03/10/2014 05:31 EDT | Updated 05/26/2014 03:59 EDT

I'll Tell You Why B.C. Teachers Are Willing To Strike

Anybody not directly connected with teaching or teachers must wonder why, yet again, the public school teachers of B.C. have felt compelled to, in their tens of thousands, to vote to strike.

Much is said about the awful predictability of the strike vote. There's a hint of the mundane: here we go again, inevitability. But such sentiment begs two very important questions.

First, why does government act to promote or even "provoke" such action in such a predictable way? And second, what motivates teachers to maintain such commitment and their vigilance over decades?

The climate of confrontation and conflict imposes a dreadful toll on teachers. Some say why don't we just give in? Why not simply teach under whatever conditions the government constructs in public schools, collect our pay checks and go home?

I think there are two aspects to the motivation of teachers to take action. One is our love of what we do: the kids and the importance of a free universal, equitable public education system. Witnessing the underfunding degrade the system is more than frustrating.

The second motivation is the deep sense of injustice that the legislative gutting of our collective agreement in 2002 left us. Teachers sacrificed salary and benefits for the importance of language that enhanced the right of all children to more attention, a variety of support services, and programming suited to their individual needs.

Make no mistake, these are working conditions issues, not workload issues. There's a difference. Fewer students in a classroom does not diminish the hours of work of a teacher. It enables that teacher to focus on the individual needs of each child in the class in far greater depth.

It takes "true grit" to be a teacher in B.C. today. Relentless government attacks on teachers and teaching take their toll. But teachers are essentially optimistic. The strike vote, the willingness to take action to yet again defend ourselves and the system, is emblematic of that optimism.