I work in the arts. I work an average of 57 hours a week, and last year I broke even for the first time in my 11-year career.
I will never own a home in my hometown. We don’t have nearly enough saved up for retirement, or our daughter’s university tuition. We live paycheque to paycheque. (My husband’s paycheques. Because I work in the arts.)
So when I found out that B.C. teachers ― who make five to 10 times what I do ― were going on strike, abruptly ending my daughter’s very first year of school and delaying the start of her second, and costing me hundreds of dollars a week that I don’t have, in childcare — for more wages, for more assistants, for better funding, I felt punched in the gut. I was outraged.
How dare they not fund and pay and support public school teachers?
Every single aspect of our society, our democracy, our economy, and our quality of life, is built on the foundation of the education of children.
It has always been thus, I thought
There have been cutbacks in education since I was a child. So I admit, I wasn’t really paying attention to the soft rumblings about the B.C. Liberal government cuts. It has always been thus, I thought.
Looking around my daughter’s school, at the shelves overflowing with books and art supplies, the clever calendars and charts on the walls that created order in the classroom, teaching concepts like days of the week and colours of the rainbow and months of the year... it never occurred to me that the situation was any different from when I went to school.
But, I was being lied to. This is very different.
A president of a local teachers’ association told me that the annual supplies budget for a school in 2002 was $115,000. This year, it was $24,000. Same school, same number of kids, one-fifth the budget.
So how is it that we haven’t noticed? How is it that we parents blithely drop off and pick up our kids, supervise homework, go to the meetings, school assemblies and performances, and have no idea that the entire school is functioning with a small fraction of the funding it needs?
The teachers have been lying to us.
They’ve been covering it up. Papering over underfunding and mismanaged fiscal priorities with brightly coloured posters and sparkly stickers. Concealing an impoverished system by buying the damn supplies themselves. Without receiving so much as a tax break on those purchases.
Well, that’s not going to happen this year. Even if they wanted to, the teachers, after four months of a desperate and bitter strike, are simply too broke to buy the supplies our classrooms need to be positive and effective learning environments. Some of them want to refuse to do anything but what the government pays for, because they want the parents to see the truth.
But that makes their job harder. And that makes it harder for the kids to learn.
So, infuriated, I went to my local dollar store and bought $350 worth of gift certificates for my daughter’s school (which I totally cannot afford, because I work in the arts).
Then I took a picture of the receipt.
Then I sent Christy Clark an invoice.
Then I tweeted a screenshot of the invoice with the hashtag #isubsidizebced.
I should not be subsidizing my child’s school. My child’s teachers should not be subsidizing their school. Teachers shouldn’t pay for the supplies they need to do their job. They shouldn’t take a pay cut so their schools can be properly staffed.
They shouldn’t have to fight tooth and nail for the public school system to be properly funded. That’s not their job.
That’s our job.
I invite everyone who spends their own money on schools ― from parents to teachers to PACs (parent advisory committees) to principals to support staff ― take a picture of your receipts. Invoice the premier. Tweet it: #isubsidizebced
Tweet the school supplies you have to buy. #isubsidizebced
Tweet the box of Kleenex you have to provide, because the schools can’t afford basic sanitary supplies. #isubsidizebced
Tweet the fundraising things you do, as part of a PAC, and what that money is for (Hint: it’s not school trips; it’s basic supplies). #isubsidizebced
Teachers, be honest.
Talk openly about the money you spend on the classroom. Talk openly about what your classrooms need. Talk openly about what we can do to change what’s happened to public education in this province. Let us into the loop. Trust us with the truth.
The time for lies is over. #isubsidizebced
SLIDESHOW: B.C. classrooms with and without things supplied by teachers