I thought about it, and I’m not embarrassed.


July 2, 2014 by readlisaread

Teaching public school is kind of a funny thing.  Perhaps one day I will understand the sub-current of not-so-hidden disdain for teachers–you know, the one that starts with “Those who can, do, those who can’t teach….” I can’t believe you haven’t seen this bit of spoken word by Taylor Mali, gentle reader, but if not, or if you need a refresher, please take a look at “What Teachers Make“. For some reason, some where in our collective evolution as a society, it became not only common, but almost expected, that to admit to being a Teacher, especially a public school teacher, was to invite digs, jabs, and exasperated “fake support” in the form of “I don’t know how you do it, it was so easier back in the day when teachers were allowed to give students the strap to keep them in line.”  You might be wondering why I call that last bit “fake support”.  It’s because it suggests that our “modern” methods of instruction and discipline are not meeting the mark, and our current iteration of the education system is found wanting.  This piggy-backs on the arguments of “There were 40 kids in my grade 4 class and I turned out fine (of course the teachers were allowed to beat the children)”, and “Of course, disabled kids weren’t allowed in regular classrooms, and you could leave school in grade 10 and get a decent paying job.”

Some how, along the way, these sort of comments started to generate a kind of self-loathing amongst teachers, and we started to be almost apologetic in our approach both to our jobs, and to our labour negotiations.

I’ve also heard it said that the “militant” union that represents all the public school teachers in BC, the BCTF, is to blame for the completely poisonous atmosphere between government and teachers. Well, I have certainly expressed my opinions before about my union, and I’m not going to shy away from it today.  Buckle up, dear reader.

First, a little history lesson. Let’s go back to the 1950’s, or so.  Back then, teaching was beginning to change from the traditional one-room schoolmarm model to an organization of educational specialists.  Where earlier one year of Normal School and a sturdy pair of shoes were all that was needed, by the latter part of the 20th century, teachers had 3 and 4 year certificates, then 4 to 6 year Bachelor degrees.  Nowadays, many teachers have Masters degrees as well.  In my case,  I have 7 years of post-secondary schooling, and numerous short courses, diplomas and upgrades. More on this in another post.

Things rolled along for awhile, as society became less agrarian, and more industrialized.  By the 1970’s, getting a high school diploma was the norm, not the exception, and many students went on to Uni or college. Teachers were more highly specialized, and the curriculum became more diverse and broad.

And in BC, a Social Credit government took a look around and thought that teachers needed to be organized into some sort of a trade union or professional association. This forced Principals and Vice Principals into a separate association and the Teachers as Unionists movement was born.

When I look back, now, from where I am sitting, I am thankful we have a union. I don’t always agree with it– in fact I am (in)famous for standing up in a union meeting a few years back with then-Vice President Jim Iker asking us for a Yes-Strike vote, and saying I wanted to write “De-certify” on my ballot.  You can imagine I was pretty frustrated with my union at that moment, and I was embarrassed by some of the things being demanded in negotiations, and I didn’t feel represented. And, I fancy, there may be times in the future when I don’t agree with one or another executive decision– that’s life in a democracy, after all.  But here is the thing a lot of people still don’t understand about teachers. We are one of the only labour organizations who are actually demanding improvements for OUR EMPLOYER. “What!?” you may be thinking, “Have you lost the plot, Lisa?!” you might be asking….but think about it….. who is our employer?  Who is the first one to cry in outrage at the “greedy teachers with their hands out”? You, gentle, tax-paying, reader.  You are my employer, and by proxy, your progeny who sit in front of me (or possibly stand– there were a few classes around the province last year that didn’t, actually, have enough seats if all the kids showed up). Did I ask for a salary increase?  Yes I did.  Is it possible that some improvements could be made to my health plan?  Yep, it’s true, that was on the table. But far and away the BIGGEST demand– and the one that is the sticking point for the government is that of class size and composition. That’s the one where we are demanding NOT something better, but something that, 12 years ago, was considered the minimum of what was acceptable.  Not for US, you understand…. but for CHILDREN.  We are demanding better learning conditions for our students.  Classes of a reasonable size (30 in Intermediate classes), where learners with special needs (no more than 3 per class) can get the help they need and DESERVE– after all, this is a CIVILIZED society, is it not?

Dear reader, thank you for honking and waving as you pass me on the picket line.  Thank you for stopping me in the grocery store and asking me for clarification, thank you for arguing with me on Facebook and reminding me WHO THIS IS FOR. We have, it would appear, been pushed to the extreme.  Yes, I know that by losing 2 weeks wages (plus a few weeks of 10% rollback), “I” and my fellow teachers have paid for any increase we might see.  We get it.  And we understand that we take a risk when we strike of alienating the public, and harming our public image. Let me take an odd sort of example and try to illuminate my point.  Let’s say a unionized supermarket local decides to strike.  Are they striking for better lighting, non-screwy-wheels on carts, fresher produce, milk with longer sell-by dates and items on the shelf easier to reach for disabled patrons? Or are they striking for better treatment for themselves, and perhaps a pay rise? My example may seem silly… but trust me…. this is not for our quality of life alone.  It is for everyone’s quality of Public Education.

I will not apologize, be embarrassed, or make excuses for my union. I am terrified to think what kind of state education would be in today for our children if not for the BCTF, my peers and colleagues, and Me.

I am not on strike for a better wage so that I can afford to send my kids to Private School. Not by a long way….


Please see the comment section for some good articles on the current situation. And thank you.



  1. Simon Morton says:

    Hi Lisa,

    I support teachers and our education system, and I am glad you are standing up for better standards and learning environments.

    However, I think you are discrediting the importance of public perception in your plight.

    You need parents on your side. We’re certainly not standing by the government who is dismantling our education system.

    That said, public perception is formed based on all of the requests from your union.

    From the standpoint of a public citizen, and parent, demands from your union for $3000/year per member just for massages is beyond outrageous. So is the fact that you are demanding any increases in your benefits when you already have a very high quality health benefits package already.

    Those requests might only make up a small % of your demands, but you do not seem to consider how much influence they have towards a negative impression overall of your approach to bargaining.

    Your union is essential to ensure better learning environments for students and their teachers. I and other parents want to see a fair deal and to see our children back in class.

    Teachers need to speak to their union leaders and have them reset their demands to focus on the important issues here. Demanding fertility drugs be covered in your new agreement is not the way to get the public on your side.


  2. Heather Ackert says:

    Teachers know that many of the items on our proposal won’t be met in the end, but the key thing is that the BC Gov’t won’t move at all towards improving funding to class size and composition concerns.

    I find it interesting how so many people focus on the “outrageous” $3000/year proposal “just for massages” (if I was a registered massage therapist, I would feel probably be offended). Some other employee agreements already have unlimited massage and physiotherapy benefits. In 25 years of teaching I have maxed my physio/ massage/accupuncture benefits only for 2-3 years, when I was dealing with chronic pain issues. Most years, I used $0 dollars of these benefits, as do many teachers. Massage therapy is for pain management and improved mobility. It is completely different from the relaxation massages that people enjoy and pay privately for at spas. The $3000 max would also require a doctors prescription.

    The majority of teachers would not be using fertility drugs either

  3. readlisaread says:

    Thank you both for your comments. I don’t pay too much attention to the “$3000” massages, to be honest. That is just something the media picked up on to try to sensationalize the story (as if it needed sensationalizing!). Benefits packages are put together by the Insurance company, and become part of the bargaining process. I am not a fan of the traditional negotiating tactics of “Ask for the moon and see what they counter”, and I have spoken of this in the past. The benefits, the signing bonuses, even the government spin on how our 8% increase is really a 15% are all irrelevant to me. The point is 12 years of decimation of our children’s education. The push to privatization is a clear agenda by this government, and the dismantling of public education will serve no one in the future.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What are you searching for?

Wait…what did you say again?

Skip to toolbar