06/11/2014 12:13 EDT | Updated 08/11/2014 05:59 EDT

Why I Voted No To Full-Scale B.C. Teachers' Strike

Lizanne Foster

Premier Christy Clark,

Unlike 86 per cent of my co-workers, I voted no to a full-scale strike.

I am a mass of contradictions, for although I fully support my teaching colleagues, I am also a parent. My three kids attend the same neighbourhood school in which I teach Grade 3. I know how valuable the learning is that takes place in June and I wanted my own children to have a solid end to the year. I believe children need powerful endings as much as they need strong beginnings and for this reason, I voted no.

June is an important month for learning although most teachers write report cards on the first weekend of the month. Teachers knock off their reports early so as to get them into the administrative shuffle before year end. It's a tick off our "to do" list so we can get back to our real essential service: to wrap up the themes of our learning, the bookend of our 10 months together. For both teachers and students, June is like reading the last, lingering pages of a really great book.

I am proud of my colleagues who stood up to say, "We vote yes, even without strike pay." All of them are like me, surviving on about 74 per cent of our normal income (this after subtracting lockout and strike days). My gut churned for days on how to vote.

It's tough to face a conflict-of-interest like this, a topic I'm glad you brought up this week when you recused yourself from an oil refinery project that involves your ex-husband.

We've never met, Honourable Christy Clark, but I'm also glad you mentioned (ex) husbands. Mine is out of work (the other reason I voted no). You and I both live in the same neighbourhood and had babies in the same month and believe -- no doubt-- that a high quality education is the key to our sons' futures.

I can't afford private school, which is why I have everything riding on the success of public education. Despite our current political differences on how to ensure B.C.'s brightest future, I still believe deep down that my child has just as good a chance of success as anyone, even if he has a learning disability.

With the utmost respect, Premier Clark, can I ask why you seem to prefer private education?

Why is it you prefer to visit private schools instead of public ones? Why haven't you helped us this round at the bargaining table? Why would you snub our bargaining process by giving your cabinet an 18 per cent wage hike? Why do you allow the scandal of the FSA (Foundational Skills Assessment ) rankings to continue?

The public knows that each year the FSA tests Grades 4 and 7 students and publishes their results for, among other things, realtors to assess the value of different schools and neighbourhoods.

We don't have a problem with provincial testing. But please, please don't publish the results without telling the public that each school district marks their own students. My district is the biggest in B.C. and it takes a hundred of us all weekend to mark our FSAs. So guess who marks the exams of your son's independent, private school? You guessed it: THEY DO.

Private schools mark their own exams and have access to the tests beforehand. Wonder why they're always at the top? (Besides the fact that they can screen who gets to go there.) This conflict-of-interest makes me want to scream.

Go ahead, Premier Clark, test B.C.'s students. But don't publish the results unless the province knows that the system is rigged and flawed.

Another conflict of interest I hope we can address together is class composition. My son's Grade 6/7 classroom has 11 special needs students with IEPs (individual education plans) and one support worker to assist the teacher. My classroom has two special needs students, on paper. The difference? Our school psychologist -- who we share with other schools, and can only test one per cent of our population per year -- is being directed to test the older children on our list before they go to high school.

I would have more of my students with IEPs but there's just not enough access to the psychologist. Yet my district is opting to cut another psychologist to rescue our budget. As long as schools don't have access to student testing, our special needs numbers look lower to the public. If every child who was struggling could get testing; this would help me pinpoint my strategies and support. My job feels impossible, even though I have great community support. Often I come home with a heavy heart; sometimes I cry.

Everyone wants into the public school classroom, which is about the only reason why I would ever chose to send my child to a private school (I mean, if we had the money).

Your Ministry of Education is trying to streamline the curriculum and there are many new radical changes that will take the creators of resources years to catch up. Change is a process which takes time. For example, Grade 3 social studies will now look at endangered societies around the world. The problem: eight-year-olds can't read books about this topic as texts were previously geared to high school students.

Your Ministry of Education has an inspiring plan of individualized education but after studying this on several occasions, I still have no real idea how that will work. Bigger classes with more partially trained support workers? How will my role change? Sometimes I wonder if this new plan will delegate me to overseeing adults and processing reports, something that would kill the joy of the job for me.

One improvement: part of our society's apology to First Nations will be through education and schools. This is a much-needed part of the healing process for our country and our province. But do you see where this is all being funneled through? The public school system.

We need you now, Premier Clark, to lead us through this muddle of a strike. We need you to allow public education to not just survive, but thrive. You felt a conflict-of-interest and opted out. I feel the same, but have nowhere else to go. I voted no, but can you please tell me if I was right?

Yours very sincerely,

Sarah Collins

More blogs on the B.C. teachers' strike:

B.C. Teachers' Strike 2014