I have everything riding on the success of my neighbourhood school. My three kids attend the same public elementary school where I teach.
Public education: imagine all day with your child and 29 of their friends. It's a bit like managing a six-hour birthday party, Monday to Friday. You might say, "But kids don't behave the same way at a birthday party as they do at a school." You're right. They behave better. The reason? We work hard to create a safe, predictable, fun, interesting, and honest micro-community. And the kicker is that we're not all bowling or at a movie theatre.
We're getting kids to produce their best work in reading, writing, mathematics, and science. We're discussing the rights and responsibilities of being a Canadian, then working in groups to present the pros and cons of different energy sources.
We're showing kids how to extend their longevity in being safe, fit, and healthy. We're setting up clubs to teach kids how to sing, then organizing teams to collect the school's compost and sort out our recyclables. And each year we try to stretch the district budget to get by with less. Our system is an increasingly impoverished one that depends heavily on PAC (parent advisory committee) support. My community is all doing their part to help an underfunded system limp along.
My community happens to be able to send its children to school with breakfast, appropriate clothing, and, for the most part, healthy snacks and lunches. They usually have had a restful night of sleep without traumatic interruptions from dysfunctional adults. In my classroom, we're able to focus all on our curriculum because my students arrive ready to learn. I'm very thankful for my community's parents, my partners in education.
For many, many of my colleagues, I've just described optimal, dream-like conditions. Their students arrive in various stages of need. And if that's what the community gives them, they work to meet the needs of their students so as to get them to the starting stop. Need breakfast or lunch? Let's arrange that for free, or we'll use some school funds or personal funds to have apples or crackers on hand. Need jackets and proper boots? Let's ask our sister school if they can arrange a clothing drive, or search among our business contacts for a sponsor. Need family support? Let's brainstorm with our administrators and get you help.
It's a triage situation every day, and all the while, teachers must continue to create equitable and optimal conditions for learning. For many students, school is their safe, happy place; weekends and holidays are unpredictable.
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I believe in public education because it epitomizes democracy. My neighbourhood school opens its doors each year to whomever the community brings us -- rich immigrants, refugees, families of all compositions/social economic standings, children of all abilities -- and strives to provide every single child with predictable places of security, as well as the highest standards of education to the best of our ability, each and every day.
We burn out three times a year: December, March, and June. Sure, we get summers off: unpaid. It's great that I can take time off when I get the flu. Lots of parents can't ... and they send their kids to school ill, or with lice, mild fevers, infections, etc. Hence, the need for a good medical plan! Please don't begrudge me that.
But if you think that I'm not going to hug that child who lost her mother just because she has lice and a cold, you don't know me at all. I started teaching 20 years ago for this exact reason, to sit next to this sweet little human on our way to the Planetarium, my arm around her. I want to show her the world. I want to be the adult in her life that can help her through this rough patch. She won't remember my support today ... or me much next year. Someday I'll just be a warm, fuzzy spot in her heart.
Admit it: you don't want my job. But I do. I just need to be able to do it well.
Society holds me to a different standard. My character must meet or exceed that of politicians. I must be an honest, well-behaved, non-smoking, bike-helmet wearing, upstanding member of my community etc. because I work with impressionable minds. I can't avoid it: I am a role model who must strive to be all that my students believe me to be.
We're not perfect. There is room for our public school system to improve. It's just too important to fail! Too many futures of children -- vulnerable or "normal"-- depend on us. We reproduce, daily, what is good about Canada, what is of value to British Columbia and our national identity. Two-tier systems deny every child the opportunity to shoot for the moon, and land there with two feet on the ground.
I love my job because I adore children. Using my recess and lunch breaks is an important time for me to give attention to struggling students or to offer extra-curricular clubs. I often grab lunch on the go. But if going on strike means that part of my salary will allow the province to make another grand gesture of funding, I'll take it. But I don't know how much longer I can. I'm supporting five people and two classroom rabbits while trying to rent in an old, tiny house in a neighbourhood I will never be able to afford.
My union isn't perfect. But please don't forget the little people in Division 9 at my neighbourhood school who need us all to be better, who need education in B.C. to match the funding in other provinces. As British Columbians, we believe in our bright future. Please secure this future now by supporting public education's ability to thrive.
More blogs on the B.C. teachers' strike:
- I Shouldn't Have To Make This Choice - Ashley D. MacKenzie, teacher
- I'm Calling For A Parents' Strike. You In? - Louise Wallace, mother, blogger
- Dear Parent Of The Average Child: One B.C. Teacher's Confession - Genevieve Hawtree, teacher
- A Kindergarten Student Told Me Teachers Are 'Lazy, Greedy' - Caroline Cho, teacher
- What Happens After A Teachers' Strike, From A Student's Perspective - Ramesh Ranjan, former student
- Why I'm Still A Teacher After 20 Years - Carla Friesen, Teacher