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Monica's Story Of Equal Opportunity Success In B.C. Public Education

06/17/2014 12:27 EDT | Updated 08/16/2014 05:59 EDT
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"My two grandmothers told my parents to leave," said the veteran teacher with tears in her eyes. "Don't stay here in Scotland where your children's future and their class in society will be determined by an inability to pay for their schooling beyond age 15," Monica continued telling her story to the rapt audience. "Go to Canada."

And so they did. And three of the four children, including Monica, completed high school and went on to graduate from university. One of her younger sisters would have gone to university too if it hadn't been for a birth trauma that left her with physical and cognitive challenges. However, in spite of her sister's challenges, she was supported as a student with special needs throughout her academic years and finished high school.

Monica, the veteran teacher, is deeply concerned that the supports that her parents and educators fought for in order to make her younger sister's life so much richer and easier are now being eroded in our schools and our society. She's deeply concerned that British Columbia is moving backwards towards a society her parents fled where excellence in education will only be available to those children whose parents can afford to pay for it.

The challenges that Monica's little sister faced and the public school education that Monica herself received in B.C. inspired her to become a teacher in 1985. More recently, she became the special education teacher in her school. She teaches in her regular classroom every day and advocates each year to protect a couple of teaching blocks in her schedule to support students with developmental challenges, learning disabilities, autism, ADHD, FASD, and anxiety.

Monica told me that she just "gets the job done due to countless hours of my personal family time... as my family frequently points out." She added that the countless hours of personal time devoted to getting the job done for their students, "is the mantra of every spec ed teacher I have met. There simply isn't enough time to serve the children adequately and complete all the paperwork that the government requires."

"I wouldn't be where I am today if my parents hadn't made that difficult and painful decision to leave their families behind so that we could get an education," she told the room full of her colleagues the other night. Her voice quavering with emotion, Monica continued, "That's why we have to keep fighting for public education."

Nods and low voices of encouragement and agreement echoed around the room. Others chimed in with similar stories of how they themselves had become shop teachers, elementary teachers, high school teachers, learning support teachers and school counsellors because our public education system had allowed them to move beyond the three, four or six years of schooling that their parents had received in other countries.

Stories were told, tears were shed, people connected.

The union meeting lasted nearly three hours, only the first 30 minutes of which were spent reviewing recent proposals by the teachers' union and the fact that the government hadn't offered any compromises since May 16. Then the talk quickly turned from percentages and cost of living increases to the stories.

It got later and the stories continued. With passion and eloquence the teachers to the left, right, in front of, and behind me spoke to the importance of public education. They shared their conviction that as citizens we must protect a public school system that offers the promise of a better future to all -- whether rich or poor, bright or average or challenged, whether free from disability or living with significant barriers.

The talk of dollars and percentages at the outset of the meeting was over nearly before it started. Monica's story and others like it rolled on. Later that night, my colleagues' and fellow parents' passion for public education, for students, and for a just society echoed in my head as I drifted off to sleep.

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B.C. Teachers' Strike 2014