I tried to understand the “other side.” And I failed.

With the announcement that Vince Ready, the mediator, declared an impasse in today’s talks between the BCTF and BCSPEA, emotions are high – on both sides.

But here’s the thing. I really only understand one side: the side of public education.

On this side, we want smaller class sizes.

Does that mean that those who support the government think that having 30+ kids in a classroom built for 28 is a good thing? By supporting the government, are they saying that having 30 seats in a class of 32 students is no big deal – that it’s okay when students have to share desks or hope that a peer is absent so they can have their own space?

And no. I’m not exaggerating.

On public education’s side, we want manageable class composition.

By supporting the government, are people saying that the make-up of people in a room doesn’t matter? That there’s no impact on typical students if a quarter of the class has special needs, and another quarter is still learning English? That there’s no impact on the quality of teaching and learning that can happen in these environments?

Or, worse, are people just remembering their own school days and assuming that classes are the same? Because they aren’t. If you graduated prior to the early-2000s, you had very different classes; schools weren’t fully integrated yet. Special needs students still attended separate classes in most areas.

They don’t anymore.

On this side, we want specialist teachers.

If people don’t support this, does it mean that people don’t think that ELL (ESL) teachers are necessary? That it’s okay when ELL students are placed into mainstream classes that they aren’t ready for, just because there are no ELL blocks available for them?

Do those who support the government think that schools don’t need counselors? Do they think that kids don’t deal with some pretty heavy emotional things, or just that they don’t need help with them? Are they really okay with counselors being shared between elementary schools, and with high school counselors having upward of 400 students on their caseload?

Supporters of public education want below cost of living salary increases for teachers.

Does this mean that people who support the government approve of increasing workload while decreasing salary? That the people to whom hundreds of thousands of children are entrusted each day don’t deserve to keep their buying power? Does it mean that folks have so little value for the more than full-time hours that teachers put into their work that they think a four-year wage freeze and a less than cost of living increase for the next five years is honestly “greedy”?

On this side, we want a government that respects the rule of law.

Do people think that two Supreme Court rulings don’t matter? Do they not care that their tax dollars are being spent to fight against the rights of kids to have a reasonable learning environment, and for teachers to have a manageable workload? Yes, there’s an appeal process, and that’s perfectly legal, but do people actually support having an undisclosed amount of public funds spent to fight against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and against the rights of children in BC?


So, you can see why I’m puzzled. I can’t fathom how people in an industrialized province like BC are okay with kids having to share desks. I can’t wrap my head around why people think that it’s okay to send kids to school, but not give them the help they need to learn. I can’t understand why people think that kids who need counseling shouldn’t have access to it. And I definitely can’t understand how teachers are greedy by wanting to keep up with the cost of inflation that’s set (in large part) by their employer.

If the argument is that there’s no money for these things, I don’t understand that either. Funding is a matter of priorities.

And education matters.

3 thoughts on “I tried to understand the “other side.” And I failed.

  1. Jon

    They think that way because none of those considerations actually enter their head. All they think is “this person makes “x” (more than me!) and I work hard. And they get summers off.”

    I’d wager too that this sort is thinking of one teacher who read a magazine in front of them when they were 12, so they think teachers don’t do any work. Or the ones who want to get back at teachers for some humiliation 30 years ago.

    And finally, it is people who do know–or have heard–and don’t care. All they know is they don’t like taxes, and you’re a handy scapegoat. It doesn’t matter how you discuss it with them. “Can’t afford it.” “Only one taxpayer.” etc. Logic doesn’t matter here, nor facts. You could prove to them that the investment will earn money down the road, and they will still say the same thing. “Four legs good, two legs baaaaaad.”

  2. Robert

    As a nominal supporter of the “other side” as you call it, let me attempt to educate you to what those who only supply the materials of your job (funding and students) are thinking.

    1) Class size is important. While we all wish that class sizes were at 25, we remember classes of 33 in schools. It was no means good. Definately not desirable, but survivable. A point to be debated and bargained for, but not one to hold up the education system for.

    2. Class Composition. Well, how did we get here? Who decided that we would just lump all the students together, regardless of ability? I do not recall ever having a public debate on this policy. Maybe we need one. Maybe putting strong scholastic students with ESL and high demand and low functioning special needs students is Not What is Best. Perhaps schools need to streamline the academic programs with peers functioning at a similar level. Advanced, standard, assisted language, supported learning. Probably not Politically Correct, but realistic. Creating a system that drags everyone to the lowest common denominator is a system that encourages those with means or ability to escape the system. Education, not social engineering.

    3. Specialist Teachers: absolutely. Where the system needs, they should be available.

    4. Remuneration. I agree that teachers, like other professionals, should be remunerated appropriately. Like other public sector unions, that’s 5.5% over 5 years. Sorry, that’s the going rate in BC. Lots of us have university degrees too. Lots of us have agreed to less, much less than 1.1% average. In the real world, if you are unable to be satisfied with your pay and job, you move or find some other work. The benefit package, both paid and unpaid lead many of us to suggest you will find sympathy in your desk dictionary.

    5. A government who respects the word of law. Let me remind you not only does government make laws, but like any party, can use the courts to evaluate laws. Bad laws get made, and are challenged in the courts, where they are struck down after the last appeal is made. A lengthy procedure that is prone to incite fury. But it is our system. Don’t bring a case that is before the courts into a negotiation unless you plan to throw gas on the fire. You need the courts to run their course, then deal with it. Do not hold the education system hostage for the years it will take. Or change the government. But that didn’t happen. These are your cards, play them as best you can. If the dealer is cheating, he’ll get caught and have to deal with the consequences. To Joe Public, it looks like you are still bitter over the election, and lose political credibility because of it.

    Hopefully you may have some insight on the other side. But do not forget that parents will not suffer long if their children are in No Mans Land being shelled from both sides. There will be consequences.

  3. Ashley D. MacKenzie Post author

    Hi Robert,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond. I would like to clarify a few points, if possible.

    I think we might need to combine the first two points to get a true representation of the class size issue, however. When you had classes of 33, did these classes also include a large proportion of special needs or ELL students? If you attended public school in BC prior to 2002, I would suspect that the rates would necessarily have been lower due to segregated classes. As such, do you think that comparing a class of 33 “typical” learners to a class of 33 with many different learning needs is truly a fair comparison?

    Full integration has certainly come with some challenges, and I’m sure one could make the argument for many negative aspects along with the positives. However, the options that you’re suggesting aren’t currently on the table. In fact, it would be pretty much impossible to return to the way things were due to the cuts to specialist teachers. I’m not saying that it’s not a valid discussion, because it is, but it’s not a viable one to be having at this time. Today’s classes have special needs students. Period. Are you saying that you’re okay with these students not having the help that they need to make the most of their skills and abilities? Because it actually sounds like you do think they should have support.

    As far as remuneration is concerned, are you aware that the current wage proposal by the BCTF is 8% over 5 years, or 1.6% per year, which is below the rate of inflation? This is after four years of wage freezes. In addition, BCPSEA is including the cost of SEAs (Special Education Assistants) in their costing for benefits, which I find that many are unaware of. I completely appreciate the “If you aren’t happy, quit” mentality as I spent many years in the private sector before teaching; I’ve quit a lot of jobs. The only issue with using that argument in this case, however, is that quitting is tantamount to giving up my career. I’m dealing with a monopoly employer who has no qualms about using that monopoly to their advantage. And, as a citizen, that makes me uncomfortable. Shouldn’t the province treat its workers fairly?

    With regard to the court decisions, are you aware of article E80 in the current bargaining package? This is the stumbling block in current negotiations. Essentially, it includes class size and composition language that is nowhere near what the courts have currently said must be restored. It’s the thing that BCPSEA refuses to remove, and the BCTF can’t agree to as it would essentially negate any further victories in court. In short, it’s a promise of $75 million ($60 of which is already in the budget) to help with class size and composition – which is a fraction of the funding that was illegally stripped from the contract and which the Supreme Court says students are entitled to. This proposed funding is not sufficient to assist special needs kids in integrated classes, let alone in specialized classes like you previously suggested.

    So, although I do appreciate the insight that you’ve provided, I’m afraid that I still can’t see the full picture from your perspective. As is stands, special needs kids aren’t getting the help they need, and it actually sounds like you agree that they should be receiving assistance. So, I’m a little confused as to how you don’t support class composition arguments and are happy with a government who chooses litigation over students.