Speaking up for education

Teacher presents some thoughts on the current labour dispute

Hilda Webster’s letter to the editor contained some interesting memories of her school years. I’ve seen a lot of letters that demonstrate no respect for me, a modern-day teacher. Yours is simply the one I’ve chosen to respond to.

While I will say your idea of just making do and getting to work has some merit and there is a time for it, frankly your romanticization of people not complaining is ridiculous and would leave us with a much worse world than the one we have. But first, comments on some points you make.

First, the length of the school year. The days in session are shaped by long-standing practice. Teachers had no say in how long it would be and it hasn’t changed much since you went to school. If no one got a raise unless they work more hours than in the 1940s, I don’t think anyone would ever get a raise.

Second, pro-D days are work days. We attend work to improve our teaching skills. We don’t get the day off. And in case you didn’t know, these days were not taken from the school year but were added to it by teachers’ request.

But your first real point seems to be that we teachers should just make do and get on with it. I wish you were paying more attention because we have been.

The underfunding of B.C. schools began more than 10 years ago. The illegal stripping of our contract happened more than 10 years ago. Since then, B.C. teachers have gone to work and done everything in their power to make schools work despite massive reductions in support.

If anything, that is our weakness and how the government uses students to take advantage of us. They know that once in the classroom, no matter how poorly they treat us, with the kids sitting in front of us, we will do everything we can to make things work as well as we can, including, in a lot of cases, teachers putting their own money into classrooms for basic supplies. This means, unless you look, the cuts in funding are less obvious to the public than they have been to teachers in the classroom.

Your second main point is the value of not complaining. Really? It’s that simple?

How often would failing to complain have made the world a poorer place than now? Why did women get the vote? They complained about being ignored. Why did people in wheelchairs get ramps into public spaces? They complained about being excluded. Why did Canadians get public health care? They complained about access to care being based on who could afford it.

How did working people get decent wages, paid vacations or compensation for workplace injuries? They complained about being exploited by a small group of increasingly wealthy people.

There are things to complain about. Our employer has twice been told by the high courts they illegally took something from our contract. We are fighting that.

Maybe your teacher didn’t complain because he could easily be fired. That’s not true for us, so when we become aware of problems in our schools, we can speak up for our students and ourselves. Surely a province as rich as B.C. can afford to fund education as well as poorer provinces like P.E.I. or Manitoba.

And yes I think I should be paid at least as well as teachers in those two poorer provinces.

We are taking lessons from our predecessors. In reality, we have done all we can to make things work and in the end, we aren’t just complaining. We’re acting and that’s how people who made our country a better place got things done. It’s the common thread in all of those times where not making do improved people’s lives. People saw what was wrong, complained about it and then fought for it.

Wayne Fowler