So here I am, dear reader. 2 weeks into the school-year-that-hasn’t-started, 5 weeks into the strike-that-shouldn’t-have-been-necessary, 23 years into a profession I would never have guessed I would have chosen/loved/had to defend.
If you are a first-time reader, bless you, and welcome. If you know me, read this bit anyway, it’s important. Here’s the thing about teachers. My mom, for example, worked as a legal assistant. My sister in law works as a funeral director. The husband is in the logging industry. Those people have worked decades in their jobs, too, yet are not defined by them. Me, though, I am A Teacher. We seem to rarely be able to remove ourselves from the description. It’s why when someone criticizes our profession, it’s hard for me not to take it personally. It’s why this whole situation has affected me on a daily basis, for almost 6 months. Way back when we first heard word that bargaining was really not being successful, and the union started to call for Action, I started to speak up with one consistent message: “Please, this time, can we not do things the way we always have? Can we please rise above it?”
Only my own actions can be scrutinized. Have I risen above the rhetoric, the hypocrisy, the same old/same old? Let’s see, shall we, gentle reader? Please sit beside me as we look at the evidence. You can be the judge.
One time, a few years ago, I stood up in a union meeting when then-Vice president Jim Iker was encouraging us to pass yet another job-action vote, and said “Jim, with all due respect, I am so tired of doing the same thing, repeatedly, expecting different results. I want to write “Decertify” on my ballot”.
Years earlier, I marched down the streets of the capital city onto the grounds of the Legislature, and stood proudly beside my peers and listened as the president of the Federation of Labour called on all members to take to the streets in support of us. An emotional moment, that did not come to fruition as a general strike.
A few weeks ago I stood up at a local union meeting and encouraged my colleagues to, again, rise above it–respond to negativity with positive messages, accept ignorance as an opportunity to do what we do– teach, to remember that we are honourable and that we are standing up for what we believe is just, and right, and in the best interest of children, even if it means they lose a few days’ school, the future benefit is for them, alone. We aren’t the union thugs that the media would portray us as.
And yet…. a few months back, a coalition of BC businesses applied to the supreme court (which is hearing our case against the BC government, for the 3rd time) and asked for Intervenor status– it allows them to offer “testimony” in a sense– to inform the courts about resulting economic hardships that result from a 3rd loss for the government, should they finally be forced to pay the fines levied against them twice before. It’s about taxation and corporate philosophy and very, very anti-socialism. I’m smart enough to understand it, but passionate enough to seethe with anger at the thought. I’m already furious that elitist private schools who receive millions of dollars from their corporate alumni ALSO get millions of dollars from the tax base, and now they want to intervene in a case that’s already been found twice in our favour.
And so, I vented my anger. On Facebook and Twitter, as you do. I named two local franchise operations, one a restaurant and one a grocery store, and said why I would not be spending money there again, anytime soon (and I haven’t, actually, I have maintained my own personal boycott, but I haven’t beaked off about it anymore). It caused a minor but important flurry of pro- and con posts, and I remembered my own advice to rise above it, and turned my attention to promoting businesses and individuals who showed their support of teachers and public education.
Suddenly, it seems, what I had perhaps rashly ranted about in social media months ago has been picked up by well-meaning activists. Signs being pasted on doughnut shop windows declaring that this business doesn’t support teachers, names and lists of other “offending” businesses are being circulated, and suddenly I am very, very uncomfortable.
I lost one Facebook friend over all of this very early on. He semi-publicly unfriended me because his pro-BC Liberal stance was objectionable to me, as was my pro-properly funded public education platform was to him. And, I have probably made weary my non-teacher, non-Canadian friends who look forward to my humour, irreverence and food-porn posts on facebook (regular scheduling will resume eventually, friends). It has been fascinating to watch this unfold. Information–and misinformation–is disseminated with lightning speed. Bandwagons are leapt onto with alacrity, and just as quickly abandoned, to shamble down the errant path and out of the light. Hitler is mentioned, often, and other tyrants and tyrannies. And in equal measure we are reminded of grandfathers and uncles who fought in actual trenches in France and Germany so that we could be assured the freedom to….. buy a coffee at Starbucks rather than Tim Hortons? Hmmmm. As passionate as I can be, I do struggle a bit with the rhetoric and purple prose posts.
Do I think Christy Clark set out with malicious intent to completely dismantle and privatize public education? Yes, I do, actually, in my heart, think she reviles teachers and all they stand for. You need only look at the Liberal’s record of spending and corporate tax breaks to see the story. This is all public record– the reduction to corporate taxation was in response to the recession of 2007/8, and was necessary to stimulate the economy. Now, it could be raised again, 1, 2 or even 5% and still be the lowest in the country, still lower than it was pre-2007. The reduction in the percentage of the provincial budget dedicated to public ed is down from 21% to 15% during the Liberal’s tenure. Can we live without a vibrant commerce-based economy? No of course not. Can we afford not to teach children well, in preparation for their future? No, obviously not. Are these two things mutually exclusive? They certainly don’t need to be. Independent and Parochial schools are our partners, like us, they take all comers, and provide for children what we sometimes can’t (faith-based instruction, small class sizes, alternate forms of instruction–ie, Montessori). Other Private schools need not be our enemy. Some people will always believe something is better if it’s expensive. If tuition is $10 000 with a government stipend of $4000, I have a feeling those same parents would find the extra if they believed that was the best place for their children.
I don’t have any answers in this one, gentle reader. I want to go back to work and teach kids (and teachers) and live in the town I grew up in and see my neighbours be successful and see children not go hungry and buy some stuff I want and continue to give to charity and save money to travel and put my kids through university and see people who work hard and are decent human beings be successful.
It just doesn’t seem to me that that is too much to ask.