Today is a historic day.
If you listened closely you heard a huge sigh of relief wash over BC when the teachers reached a tentative agreement with the Liberal Government over the current labour dispute.The details of that agreement are not known at the time of writing but that is not the point of this post anyway.
It is a good day for teachers albeit bittersweet. Because athough it looks like there will be stability in public education once an agreement is signed what remains glaringly obvious are the cracks that desperately need filling.
Teachers have been propping up public education with their own resources for so long that on the outside, the system appears to have been working despite their contracts being ripped up in 2002 and the government’s unwillingness to address the individual needs of all students. It’s time to stop subsidizing public education so the public, parents and concerned citizens can see what it for what it is.
My partner is a teacher so I hear from him how deep the cuts are to school district budgets. I hear about the scramble to cram more kids into classes, to shorten or spread out prep time to squeeze more out of each teacher. I’ve got friends with kids in school who’ve been presented with long lists of school supplies that include tissues and photocopy paper and other items clearly not used by their own kids. The only people who can put a stop to this are the teachers and parents.
I’m not a parent of a school aged child yet. But I know that next year when it’s his turn I will see it with my own eyes.
And despite my distaste for politics, I cannot with clear conscious be a bystander any longer. The Liberal government wants the general public to be complacent.
They want to take the credit for today’s deal that was apparently ‘negotiated’ (although with Vince Ready in there playing hardball it’s more like mediation) and hope we will forget about it come election time. I don’t know about you, but this battle has been burned into my psyche forever.
Today is just the beginning in the fight to protect public education.
I came across a Facebook post that my friend Liz wrote and knew I had to share it here with you.
Liz is a parent and public school teacher who wrote about why she thinks she and her colleagues need to stop propping up our education system.
Thank you Liz for all that you do for your students and for making our public system the best it can be despite its brokenness and for your insightful post.
If you love this post and know someone who would like to read it please share.
Eyes Wide Open
If there is one issue the current public education crisis has highlighted in the last few months, it is that very few people outside of ‘education circles’ knew just how bare bones the system had become and how much teachers, support staff and administrators have been propping up the education system with their goodwill, fundraising efforts, volunteer time, and money. So, teachers, let’s agree to stop it.
Can we please stop trying to fix the issue of massive underfunding ourselves? Because that is what teachers have been trying to do for the last decade, and it has backfired on us in a huge way. It is time for everyone to see the mirage that is our ‘well-functioning’ public education system. This may be hard to do, because by and large teachers are problem-solvers, wanting to help and fix and we just do what needs to be done. We want to fix everything because we care so much for our students and our professions are our passions.
If the current education crisis feels like a personal attack, well, that’s because it is. Teachers do not just go to a place of work, we go to our schools where we create second homes within our classrooms, foster community within our schools, and are deeply connected with our students and their families. We invest a part of our personal selves to our profession and because of this teaching can be all-consuming.
But, what if, for a year, we actually tried to have some balance in our lives? What if we only worked for nine hours a day? No matter what. Prepping, research, marking, emails, coaching, club sponsoring, supervision, letters of reference, field experience, professional development, meetings, paperwork. All in nine hours a day. We focus solely on our students’ academic, emotional and social learning, our craft, doing the best job possible within those hours, and then actually went home with some energy left at the end of the day. Or once at home, we do not do anything related to work, connecting with our families instead of our computers. Saying no to more, saying, “I have done my best to let the public know the fact that we are short-staffed and I cannot do more than one job.” And only a half a day, four hours, on the weekend. No more.
This is not job action, this is balance. Track your hours and flex as you need to. We can still support the students in the ways they need, we simply put reasonable limits on our time by making sure that what we focus on is always student-centred and we say ‘no’ to that which is not. What many people do not realize is that teachers work a condensed work year and have summer holidays as compensation, like time in lieu. This is no different than many other salaried workplaces whose employees work extended hours without paid overtime. Working the hours set out above still does provide a condensed work year. Count them up.
While we’re at it, how about we actually take a break and/or a lunch every day? The ‘partial lockout’ in particular (and the ‘living document’ amendments that followed it) highlighted the fact that even our employers had no idea how much work we do before school, at recess, lunch, and after school. These are prime contact times for us with parents and students. To force us off the property during these hours, without even access to a washroom, was both egregious and telling. Our own employers have no idea how much work we do outside of our classroom hours. So, why don’t we find balance in our lives and actually have a lunch with our colleagues, and deliberately opt out of the frenetic pace that is our workday, for at least long enough to eat.
What if, for a full year, we refused to buy anything related to our profession with our own money? Or refused to ask for anything for our classrooms from any type of special occasion such as Christmas or a birthday. Do nurses pay for their own needles? Paramedics stock their own ambulances? Doctors may buy supplies for their offices, but they are also eligible for tax breaks, whereas teachers are not. What if we said, “I have done my best to fix the fact that public education is underfunded but I cannot subsidize it with my own family’s money any longer.” People have no idea how much money we spend on the education system. If we collectively stop doing it for a year, they will notice.
And let’s take it a step further. What if we refused to bring in anything we’ve previously bought ourselves into our classrooms? Books, CDs, computers, carpets, posters, bins, chairs, decorations, professional resources, shelves, organizers, school supplies, food, gifts, boards, toys, games, etc. Asking teachers to list what they paid for themselves would startle the average person. It truly is the only profession where we steal from home to bring to work. There is a reason (besides the fact that our classroom becomes our second home) teachers are so reluctant to shuffle rooms. It takes at least twenty boxes to pack up the classroom materials that we have purchased with our own money.
What if we made a vow to ourselves not to bring anything in to the classroom that we had previously bought? What if we instead said, “I am not responsible for the fact that the education system is underfunded and it is not my job to stock my classroom with my own purchases.” Would the classroom be bare? Yes. Would we survive? Yes. Does the thought of that make you panic because there would be so little to work with in the classroom? If so, at the very least, could we agree to tag every single item in our classes with “Paid For By Your Teacher” labels? Or if you are feeling cheekier, “Your Teacher, Not the Government, Paid For This.”
Most importantly, however, what if we spent the year having conversations with colleagues, parents and the community about why things need to look different this year? Colleagues, we cannot solve the issue of public education underfunding by ourselves. In fact, in trying to do so we have to some extent been left ‘hanging’ by our educational leaders, some of whom have been either unwilling or are contractually forbidden to speak out. How can it be a breach of fiduciary duty to advocate for more funding for public education? Advocating and criticizing are quite distinct and engaging in advocacy for public education should not be breach of duty; in fact, it should be embraced as a mark of educational leadership.
Teachers have been as vocal as we can about what is going on. It is now time to step back and create space for others to take a leadership role and advocate for a healthy public education system. Really it is the parents who have the power to change this situation. Healthy public education is foundational in any well-functioning society and it is parents who have the power to demand to politicians to invest properly in it. So, let us start having these conversations, building those partnerships one conversation at a time so there is a common understanding of the issues within our schools.
For example, why don’t we talk about how many PACs in the schools are now at the same frenetic pace as teachers, creating fundraiser after fundraiser to fill the holes in the school’s budget because the government keeps off-loading costs? What if we went to our own children’s PAC meetings and had these conversations, too? When did PACs become a means for making money for the school to compensate for the shortfalls? Is that their purpose? While we are at it, why don’t we start having discussions about how we are now competing for students and the funding that comes with them in public education. When did we become more focused on creating niches, ‘marketing and branding,’ than putting our energies into creating the strongest neighbourhood schools possible for our communities?
If there is one issue that has come out of this public education fiasco, it’s that teachers have to, incrementally if necessary, take more care to have time and financial limits in our workplace to create more balance in our lives. For over a decade now we have been plugging holes as we can to cover the shortfalls in our budgets due to chronic, systematic government underfunding. It is time for us to stop being complicit in this fiction, it is time to show the public what the system really is: starved, bare bones and artificially propped up by its employees.
The current stalemate in the educational crisis will end, and eventually we will all head back into the classrooms to do what we love, working with students, engaging them in the learning process and helping them to succeed academically, socially and emotionally. When this impasse ends and you run full speed into the school year, teachers, be your usual hard-working, positive, professional, passionate selves. But please be eyes wide open about it. And take care.
This post was written a few days before a tentative deal was reached between the teachers and the Liberal government.
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