Smaller classes dismissed as trivial

Every week I read Tom Fletcher’s column with dread, knowing that he cannot seem to let a week pass by without taking a swipe at unions

Every week I read Tom Fletcher’s column with dread, knowing that he cannot seem to let a week pass by without taking a swipe at unions.

He doesn’t seem to understand that all of us, whether we are in a union or not, have decent working conditions today because unions have fought for them for generations. And it becomes more  obvious every day that we will need to continue to do so.  But in particular, Mr. Fletcher feels the need to constantly attack teachers with the most disrespectful comments.  I often wonder why he has such a “hate-on” for teachers. Maybe he has some personal history, who knows? But what he definitely does not have is any understanding of who teachers are, or what we have to deal with on a daily basis. Mr. Fletcher would not survive one week as a teacher.

He portrays teachers as “self- serving.” Wow! There is no other job, except perhaps nursing, that demands that we constantly put the needs of others ahead of our own, or often our families’ needs, more than teaching does. After many after-school/evening hours of preparation and marking, many teachers lay awake at night trying to figure out how we can teach a particular concept more clearly so that one child will understand. Or what can I do to reach those children who come to school from dysfunctional families, hungry every day, so that they will care about getting an education? Or how can I win over or deal with those children with major behavior issues so that they will stay calm long enough to allow me to teach most of one lesson?

He is surprised that trustee forums are “taken over by teachers.” That would be because no one else knows or cares about the state of public education like teachers do.

Every year the teachers watch our trustees make difficult decisions about what services they will cut this year. We know they do not control the amount they receive, but they are the only ones who can put pressure on the government to increase funding. The government does not listen to teachers, that is for certain. We have watched the state of public education deteriorate year after year while the government increases funding to private schools. We move closer every year to the two-tier model of education that we see in the U.S., England, and Australia.

Mr. Fletcher also dismisses our demands for “smaller classes, more special needs support, the familiar list of demands” as if these are just trivial aspects of an otherwise simple job. Let’s put Mr. Fletcher in a class of 30+ kids that has 10 children with identified special needs. These classes do exist. Some students are physically disabled, some have severe learning disabilities, some have various degrees of autism and some have huge behavioral issues due to many different types of neglect, abuse or just inadequate parenting skills. A few of these children have an educational assistant that can assist them in doing their work, but most do not. In this class, some of the behaviorally challenged children can make it virtually impossible to teach a lesson. All of these children need more help! But let’s not forget the other kids, all of whom have their own unique needs as well. The challenge of meeting the needs of every child in that class is absolutely overwhelming. How are you going to manage it Mr. Fletcher?

There have been huge cutbacks in the numbers of educational assistants across the province. The education ministry likes to change the rules for designating certain special needs so that they do not have to provide extra funding for those children. And there are no assessment instruments to determine special needs in early primary children. So teachers of Kindergarten, Grade 1, and Grade 2 students have to deal with a myriad special needs with no additional help. This is a chronic issue that is paid little attention.

As for the “stale leftist ideology that is so pervasive” in the Occupy camps, of course, that is the teachers’ union’s fault too. No one in his/her right mind could independently come to the conclusion that the taxation system in this province has exacerbated the economic downturn we are experiencing. We should be listening to the brainwashing of the “Neo-Liberal” agenda that keeps repeating the mantra that “taxes are bad, taxes are bad.” So many in our society have bought into that so deeply that we have elected a government that has slashed income taxes and reduced the corporate taxes to the lowest level in the G8 countries. Does Mr. Fletcher know that we now pay more in MSP premiums in B.C.  than the corporations pay in taxes? Oh, but they tell us we have to have low corporate taxes to attract and maintain business. But tax experts have shown that there is not a shred of evidence to support that position. And no one has seen corporations flocking into B.C. since these cuts have occurred. What we have seen is over $300 million per year cut from the education budget. If our tax rates were restored to 2000 levels, there would be adequate funding in all ministries to restore services to their previous levels. There are 3,500 less teachers than there would be if the provisions for class size and composition had not been illegally stripped from our collective agreement (That solved the looming teacher shortage in 2002). But yes Mr. Fletcher, we also think that B.C. teachers deserve to be paid equitably with other teachers across Canada. We are now No. 8 in the country. A teacher in B.C. makes $15-20,000 less than a teacher in Alberta. They could live 30 minutes apart. There is a huge bubble of teachers who will soon be retiring in the next few years and we need to be able to attract teachers to B.C. And please stop recycling the myth that teachers make more than workers with equivalent training (5-6 years university) that work in the private sector. We are constantly losing young dynamic teachers to the private sector because they can make so much more money for so much less stress!

All of the above are some of the problems in the education sector, due to ridiculously low taxation rates, both corporate and income taxes. In the health care sector, there are huge waiting lists, understaffing, and a host of other problems. And in our social services sector, we see the line-ups at food banks increase every year and watch the homeless, many of whom are mentally ill, begging on the streets. It is shameful in such a rich country. Teachers are so “self-serving” that we are concerned about the underfunding in all ministries, not only education Mr. Fletcher.  B.C. is No. 1 in Canada for the highest rate of child poverty – now there’s something you must be proud of! Too bad our premier’s salary is only No. 2 in Canada.  Poor underpaid Christy! How does she manage to pay the bill to send her son to private school?

Elaine Thompson

Primary teacher and Vice-President of the Campbell River

District Teachers’ Association