07/02/2014 12:36 EDT | Updated 08/31/2014 05:59 EDT

B.C. Teachers' Fight: It IS All About the Money

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The truth about this current battle between B.C. teachers and the B.C. Liberal government is that it IS all about the money. It is all about the money that it will take to restore class size and composition language that was illegally stripped 12 years ago.

It is all about the money it will take to restore specialist teachers and classroom support. It is all about the money it will take to restore school psychologists and counsellors to help assess students' needs in a timely manner. It is also all about the money it will take to bring B.C. teachers' salaries closer to the national average.

No matter how much caring resides in the heart of a teacher, one cannot buy resources for the classroom with warm feelings. One cannot increase a support worker's time with hugs and kind words. No matter how much love and devotion one feels for a child with a learning disability, those feelings will not manifest into more one-to-one time.

Teachers have become accustomed to hearing the multitude of opinions/insults that are voiced daily on all types of media forums. One place to avoid in particular: the comments section of any article to do with our current bargaining situation. The opinion I find most perplexing -- and which is repeated often by media, many parents and members of the public -- is: if teachers really cared about the kids, they would drop their ridiculous salary and benefit demands and focus only on the class size and composition issue. This is in fact, something that B.C. teachers have done in the past, and is one of the reasons why we rank among the lowest paid educators in Canada.

Where did this idea come from, that improvements in learning conditions should come in exchange for teacher's salary and benefits? Why are teachers constantly held responsible for subsidizing our "public" education system? Why should improvements be gained on the backs of teachers? Perhaps it is because we work with children and do value and care deeply about our students, that we have become an easy target for this type of argument.

I regularly see comments on social media such as:

• Teachers pretend they care and then ask for more $$$

• If you really cared about the kids, you wouldn't ask for a signing bonus.

• Haha...Yes, for the kids! Give me $5k and more benefits too! For the kids!

• Choose one or the other to bargain for -- salary increase or class size/comp

Since when is there an inverse correlation between how much teachers care about students and how much of a wage increase they ask for through bargaining? In any collective bargaining process, salary, benefits and working conditions are pivotal to the negotiations. In fact, most public sectors only bargain for those improvements.

Teachers are in a highly complex and unique position in that on top of having to negotiate our working conditions, we also have to advocate and negotiate for the learning conditions of all of the students in the province. Public sector workers cannot just be compared to each other as if we all have the same common denominator.

Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender repeatedly refer to reaching a deal with support workers in five days. No one is happier than teachers that support workers were able to come to a deal; they are our partners in the classroom, and have been our incredible allies through this challenging time. But why can't it be that easy for teachers?

The other public sector agreements that are constantly referred to do not share the unique challenges that our negotiations do. Their contracts were not illegally stripped. They have not had negotiate on behalf of students. They do not have the same complicated history with Christy Clark. They do not have two Supreme Court rulings affirming and validating the collective agreement we had in place before the 2002 strips. According to the Supreme Court, that collective agreement should still be in place.

B.C. teachers are in a battle that is singularly unique to our profession and our history. We are up against a government that's attempting to have us sign an agreement that would remove the gains we have made in court -- and to call them gains is actually a fallacy. They are not gains, but rather language that teachers had fought for many years before.

So really, we are fighting to move backwards. Backwards to a time before we had the worst student-teacher ratio in Canada, before B.C. students were funded $1,000 less than other Canadian students. Backwards to a time when students with special needs had a team of specialists to support integration in the regular classroom. Backwards to a time before all of the mandated zeros brought us well below teachers' average salaries in most other provinces.

It IS all about the money. To restore the quality of education that has been profoundly eroded over the past 12 years, and to bring teachers closer to (not even equal with) the average compensation teachers receive across the country, is going to have to be about the money.


B.C. Public School Classrooms

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