A teacher on my staff wanted this letter shared. I thought it presented an interesting history of what it took teachers to get to our current level for public education. I know I for one had heard stories, but I haven't lived it.
Teachers, we need to remember how far we have come and why it is so important to keep moving forward. Please support your union, this is why we have one!!
Here is her letter. Please share freely.
I started teaching in a northern BC district in the 1970s. From September to December I was a “remedial reading” teacher. Then at Christmas the cuts came. I was given the choice of taking a class who had driven their first year teacher to quit. This was a grade 4/5 class of 45 students (mostly boys). There was one child who today would have a C designation, four or five who would have Qs, two with ADHD (although it didn’t exist yet), a “couple” of Rs and a child with epilepsy. No identified special needs because they were in “sheltered workshops”. Add to that class, the child of a family who lived in a shack with a dirt floor. We had no specialist teachers on staff; no prep time; and before school, recess, lunchtime and after school supervision (not every day, but at least one day a week). We stayed with our students while they ate lunch and ensured that they exited the building before eating our lunch. We had few textbooks, no overhead projectors or document cameras … we had chalkboards. If you weren’t on supervision at recess, that was the opportunity to clean the board and put up the exercises for the second part of the morning. While the kids ate lunch, the board was cleaned again so that we could write the afternoon’s exercises on it. After end of day supervision and planning for the next day was completed, another half to three-quarters of an hour putting the first half of the morning’s work on the board and tidying the classroom, possibly creating a map or poster using the opaque projector and it was time to pack up the marking and head home. All this for the awesome $3000 / year! We had one professional day / year, but school ended on the Friday before the last full week in June (this would have been June 20 this year). Teachers spent summers doing pro-d but wanted to have the opportunity to use new ideas in a more timely way, so with the help of our professional association (BCTF) those five UNPAID days were incorporated into the school year so we could connect with peers, share and learn from experts then take that learning back into our classroom. – Please don’t let them take those days away!
After a few years, I moved “south” – to the Cariboo. Still large classes, no prep time, lots of supervision and a new principal who ran 4 – 5 hour staff meetings and who, when the PAC planned a fund raising event, put together a supervision schedule for the staff to do hall and playground supervision between 3 pm on Saturday and 2 am on Sunday! One Friday that stands out, even after all these years: after school bus duty. The first bus slid into the ditch across the street from the school an hour after dismissal. Other buses couldn’t get by. I was on supervision alone for three hours with 200 kids. My colleagues, including the principal had left, the building was locked, no cell phones. We waited for the tow trucks!
In the 80s, the government forced the BCTF to become a union. We were no longer alone. Wages and benefits had always been negotiated locally, but now we were able to include class size and composition in the negotiations. Many times, wage and benefit improvements were traded for that class size and composition language. Still no EAs in classrooms and few designated kids but we had a system of “weighted classes” – students with greater academic and/or behavior challenges were recognized as needing more teacher time and class size was reduced to compensate. The medically identified mentally handicapped and physically dependent students were “in the building” although still in segregated classrooms. The union helped us negotiate elementary prep time, personal discretionary days and provided us with legal support (when related to job issues). At some point in the 80s, the provincial government started give education funding to private schools – this was one of the legacies of Bill Bennett, whose father W.A.C. Bennett had vowed that BC would never fund private education.
I then started a family and took a few years to raise my family (a couple of my own children would require the services of specialist teachers). When I returned to teaching in the mid-1990s I was impressed by the improvements made in the intervening years. Wages and benefits had improved! (Hugely significant to a now single parent of three.) There was EA support in classrooms – not as much as we would have liked, but the EAs weren’t darting from classroom to classroom as they are today, students with learning needs were designated and funded, coloured markers for making charts were available in the school (as were other “office supplies I had always had to provide), duty free lunch breaks and elementary teachers had PREP TIME! Shortly after, the government took funding for designated students and “put it into the core”, effectively removing that funding. This was quickly followed by Christy’s infamous attempt to retool the education system and the resulting chaos that we are still fighting!
As I near the end of my teaching career, I continue to fight the good fight. My kids are products of the education of the early years of this regime in education, they did not receive the supports they needed and deserved although their teachers did their very best to provide as much as they could humanly do and I thank them for that. The children in our schools today and in the future deserve every opportunity to receive a quality education. Keep up the good fight or the 70s may be back. Some of us have not forgotten when education was valued by the provincial government and this government cannot be allowed to destroy the work and sacrifices many teachers who have gone before you made for education in this province.