning on the first day of the school year.
That this happened took us by surprise but we hoped that things would get better.
When 2018 was already a few months old and we were still waiting to benefit from our Supreme Court win through the full implementation of the Memorandum of Agreement, we suppressed our frustration. It was like we had won the race but could not claim a trophy because there weren’t enough teachers teaching on-call to relieve those who had been working through their prep time for months.
While we were desperately trying to cover the gaps created by a shortage of teachers, we were also being expected to implement the new curriculum.
Because you’ve listened to us for so many years, you must not have been surprised by one of the key findings of theCurriculum Change Survey: implementation of the new curriculum has been extraordinarily demanding on teachers. As one teacher who participated in the survey said:
I just want to note that I spent hundreds of hours developing content and instructional materials this year. I work part time and spend most of my days off working on school materials.
Surely you see that the continued teacher shortage coupled with a lack of supports for the new curriculum leaves teachers in an untenable situation?
It’s bad enough that we are not provided enough time to learn this massively changed curriculum, but we are also expected to teach the new curriculum with outdated textbooks and without the necessary equipment.
We don’t quite know what to say to students who notice their parents’ name in their social studies or science textbooks.
We are told by principals that we should consult “the Internet” for learning resources.
Particularly distressing is that after so many years of listening to us talk at our meetings about how underfunding was impacting our students, you did not included a single teacher on theFunding Model Reviewpanel.
Not a single teacher.
I had a kind of déjà vu experience when I listened to you recently on theCBC Early Edition interview of 20 August 2018. During that interview, I was dismayed that you dismissed concerns about outdated resources by saying that there may be “some anecdotes” of old textbooks but that most schools have what they need.
I wonder where your information comes from when theCurriculum Change Survey shows that teachers rate their access to necessary instructional materials at a 4 on a scale of 0 – 10.
More and more these days you sound just like our previous four education ministers who often shared their enthusiasm for new technologies without demonstrating any clear understanding of the challenges of theinfrastructure of our classrooms or the composition of ourstudent populations. Did you forget all the concerns we expressed about this when you were listening so intently at our meetings?
Last September I was looking forward to you turning your criticisms of the previous government into actions that would dramatically change what our students had had to endure for 16 years.
I usually spend August thinking about what I’ll do when I’m back at school again in September but lately all I can think about is 48°C rain. I keep wondering about what lessons would prepare my teen students for a world where hot water falls from the sky, where oceans are too warm to cool nuclear reactors, and when road surfaces from India to the U.K keep melting.
What kinds of skills will be needed in order to thrive if a domino effect of deforestation and thawing tundra turns our planet into a hothouse?
I suspect that knowing how to parse a sentence or how to solve for x aren’t going to be essential skills in such an environment.
But what will be?
I’d be willing to bet that teachers in 1918 were confident that a Liberal Arts curriculum would prepare students to fit socially and economically into a rapidly modernizing, industrializing world. An essential skill then was probably a sensibility to not stray too far beyond the boundaries of conformity while thinking critically about established ideas in literature, math and science. For most of the 20th century, high school graduates who had mastered this skill could look forward to decades of socio-economic rewards.
But is this skill still enough for students who will graduate into the third decade of the 21st century?
What do my fifteen-year-old students need to know?
Certainly there’ll be discussions about the socio-cultural impacts of artificial Intelligence and the economic outlook for a “world without work”, but I’m not quite sure where in our curriculum we’ll be addressing living in a world where new colours have to be added to weather maps to display unprecedented heat.
A century ago a few teachers may have encouraged teens to question militarism in the aftermath of The Great War but any suggestion that relentless economic growth would lead to millions of deaths and an uninhabitable planet would likely have resulted in a referral to an asylum. After all, the age of mass consumerism was just beginning and there were all those newly-electrified gadgets to buy.
Any day now the back-to-school ads will be popping up on screens everywhere. We’ll keep being reminded to buy, buy, buy. The tragic irony is that we have created an economy that is utterly dependent on consumer confidence and yet it’s mass consumption that is leading us to a new norm of rain that falls at 48.3 degrees Celsius and rivers too warm for salmon to spawn.
And there’s the rub, isn’t it? When our education system is a product of, and is sustained by a consumerist society, is it hypocritical to challenge our conformity to consumerism?
Within the next 24 months, my Grade 10 students are going to have to make choices about future education and careers. What should they know about how their lives may be affected given that many experts are predicting that the “oil bubble is about to burst”?
Because we believed you when you told us during the 2017 election campaign that you were committed to supporting all students in public schools, dozens of us spent hundreds of hours canvassing for your candidates in the nine ridings that fall within our school district. We moved making calls on behalf of your candidates to the top of our priority lists, above the myriad tasks we normally have as parents and as teachers.
We were highly motivated to do this because we could not bear the thought of yet another year of inadequate resources and overcrowded classrooms, yet another year of looking into the faces of our students who struggled to learn without the supports they desperately needed in their classrooms.
Before 2002 when our collective agreement was shredded by the BC Liberals, students in Surrey who needed help with their learning, whether they were designated or not, had access to resource rooms and tutorial rooms. There were also enough Learning Assistant Teachers and Education Assistants to support all students who needed it.
As you well know, almost all of that support disappeared during the 16 years that the BC Liberal government was in power.
And so, while we knocked on doors and spoke to voters in spring 2017, we hoped that, if an NDP government were in place, the level of support needed for our students would, at the very least, be restored to what it had been in 2001, the year before the BC Liberal government gutted funding.
On election night, we were thrilled when six out of the nine ridings in Surrey were won by your colleagues. We were especially ecstatic about the ousting of the former Minister of Education, Peter Fassbender, who had been deaf to our multiple appeals for support on behalf of our students. By the end of the school year in June 2017, we excitedly anticipated that our students’ suffering was time-limited, that there was light on the horizon.
There was indeed some light in the new school year. Your government announced more funding for a new school in our district where students had been subjected to gross overcrowding for too many years. We also happily welcomed all the newly hired teachers and looked forward to the relief they would bring to our schools.
But now, it’s a been a year since your Minister of Education said that it was an urgent issue to restore supports and funding to our schools and we are distressed that the situation for students with special needs in our district has gotten worse than it ever was under the BC Liberals!
We are shocked that your government has allowed BCPSEA to avoid fully implementing our restored language.
We are deeply disturbed by the number of students who are left without supports daily while their Learning Specialist Teachers are called to cover classes because of a shortage of teachers.
We are dismayed by the number of teachers who have had no prep time for weeks because they’ve had to cover other classes.
And we are extremely perplexed by your government not doing all that it can to honour the Memorandum of Agreement, the document that is meant to guide the restoration of what was lost in 2002.
Why are you not pressuring all stakeholders to take the actions necessary to remedy the situation in schools, not exacerbate it by preparing to monetize the lost hours of support that too many students endured for far too long?
Even in our worst nightmares we never thought we’d have to debate the morally repugnant issue of “cash for kids” with your government.