The ongoing teachers’ strike has crossed a new threshold. For the first time ever, B.C. teachers are on strike at the dawn of a new school year.
Despite a very rocky relationship between government and the B.C. Teachers Federation and a number of strikes in the past 40 years, school has always started on time in B.C. — until this year.
This points out how deeply entrenched the two sides are. The provincial government is determined not to buckle to pressure and legislate teachers back to work. It reasons, quite accurately, that imposed contracts simply have not worked in the past — and they haven’t.
The BCTF, meanwhile, is determined not to lose any ground it thinks it has secured as a result of two B.C. Supreme Court rulings by Justice Susan Griffin — rulings on class size and composition that the government is appealing.
The union’s desire to hold onto the gains is understandable. Those provisions were written into a contract it secured with the NDP government under former premier Glen Clark, and over the objections of school trustees.
There is no doubt that class composition and size are important factors that determine how well students learn. Nor is there any doubt that classroom teachers know best how they impact their classrooms.
However, there needs to be a far better way to improve those conditions than by going back to a contract from 15 years ago, when conditions in classrooms were far different than they are today. For example, many more learning disabilities have been identified since that time. These need to be properly addressed.
Something else that needs to be challenged is the rhetoric used by many people involved in this dispute. For example, as columnist Bill Tieleman has pointed out, no one is “holding children hostage.” That is taking place in Nigeria, not B.C.
The two sides need to, at the very least, be talking to one another daily to see if there is any room for compromise. Ideally, the talks would continue while children were in school. Perhaps that is hoping for too much, but children should be in classrooms in September, not on the sidelines.