“Yeah, in Mexico. To the drug lords. Yikes… Glad we don’t live *there*!”
Well, yes, terrible things are happening to teachers in Acapulco. Indeed, last month, five severed heads were left outside a school as a threat: an attempt to force teachers to hand over half their salaries to the thugs that largely control the city. I remember reading this, four or five weeks ago, and feeling shock that gangs would choose teachers — teachers, of all people! — to pick on. Teachers, who are already famously underpaid, overworked, and charged with one of the most important jobs of all: helping to raise their nation’s children to be informed and productive members of society.
Well, today we have the following headline in The Globe and Mail (print edition) “BC teachers asked to turn over 15% of pay.” (The online version now has a slightly different headline.) Forgive me for immediately seeing a parallel.
This is happening at a time when teachers in BC are stretched thinner than ever. In the last 10 years, in BC, we’ve seen deep cuts to our schools, affecting library services, counselling, special education, and ESL specialists. At the same time, class size has increased to the point where we now have the second-highest student-teacher ratio in the country.* Our teachers — working in these shameful conditions — are among the lowest paid in the country. And let’s not forget that they live and work in the province with the highest cost of living. At this rate, it won’t be long before our teachers are in the same position as were those in the Bay Area during the dotcom boom: they couldn’t afford to live in the communities where they worked, and so special low-cost teacher ghettos were built just for them. Can’t really call that “living in your community” either.
So our teachers are objecting to these conditions — can you blame them? — by taking very limited job action. So limited, in fact, that I (mother of three) have barely noticed it. This year, so far, my kids have had plenty of homework, plenty of projects, extra-curricular sports, a field trip or two, and teachers willing to talk to me about what’s going on in class. I’m not sure what they’re *not* doing, exactly, although I hear there’s now some question about report cards. So in return, the BC Liberals are planning to extort 15% of the teachers’ pay to apply sufficient pressure to end the job action.
If that’s not criminal, I don’t know what is.
And I believe that Christy Clark and the BC Liberals are simply wrong about the public’s attitudes about this. I don’t think that the voters of BC are behind this latest move from the government. Many of us are parents, after all! And even those of us who aren’t know how important it is to invest in our young people. When Carrie Gelson, teacher at Admiral Seymour Elementary in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Vancouver, wrote a heartfelt letter about her working conditions and those of her needy students, she was inundated with donations from a sympathetic and equally frustrated public. And Gelson’s not alone: her letter was followed by a tearful, public call for help from another BC teacher, this time from Duncan. And there are others. It infuriates me that we’re putting our teachers in this position: forcing them to make emotional pleas for help for the sake of the children they teach. It’s monstrous. But at the same time, I am encouraged by the responses that these teachers have received from a fed-up public. People seem to get it.
So call an election, Christy. We’ll show you what we think.
* Statistics from the BCTF website.