I continue to struggle to put into perspective the current negotiations between the BCTF and BCPSEA (or Government of BC). I don’t call this a dispute, because in my profession, a dispute is settled through mediation, conversations: laying out each sides’ truths and setting parameters around a reasonable solution that is fair and equitable and timely. This is negotiations at the Godzilla-Mothra level; out in public, destroying the landscape, as the citizens either cheer for one side to conquer or run away in fear.
I support my teachers. They are professional, caring people. In many instances they are the one or two adult champions in our students’ lives. They make a difference. Their guidance can move a student from settling for the dust to reaching for the stars.
But here is my dilemma: currently the negotiations are not around wages (they are close on this) but around class size and composition. That is, how many students per teacher and the diverse needs of each student. I cannot think of any rational argument why we wouldn’t prefer smaller classes (developed with the input of both teachers and administrators) and more supports for our vulnerable learners, whether that’s more Educational Assistants, more teachers, different classes (streaming? That bad term disparaged in the nineties, but still goes on today?) or any other way to improve student learning.
By including this in the negotiations, as set out by the BC Supreme Court ruling that class size/composition needs to be renegotiated into the contract after being removed by the government 12 years ago, I feel impotent to speak out. Contracts are negotiated by two parties: in this case BCTF and BCPSEA (despite most feeling that the two parties are the BCTF and the Liberal government). As a vice-principal, I see the necessity for more funding to support all our students. I see the results of the less than adequate funding model on our most vulnerable and all our students. But I will not insert myself into a negotiation between the two parties. If the BCTF were only bargaining for improvements to teachers’ wages and benefits and put aside the class size/composition conundrum, something wonderful would happen. I believe that every educator, Educational Assistant, administrator, board office member, assistant superintendent, superintendent, trustee, and parent would be supporting improvements to class size and composition that the government could not ignore.
However, as the BCTF has taken this on, based on a necessity and a belief that they are the only guardians of the public education system, I feel left out of the conversation.
I will not be taking sides in negotiations, but when this is settled, I will be raising my voice to improve the learning conditions of all our students.