Thoughts on Education From the Inside

This item, written by my eldest son, was first published in June 2014. He refers to a labour dispute  and its central issues may be in the news again later in 2016. The Supreme Court of Canada is considering a definitive case regarding teachers’ rights to collectively bargain with the Province of BC.

Regardless, monetary issues remain front and centre in public schools. In the last two fiscal years, while funding to elite private schools rose 17.5%, it fell 5% at the province’s 17 largest school districts. (Source: Consolidated Revenue Fund Detailed Schedules of Payments, 2014 and 2015)

By Brad Farrell
High school teacher and parent


“What do you do for a living?”

A question. A common question. One people ask to start a conversation. One that comes up when meeting new people. One I’d bet most of you have heard, probably many times. One I hesitate to answer. Not because I don’t have an answer. I have a job, a career even. Not the best job, not the worst. A job that isn’t as rewarding, fulfilling or enjoyable as it used to be. A job that will only get less so if things continue as they have.

“I am a teacher.”

It is an answer. Not the best answer, not the worst. It is however, an increasingly unpopular answer. More than ever, acknowledging I am a teacher leads people to judge me and my motivations for doing what I do. The reactions I get from people are less positive year by year. Fortunately, I’ve met many people capable of moving beyond their biases, who come to know me the person, not me the profession.

So where to start?

As in most debates, people find themselves on both sides of the issues. Some people actually know the issues; fewer understand the meanings. Agree with their positions or not, at least give them credit for being informed. Many have no idea at all what the issues are, but feel very strongly about their positions regardless, be they rational or not. As for myself, predictably I am upset and frustrated with the government’s position on education, though I am not unquestioningly pro-union as that might imply.

Not totally pro-union?

Contrary to what many people think, I, as a teacher, do not believe the BCTF walks on water. They’ve done plenty wrong over time. Most people understand that in a negotiation you ask for more than you want, the other side offers less than you deserve and you eventually settle somewhere in the middle. The BCTF though has loaded the bullets for the other side by routinely asking for ludicrously large increases, most publicly to wages. It is the most obvious, but not the only, evidence to suggest my union doesn’t know how to fight a PR battle, let alone win one. Shooting off your feet is a decidedly poor way to get anywhere. They know where they want to go but unfortunately don’t always know the best way to get there.

What’s wrong with a teacher wanting to make more money?

This is a question that baffles me. Everybody on the planet wants to make more money, why can’t I? Speaking for myself I want a wage increase that accounts for an ever more expensive cost of living, plus a bit extra to allow me to make up some of the monies I’ve lost after a number of years of static wages. I’m sure most people make more money than they used to, or than people who did the same job in the past. Christy Clark and her deputies make more money than previous senior political officers did. Yet this week in Premier Clark’s busy schedule, packed full of policy making and other tasks of governance, she found time to publicly label my colleagues and I greedy and in it for the money. Am I really so different from everyone else because I want better pay?

Why shouldn’t teachers get a wage increase?

Historically in negotiations, teachers have given up wage increases to secure other concessions, most notably changes in class size and class composition. Government has stripped those negotiated articles from our contract, so why shouldn’t we get the wages we gave up to get the particular gains we’ve now lost? Besides, though I don’t often find myself agreeing with Vaughn Palmer, maybe he put it best. I recently heard him on CKNW address the talking point of “teachers should take a deal in line with other public-sector unions.” His adroit and succinct response was teachers took less last time, so why shouldn’t they get more this time?

Why do class size and class composition matter so much?

I’m a little stunned that anybody accepts the argument class size doesn’t affect student learning. At my school, classes are 80 minutes long. I teach a Science 8 class in English to 27 students. I also teach a Science 8 class in French to 20 students. Seems obvious to me that 80 minutes for 27 students versus 80 minutes for 20 students means the students in the class of 27 get less of my time. Everything I do in that larger class takes 10-15% more time, meaning I do less with my larger class.

As for composition, next to that Science 8 class of 27, I teach a Chemistry 11 class of 29. Granted, grade 11 students tend to be more mature and responsible than grade 8s. In the Chemistry 11 class of 29, every student has chosen to be there, as it’s an elective course, and I have one student identified as having special needs. In the Science 8 class, I have two students identified by the Ministry of Education as special needs and an additional eight informally identified who require extra consideration and who attend learning support blocks, but who don’t have a Ministry designation. That’s roughly a third of the class, on top of any English as a Second Language students or students who don’t want to take that course, but who have to, as it is a requirement. See how long it took to describe one class versus the other? Can you guess in which class I’m better able to teach and students better able to learn? Class size and composition do matter.

How can the government claim class size and composition don’t affect student performance?

The government defends its actions of removing class size and class composition language from our contract because it’s too expensive to accommodate and isn’t a factor to student success anyway. They support this latter conclusion by referring to studies that suggest student performance has not suffered since their removal of class size and class composition considerations. The explanation for these conclusions in my opinion is simple – government has the ability to lower the bar of success and redefine student achievement. Student assessment models and performance standards are established by the government. They are different today than they were when I started teaching. So to be clear, government claims to make funding decisions based on student performance. Neatly, they also set policy on how students are assessed and their performance determined. Anybody else see a conflict in that?

Does the union have the students’ best interest in mind?

They believe they do and much of the time I think actually do. That is, however, not their mandate nor their reason for existing. The BCTF was created for and is funded by its members. I pay union dues so that they can protect my interests, advocate for my working conditions and negotiate on my behalf, not to look after students. The two concepts of working conditions and learning conditions often conflate, even overlap, but they are not the same. The sad truth is though, if the union doesn’t take some stance to fight for students’ learning conditions, who will? At some level, smaller classes and more specialist teachers mean higher staffing levels, a coup for any union. That fact does not negate their educational value to students. Are not student needs what the stewards of education look after, even fight for? If not all the stewards, at least some of them?

Which affects students more, Stage 1 of the strike or the partial lockout?

Teachers went on strike first – Stage 1 – albeit a limited strike. That word “limited” is one the government and media seem unable to remember or use. During that action, I stopped meeting with Administration and receiving written correspondence from them. I could still talk to Admin and they could still talk to me. You know, old-school face-to-face conversations. It could be an informal discussion, just not a formal meeting. Anything that was an emergency or that had to do with student safety or discipline was exempt and could be communicated in writing. I continued teaching, assessing, helping outside of class time, communicating with students and parents, in short all the things I do that affect student learning.

In response to that limited strike, the government introduced a partial lockout. A lockout so effectively communicated they required two additional clarification letters and some back peddling to ensure it said and meant what they intended. Part of the terms of the lockout are that I cannot do paid work during lunch. Given I’m paid to teach and work with students, by government lockout, I am not able to help students or administer make-up exams at lunch. So which action affects the students? Which action, the limited strike or the partial lockout, has restricted the time I can spend with my students? Granted I can still work with them 45 minutes before and 45 minutes after school, but often that isn’t the best time for them or for me. It is for certain though, the only time outside of class I am allowed to work with them. By government lockout.

Doesn’t the Stage 2 rotating strike action affect students?

Absolutely. Affects teachers too. Beyond the day’s pay I will lose, I’ll lose an instructional day, probably more than one. I will have to determine the best way to reschedule the remainder of my year’s plan into fewer days. I will be relying on my training, experience and adaptability to minimize the effect on students’ learning. If Stage 2 continues to the end of the school year at one day per week, up to four days will be lost in high school, up to five in elementary. Not inconsequential, but consider this. I have a significant number of students who miss more days than that through extended vacations, being pulled out on Friday by parents for a weekend in Whistler, dance and sports competitions, music festivals . . . the list goes on.

Does the government’s partial lockout prevent me from doing volunteer, extracurricular activities?

In a word – No. It took them a few tries to get the wording clear and to suit their intention, but I am allowed to be in my school as late after class as I want to be. I can only do paid work during the first 45 minutes, but I can stay and do as much unpaid work as I want. So I’m not prevented by lockout from coaching or doing other volunteer work. But why on Earth would I? The government has restricted the time during which I can work, is paying me less to do the same teaching and assessing, but is hopeful I’ll continue volunteering my own time outside their restrictions? How would you respond to receiving direction to do the same work you do for customers, in less time, for less money, and then were asked to volunteer later in the day? Your response might be as colourful as mine.

What about students caught in the middle?

My answer is simply, what about them? Those students have parents. Parents who can also volunteer to coach their child’s team or to hand out certificates as students walk across the stage. Someone volunteering to organize and run extracurricular activities is in the students’ best interests. That someone being a teacher is in the best interest of the government and of parents. Government, because it means an employee working for free and parents because it means a commitment they don’t have to make. To say extracurricular events cannot take place and even to cancel them because teachers are not volunteering is a cop out. The fact that teachers volunteer at all means others don’t have to. If teachers do not volunteer, parents are welcome to fill the void.

How can government increase funding to public schools when there is no money, be it for teacher salaries or other expenses?

An excellent question, if it were true there is no money.

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” This quote comes from the 1995 film The Usual Suspects. It could just as easily read “The greatest trick government ever pulled was convincing the electorate they’d run out of money.”

Governments exist to collect revenue, make policy and set priorities, then spend our money and tell us it’s governance. And, spend it they do, in large amounts. How can government increase education funding? Simple – choose to do it. Reducing some of its own bloat and corruption would find some. Diverting funds from spending they deemed a lower priority would find more. There is almost no end to the money government can find, for the projects they want to fund.

Over the last decade, education has represented a diminishing piece of the government’s budgetary pie. In recent budgets, funding to private schools – they prefer to be called independent schools because that evokes a different perception – has increased while public funding has not. Seems to me these actions speak to government’s desire to fund public education, not its ability. To find more money, all they need do is want to fund education more than they want to fund something else.

All of the above reflects what I think as a teacher to the issues and questions I hear most frequently. The most important hat I wear however is the one of parent. What hits home for me, more than everything else, is concern for the experiences of my six-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son as they move through the public education system. As their classes become larger, populated by a more challenging diversity of students and managed by teachers with fewer resources, how can their education be as good as it can be? Or as it should be? Shouldn’t our expectation and aspiration be that our children receive a better education than we did? Do any of you as parents think our schools serve your kids better now or even as well as they did when you were their age?

I sat down to write this piece, unsure who my audience was but knowing I hold a lot of anger about a range of topics towards a variety of people responsible for the climate of the school I call my workplace. In determining to whom I address this essay, I’ve come to realize the loudest voice who could affect the most change and who is the least heard from, is you, the parents. It’s your kids who experience the effects of larger classes, filled with diverse, under-supported kids. It’s you who have to shell out from your pocket as school districts download funding shortfalls through school fees, particularly at the high school level. Why do they do it? Because we as parents and more importantly as voters let them.

If our education system in BC is not broken already, it is breaking. The Liberals may not have started the decline, but it has been their job for more than a decade to fix it. The job they’ve done fixing it has twice resulted in the courts telling them to change their approach and to respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As they say, third time lucky, so to the surprise of no one, in an effort to avoid spending tax dollars they claim not to have, the provincial government will spend tax dollars they don’t need for other things appealing again the court’s decision. I refer to my previous thoughts on budgetary priorities.

I do wonder when the Ministry of Education will update the BC Social Studies Curriculum to reflect the suggestive nature of the Charter. It has apparently become a collection of guidelines, open to inconsistent application, depending on whether it supports or inhibits your desired actions. That is, if you’re a provincial government. For individuals like us, probably not so much. Something tells me the ability to cherry pick the laws we like and will follow does not exist.

As I said previously, I also take issue with some of my union’s decisions. The vast majority of teachers though are good people, who teach for the right reasons and who work much harder and longer than many realize. Teachers play a vital role in shaping our next generation, or, at least, they try to. Granted, just as every bushel has its bad apples, not every teacher should be in the profession. Not everyone is well-suited to it. But, that’s true of every workforce, including politicians.

Our province is devoid of leadership. G. Elijah Dann, a professor at SFU, put it far more eloquently than I can. The following is an excerpt taken from an open letter he wrote to Christy Clark on the topic of the proposed development of the LNG sector in BC:

As our premier, shouldn’t you instead be pursuing a vision for a future that has everyone excited and wanting to work together? Where British Columbians aren’t set against each other in an entrenched battle, but rather feel a bright optimism for our immediate future, and also for our children and their children to come? We even believe we can make money at it – but in a way that is sustainable. And ethical.

Shouldn’t you, as a provincial leader – like any other leader who has changed the world for good – seek to challenge your fellow citizens to see beyond the simple solutions?

When I read his letter, this part struck me because he could just as easily have been talking about healthcare, or the forest sector, or fisheries, or . . . minus the part about making money, education or the Ministry of Children and Family Development. How many of you are proud to live in the province that leads the country in child poverty and who funds education below the national average? This, with a government who repeatedly states their first priority is the safety and education of children. At least we have Family Day in February . . .

In a May 27th, 2014 article, Camille Bains of the Canadian Press quotes Christy Clark as saying:

The strike is going to end at some point. It always does. But after 30 years, for heaven’s sakes, we need to find a new way to do it.

I’m not sure who the “we” in her statement is. One of the sides in these negotiations is BCPSEA, who negotiates at the government’s behest, following their direction. The premier is frustrated by a process she says doesn’t work, that involves an agent of the government, a government of which she is the leader. So if she as premier can’t direct her own bargaining agent, what good is she as premier? Either she’s as inept and ineffectual as her statement implies, or BCPSEA is doing exactly what she wants done. Neither possibility bodes well for the future of our province’s education system.

What about Christy Clark the parent? Politicians routinely laud our education system as being world-class. Foreign students spend significant money for the privilege of attending our schools. Other jurisdictions come to study our curriculum and often purchase it for their own use. The claim from on high is that our public system is top notch, providing excellent education. It is so good, the premier sends her son to . . . a private school? Maybe it’s just more convenient, closer to where he lives. Maybe it’s because he has a smaller class, more resources and fewer students with special needs in the room. Who can say?

Personally, I think it shows her taking no responsibility for the current situation in our public schools. Granted, her son does not attend one, so she doesn’t have any vested interest in the health of the public system. Well, apart from the fact she is the leader of our province’s governing party. Make no mistake, as a parent, she has every right to do as she sees fit and to select the school she thinks best, as she should, as every parent should. She has the means and believes private school is a better option. As a mother, her responsibility is to do what is right for her child.

But, mother isn’t the only role she plays. As premier, her responsibility is to do what is right for all kids, including mine. I am confident she is not doing so and I question whether she even thinks she has an obligation to. I think it sends a questionable message at best for anyone in charge of a public system to use the private alternative themselves, be it education or any other field. If the public system is broken to the point the Premier won’t use it, as leader of the government responsible for it, she should set about fixing the system, rather than dismantling it to justify her choice to access the private system. If only school kids could vote, maybe then she’d concern herself with their needs.

So what do I do for a living? I am a teacher. I became a teacher in part because it suited my interests and my skill set. The most important reason I did though is that I like working with kids. I truly enjoy seeing that moment when one of my students makes a connection, the light bulb goes off and they understand something they didn’t the moment before. Contrary to the belief of some, I did not become a teacher for the unimaginable wealth, which is fortunate because the last ten years have proven I either don’t know what wealth is or at the least have no idea where to find it. Neither possibility bodes well for my future, financially at least.

Admittedly, my closing may help perpetuate the myth I’m only in it for the money, but the dollars and cents seem to be the only factor in this dispute that gets any coverage. I started with a question; I’ll end with two more.

If I presented you a professional who holds three university degrees, one a masters, a variety of professional development certificates and has 22 years’ experience, what would you say that person should expect to earn in salary? If I told you that professional is a teacher, would your answer change?


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38 replies »

  1. Great post, Mr Farrell

    Worth reading twice.

    I like to think I have an unbiased view of the current situation, but we all have our biases, don't we? I have grandchildren in the public school system, but I also pay the taxes that help support the system. I am also the beneficiary (some time ago) of a BC Public School education.

    I tend to support the teachers' position in the current negotiation, simply because the government has been even more clumsy than the union in the public portion of the negotiating process.

    But if the teachers see public support as a key to making the gains you reference above, I will share with you the key to getting that support:


    I accept that a high percentage of all teachers are dedicated, competent individuals who go above and beyond to ensure their charges receive the best they have to offer.

    But the small number of people who made an inappropriate career choice years ago and are still in the classroom tend to taint the larger pool of good teachers. Most schools have at least one teacher who is a coaster, who doesn't want to be there, or should not be there.

    And my perception is that the teaching profession does not do a good job of correcting that poor teacher's performance or removing him/her from the classroom.

    Find a way to raise your overall level of professionalism and you will see an increase in public support.

    It wouldn't hurt to get a different bargaining agent, either.


  2. Wow! Very well stated.

    I see the author is Brad Farrell.. your son, Norm?

    I'll be passing this on to my staff.


  3. Our education system is broken because our society is broken with money and power holding pride of place and community and a living environment being reduced to faint whispers in remote corners. Given the framework in which schools have to operate, it should be no surprise that curriculum is narrow and focused on producing drone workers and consumers rather than engaging learners in dialog and exploration, analysis and synthesis, reflection and expression. Instead we get orthodoxy and dogma and little preparation for life outside of the workplace. All of this needs to be done on the basis of the least cost per unit, and anything that doesn't fit the desired pattern needs to be flushed from the system and kicked to the curb.
    Thanks for the POV. Until society is “fixed” it seems unlikely that we'll see much improvement in education, employment, health care, housing or economic disparities. For now, CC and her brood will probably legislate, then stall and appeal whatever comes along: what they should do is to restore class size and composition to pre-2002 levels, award a fair raise to the teaching corps and take that money from increased royalties and taxes on resource extraction, on outrageous salaries and bonuses paid to execs in both the private and public sectors and lay off the pharaonic construction.


  4. Perspective is important Brad. Here's one for you:
    I pay $50/day/child for full day preschool childcare (average, by no means expensive if you shop around and can actually find a space). In that I expect a safe place for my children to feel loved and cared for. I'm happy if they make me a Father's Day card or tell me that “bears hibernate all winter”. So when I hear that there are 200 school days (roughly) in a year and per student funding is ~$8000/student that means I have access to government daycare for $40/day. Not only is that cheaper/comparable, I expect way more from them and have access to experienced professionals with graduate degrees who will provide extra curricular activities that go beyond the hours I pay for. I don't exactly know the qualifications for childcare but I'll guess it's a criminal record check and an (optional?) college certificate (1 year or less?). At the national average (guessing $9000/year since bctf is saying we underfund by $1000/year) and 180 days you get to $50/day, the market rate for a plain vanilla day care. Seems manageable to me.

    It would seem the way we judge the current school system is based on our own experience (many) years ago. Some people have a chip on their shoulder for having had a poor experience or teacher(s). It's not about then, it's about now and I'm concerned as a parent that my children will not have the same opportunities as I did. The discussion my friends and I have is to move to where the funding cuts have less of an impact (either french immersion or more affluent communities).

    I find it hard to believe that our society will live up to its full potential if we don't give the next generation every opportunity to reach theirs.


  5. Thank you for mentioning affluence and French Immersion. I teach French Immersion Science in a relatively affluent part of town, so I can address both. In my high school of 850-900 we have two hotplates that allow temperature control. To accommodate the maximum class size of 30 kids, we’d like to buy 13 more, giving us 15, enough for a class assuming students worked in pairs. Total cost, just under $3000. My principal told me my best option would be to apply to our school’s PAC and hope the parent group would provide them. That’s how our school acquired iPads, laptops and many of the classroom projectors. Too many of our schools get the equipment they need through parent fundraising rather than through the government equipping our schools completely.
    I feel better able to do my job in my French Immersion class for two reasons. 1. Class size. My three blocks of FI have enrollments of 18, 20 and 20. I believe the largest French Immersion class in my school is 24. I count myself fortunate that those classes are too small, but it’s a by-product of numbers. There are 38 FI grade nines, so I get two small classes. 2. French Immersion generates federal funds, therefore has its own budget. For some of my classes I can access two budgets, FI and Science. The others only one, Science. This week in my Chemistry 11 class I experienced an awkward moment. I was teaching about the periodic table, using the version I bought in the last few years. It has the most recently discovered elements and basic information on one side, on the other it has more advanced information, great for my senior chemistry course. Only problem, it’s in French. I don’t have its equivalent in English. My English version is circa 1965, not exactly the cutting edge.


  6. I too believe the BCTF has it's PR “issues” and I also believe it's the government that is “engineering” the problems in the public system. They refuse to fund it appropriately.

    The spin from Clark and Fassbender speaks for itself.

    If they were serious about negotiating, the wouldn't be doing it in the media. If they were, they would be asking for a mediator and a news blackout and they would obey the law and teachers would still be on the job.

    This is a great diversion from all the other issues this government can't or won't deal with and the public eats it up.


  7. What a shocking situation. As a parent of teenager not in French immersion, I intend to ask my local Liberal MLA if she finds that appropriate and acceptable.


  8. As I mentioned, my union doesn't get everything right. Accountability is an issue and the public sees teachers as unable to lose to their jobs. Changing hearts on that issue would go a long way to winning the PR battle. You're right on both counts. Here are the two hurdles I see:

    1. How do you determine who should and shouldn't be fired? I've taught students whose parents not only think I should be fired but who've told me I should be fired. My job is to teach students a proscribed curriculum, do everything I can to motivate them and give them all they need to succeed. Problem is many students and their parents view my job as giving them what they want. Because a consumer is unhappy doesn’t mean the employee hasn’t done their job. As long as job performance is objective and separated from popularity, absolutely, clear the chuff. The profession and the educational system would be better for it.
    2. Teachers aren’t the only people who work in or who manage schools. Critics maintain a teacher should be fired if they don’t do their job. I agree. But what about principals? Trustees? Superintendents? Ministers? Premiers? How and by whom do they get fired? Currently someone else creates my class, in both size and composition. Someone else sets the school budget, defining what resources I’ll have. Someone else feeds, clothes and houses the students. There are a lot of factors that go into whether a student succeeds in a classroom. Myself, I’m not afraid of accountability. I know what my job is, believe I do it well and can prove I meet my obligations. I am afraid of being the only one accountable. Make all involved accountable, subject to review and able to lose their job and I’m on board. As would be, I hope, my union.


  9. One of the security questions when I log into my online CRA tax account is 'Who was your most memorable school teacher?'

    Like many people, I had to sift through a number of names to choose one as the most appropriate answer.

    Perhaps significant that no security system ever asks, 'Who was your most memorable politician?'

    In addition to her own lack ofacademic success, that might explain why Christy Clark has a hate on for teachers. For her, it's payback time.


  10. Great post Mr. Farrell.

    Has anyone done an analysis as to average class size, composition and how many special needs children are enrolled in these classes?


  11. Why is Dead dog 98 claiming in their headlines “School Crisis” or teacher's strike crisis”?

    What crisis? School is almost done for the year and the only students that may be affected are the grade 12's but for many of them, a 'Dogwood' worth nothing more than basket weaving 12 is no case for a cheer.

    What I see the province is doing is getting out of the educational business, using the private schools as the training ground for the universities and colleges, with public school devolving into a glorified babysitting service to train future drug dealers and educate the kids in the new world of being lost. Education no longer is word in the Ministry of Education's lexicon.

    The “Eye's” eldest son is, well maybe (hopefully) graduating from grade 12. His suburban high school is a training ground for drug dealers as there are more drug deals happening inside the school than out. This tolerated by the school board and the Ministry of Education because they are not bothered to do anything else and i cannot help feel that drug dealing is how their political supporters make money and donate to their election and reelection campaigns.

    Teachers are frustrated by many students lack of interest and a drug induced haze is a world of escape for the juvenile mind, dreaming of things he or she will not be.

    I was a volunteer coach for the school and I had to deal with the little dears, including boys who did not come to practice but expected to play, parents of said boys threatening me with legal action because I would not play their son because by never coming to a practice, I did not know who he was.

    There is so much wrong with this school strike it seems to well choreographed from the governments point of view and I guess premier photo-op needed a boogeyman because her LNG pipe-dream is sinking faster than the Titanic.

    Kids don't learn in high school, they learn to plagiarize, lie and deceive, which seems to be the operating credo of the BC Liberal party.

    Sadly, I do not see any positive outcome and see BC's education once again dumbed down for base political gain.


  12. Sadly, drug dealing is now one of BC's biggest industries, the biggest if you count the “criminal justice' system including lawyers, courts, police, probation and jail staff. That guarantees a continuation of a half-hearted war on criminal drug distribution because government realize it accounts for billions in economic activity.

    Unfortunately, the BC government can only tax the drug business indirectly by taking a cut from money laundering at casinos and other gaming facilities.


  13. Brad, both your points are valid but they are arguments that have allowed the status quo to endure for as long as it has. We can't expect a different result if we don't change something!

    For starters, I would suggest that we (temporarily) ignore the parents who want you fired. The TEACHERS in every school know who the slackers are. Parents can be all over the map in assessing what makes a good teacher, but I suspect that the majority of good teachers I referenced above have the best perspective on who is and is not doing a good job.

    And I am not suggesting they be fired at the outset. I believe that some of the underperformers can become productive teachers if their shortcomings are brought to light in a constructive manner, and a course of remedial action agreed upon. Of course this requires a management with appropriate skills, something I suspect is in short supply.

    Bottom line, teachers need to be accountable in their job performance to a body of their peers, as happens in other professions. This may fly in the face of trade unionism where the biggest sin is to rat out your brother or sister, but I would prefer my grandchildren be educated by someone whose first allegiance is to their profession over someone whose first allegiance is to protect their union sibling.


  14. Years ago, I served as Chair or Vice Chair of a large elementary school PAC. I sometimes got in the middle of parent complaints about teachers and/or support workers. I was initially frustrated by what seemed the principal's deaf ear but gradually I learned that he dealt with personnel situations effectively and fairly. He just didn't do it in an open and public forum.

    Sometimes parents would have settled for nothing but an immediate and very public shaming of a teacher who offended them. From my independent observation, most often the parents were unreasonable or plain wrong. On the odd occasion where that was not the case, the administration made efforts to correct or alter behaviour of the staff member. They just did not do that in public. I'll bet there are a lot of fine middle aged teachers now who were thought to be less than perfect in their first years. It's like any other occupation; people deserve fair treatment and opportunities to improve.

    IMO, the issue of competence is a management issue not a union issue. It is only ever considered by government to be a problem when a labour contract is negotiated. If the processes to remove or improve peformance of an employee, whether teacher or support worker, are not taken, blame the very well paid managment of our school system, not the individual's struggling to make the classroom experience worthwhille for most kids.

    In 2012, I examined a few administrations salaries and wrote about it in Things that still make you go “Hmmm” . This is a part:

    Washington's largest district, Seattle Public Schools, pays Superintendent Susan Enfield (47,575 students) $225,000. North Vancouver School District Superintendent John Lewis (16,200 students) made a total of $245,891 in the 2010-2011 fiscal year, after a two year increase of 17%, or about $3,000 monthly. SOURCE Mr. Lewis has three Assistant Superintendents, each averaging $179,200 in annual compensation. Seattle, with three times as many students, has only one Assistant Superintendent. He earns a salary of $175,840.


  15. part of the problem is that the system is so underfunded that it takes years to diagnose special needs. I currently teach 23 children in grade one and two. I have one diagnosed with autism, I get 15 minutes of aide time in my class a day, and I have 5 children who I have been trying to get diagnosed with one special need or another. the system is completely broken and needs more funding to fix it.


  16. I am one of those people who thought I wanted to be a teacher but was not successful.

    I found the article and many of the comments to be informative and stimulating.

    Of particular interest to me is why the apparent need to give a token comment of disapproval for some aspect of the “union”, usually in an almost religious sense that the “union” the dreaded “BCTF” is not in fact an infallible deity.

    In my view Unions are historically evolving social institutions/bureaucracies which have many internal contradictions much as families and parenting have contradictions.

    Hopefully when commenting about the endeavours of our partners or children we don't consistently feel the need to reference their errors or infallibility.

    I don't expect everyone will agree with my comment, just like they don't in the union.


  17. Looks like the apple didn't fall far from the tree. GREAT LETTER!

    The letter ought to be printed in every local paper in the province. (don't expect we will see it in the Vancouver Sun or Province)

    Here is hoping the letter makes the face book rounds. There is a letter currently on the face book rounds by a school psychologist from the Kootenays. He worked 70 hrs of unpaid overtime and then had his pay docked for “strike action” before it took place. You gotta love this government when it comes to stupid.

    Norm, you and your wife must have done something right to raise a guy who can write like this. Kid, you write like you are a decent human being and its wonderful you decided to become a teacher. If some of the politicians were as good at their job, as you are at yours, this province would be in better shape.


  18. Thanks e.a.f. for the kind comments. Gwen and I are proud of all three of our children and their partners.

    I don't speak for Brad or any teacher but any sensible persons can figure out that keeping the best people in the teaching profession is an objective not well served by government actions that demonize or degrade them all. Liberals may think it's smart politics or effective human relations but it is quite the opposite.

    In Laila Yuile's newspaper column, Ministry meddling is letting kids slip through the cracks, 98% of reader votes favour her defence of public education versus Brent Stafford's apologia for the government. (Liberal trolls and Twitterbots may soon decend to shift the balance.)

    Items are published here under Creative Commons non-commercial use license so can be repeated quite easily, subject to simple rules.

    In addition, if community newspapers or commercial publishers want to use it, we will readily agree to re-publication in whole, but they need prior permission.


  19. Norm, I second the commendable job you have done in raising your children. Your son demonstrates how common sense and an open mind together can produce.
    I agree with him wholeheartedly. I know you are proud as you should be!


  20. I think both sides or the arguement are missing the reality.
    2007/2008 signald a change in economics & expectations.
    We hit the bottom of the barrel with no other sustainable means of creating growth wealth or whatever you wish to call it.
    It matters not if Crissy Clarke gave huge pay increases to her staff,It matters not if the 1% take more than they are worthy it matters not if this or that Union recieves more income.
    The undeniable fact is that whatever yourpolitical leaning ; you rerlyon unending growth!!!
    Unending growth is biologically,geographically & financially IMPOSSIBLE.
    Somewhere ,sometime ,someone has to ask the unaskable question.


  21. forgot to answer the question. no my position wouldn't change. You see I've always thought teachers were under paid. If children are truly their parent's greatest treasure/asset, then the person helping that treasure/asset achieve adulthood with a decent education, they ought to be paid top dollar.

    3 university degrees including a masters, experience, et.c I'd think someone like that ought to be making close to $200K a yr. and yes, if the person was a teacher, I'd still want them to make that amount of money.

    Look what we pay the premier and her cabinet. They require no education, no experience, can do all sorts of unethical things and still draw their salary. They have all sorts of aides. Hey, politicians don't even have to show up at work and they still collect their salary. Right now, MLAs only show up a couple of months a yr and get paid for the whole year and get to claim $12,000 per yr in living allowance for housing while in Victoria–no receipts necessary. Some even use the money to buy second homes, motor homes, and boats.

    All teachers deserve a raise. I have no clue what a starting salary for a teacher is these days, but if they have put in 4 to 5 yrs at university and have a B.Ed. and given the work they will do, they ought to be paid a starting salary of about $65,000 a yr. If that is less than they currently earn, I apologize. I'm not in touch I base this on, if I were working in the position I retired from and I had your qualifications, I'd be making about $90K.


  22. In my situation, we are told that PAC will NOT fund anythng cirricular, and equipment like hotplates is considered cirricular. On the other hand, if I asked for anything for sports or decoration, poof – we'd get it. Go figure…

    Love what you have written. I have been in my gig since 1998. In that time student numbers have increased about 20%, but the science budget is now less than 50% of what it used to be!! And with shrinking funding, a demoralizing government attitude, a public that expects us to entertain, enlighten and inspire their offspring as well as instill morals, ethics, values, AND turn out a product that will quickly become a successful, wealthy (fill in the blank with powerful occupation of parent choice), I have decided that I need to care first and foremost for myself. Only then can I care for someone else. Martyrs die far too young.


  23. When the Doctor is at your bedside & can or will not administer a life saving drug.
    Is he worth $70,000 yr or $7 million yr.
    When will we base our values upon need not greed?
    We live on a finite planet!!!
    When will our expectations taper off??


  24. “When will our expectations taper off??” About the same time hell freezes over. You see this province gives money to profitable mining, gas and oil companies. $284MILLION a yr gets given to the film industry. Christy crunch spent $11 Million on a bolly wood special, the list goes on. M.L.A.s get $12,000 a yr in a housing allowance for which no receipts are required, with only having to spend about 2 months a yr, the list goes on.

    Whey wil the average person's expectations taper off? When the children in this province don't have the highest rate of child poverty in Canada, our schools have adequate funding and our doctors have the resources to save lives. The doctor isn't worth 7 Million nor is she/he expected to labour for $70K a yr.

    As the article by Farrell, the younger, indicates, the province has the money, they just decided to spend it elsewhere.


  25. And then there is a very well-known private, Vancouver school, that last fall, issued letters to each and every staff member (custodians, secretaries, groundskeepers, teachers -everyone!) asking them to donate a portion of their salaries to the school, in the spirit of the school, in order to encourage parental donations! In my world, I would consider that a “voluntary” salary reduction…? This same school desperately grubs around for every penny of government funding they can. They have ministry-paid staffers working within the school too.


  26. It is common in private schools to have a top-down system, teachers (behind the scene) compete with each other currying favour of Head Master, etc. Private school teachers depend on public school teaching salaries in hopes to boost their own. As well, discipline is much more strict in priv. schools thus making the job easier. Pride in private school encouraged, criticism discouraged.


  27. Amazing, well thought out and put out article with real and real time information. What is most relevant to me and my situation is perhaps the author's objectivity regarding both sides of both the teacher accountability issue, and how to apply it appropriately while also recognizing that there may be many mitigating factors in a teacher's poor performance while also allowing for the fact that for some teachers teaching is a job to which they are not well suited.
    I have put nine children through the school system and now have as many grandchildren having their go at it, and through all of these children I have witnessed first hand the entire gamut from absolutely incredibly wonderful professionals to those who have irreparably harmed my children and now grandchildren, including one first grade teacher both of my grandsons have had to endure for the last two years that many parents have petitioned the school board to fire (and even the principal agrees that this teacher has no business being in a classroom), several teachers who have outright verbally and physically abused my children over the years who are unfortunately “unioned in pretty good” according to the aforementioned principal. I have also had run ins with several unsavoury principals and administrators who were both verbally and physically abusive to my children, one of which seems to have been payback for a childhood run-in with their father back when they went to high school together thirty years ago, another who still inspired fear in parents whom he had taught as a high school math teacher twenty years ago!
    It is to those particular teachers, and yes administrators who also cannot seem to be let go because of their professional affiliations guidelines, that is what sparks the public outcry against unionism. Unless this problem, if one can even call it that, is remedied, then anti-union sentiment will continue and also be bandied about by government in an attempt to lump all teachers together as incompetent, lazy and unworthy in order to discredit the hard work, if one can even call it that as it encompasses so much more than that, of the many wonderful, and sometimes even life changing, efforts put forth by so many in this honourable profession.
    Teacher need not be a dirty word because of the actions of a few compared to the many, but until the necessary changes are conceded to by the union and meaningful change takes place, this will continue to be a problem and a burden that children unfortunate enough to come across these teachers and administrators will have to bear.


  28. I see that the Delta Optimist has an open attack on teachers in an op ed piece by the Tom Siba that openly calls teachers whiners.

    I find that this Liberal propaganda piece most distasteful, yet is typical of the anti teacher, anti union rhetoric that passes for news and informed opinion. All I read in the Optimist is the obits and garage sales section, the rest is pure fish wrap.


  29. I have a really hard time reading your comment. I think you overlook the many, many wonderful teachers (the majority) who do excellent work every day in teaching children from a wide variety of backgrounds. The teachers who are feeding kids every day, out of their own pocket; the teachers who inspire kids every day. The teachers who make learning fun and make kids hope for a better future. (And no I am not a teacher, nor married to one).


  30. Owner of the Delta Optimist is Glacier Media, owner of numerous community newspapers in BC. They are seeking financial favours from the BC Government through relief from the very modest recycling fee on newsprint. this is from an earlier post at Northern Insight:

    “I note that MMBC have decided on a tiny charge on the biggest purveyors of material that has to be recycled, the newspapers, particularly free community papers who dump millions of pounds of mostly advertising on doorsteps whether desired or not. The charge for newsprint is suggested at 20 cents a kg. By comparison, I paid 40 cents for a 12.5 gram electronic device that I expect to use for years. That's 160 times the rate assessed Glacier Media and Black Press for stuff they deliver despite my requests it stop.”

    The primary owner of Glacier is Sam Gripppo. He and his companies have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to BC Liberals.

    Should we be surprised which side they are on in the dispute over eduation funding?



  31. Teacher inspires fear in high school students today and did the same to their parents 20 years ago? Really?

    “Unioned in pretty good” is fatuous. The responsibility for proper and effective teacher conduct in the classroom rests entirely with the management of schools. However, that will never mean that all parents will be happy with how their darlings are treated. School districts in the lower mainland have student numbers that range from thousands to tens of thousands (70,000+ in Surrey). The chance of perfection each day from al the people involved in schools is lower than the chance either of us will win the Lotto 649 twice next month.

    Anecdotal evidence is seldom worth much. Yours is worth less than most.


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