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B.C. teachers discuss class sizes, wages, and strike at AGM

03/17/2014 09:31 EDT | Updated 05/17/2014 05:59 EDT
More than 600 B.C. teachers from across the province are spending part of their spring break in downtown Vancouver, discussing labour, technology, contracts — and the possibility of going on strike.

In his opening speech at the B.C. Teachers' Federation annual general meeting Saturday, president Jim Iker reiterated the union's commitment to fight for smaller class sizes and more specialist teachers.

The union is also seeking better wages for B.C. teachers, who it says are underpaid compared to those in other provinces.

Last week, 89 per cent of 29,000 BCTF union members voted in favour of job action. Iker did not say over the weekend if and when any action might begin.

"We never take the issue of asking for a strike vote or the issue of job action lightly," he told CBC News. "It's a decision that we made after being at the bargaining table for over a year."

 B.C. teachers have been without a contract since June 2013.

'More managing than teaching'

A number of the teachers who spoke with CBC News on the weekend said their main concerns revolved around their classrooms and the quality of education that students are getting.

Heidi Ravenel, and elementary school teacher in Vancouver, said her school could benefit from smaller class sizes and more one-on-one specialists.

"It's abundantly clear to me that my students don't get what they deserve and what they truly need. I teach three kindergarten classes in Strathcona. Each of them is full to the max." she told CBC News.

"I've regularly have classes where I've got at least one or more students that are several years behind grade level in reading, math or something really essential. When I'm teaching a whole class of children I cannot meet that child's needs of what they need to catch up," Ravenel said.

Chloe McKnight, a teacher at Florence Nightingale Elementary in Vancouver would also like to see class sizes re-thought.

"It's more managing than teaching and if we had smaller classes, we could teach more," she said.

Both teachers work for the Vancouver School Board, which is one of the employers represented by the province in the ongoing negotiations.

Vancouver School Board Chair Patti Bacchus said her organization has been under constant pressure to reduce and balance its budget, and she knows that teachers are struggling with the results.

"I hear constantly that working conditions in classrooms have become more and more stressful," she said.

"[Teachers'] working conditions are students' learning conditions. Parents get that and by and large our parents have been very supportive. Where the gap seems to be is provincial policy," Bacchus said.

The province and the B.C. Teachers' Federation will be back at the bargaining table in April.

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