Sunday, October 23, 2005

This just in

I'm sure it's not news to you by now, but school's back on. Seventy-seven percent of teachers voted to return to work. I think that's a fairly significant message that while we're going to return to work, we're not happy with the recommendations. All eyes will be on the government now to come through on what they've promised.

It's back to school. I can't wait to see my kiddies tommorrow!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Interesting developments today...

1.Vince Ready's recommendations: not exactly what teachers were looking for. They highlight the fact that the contract imposed by Bill 12 is up in June 2006, which means we'll be back at the bargaining table again in March. Here we go again...

2. Jinny Sims' conditional acceptance of Ready's recommendations. She wants written guarantees from this government, not just talk. Of course, we thought our contracts were written guarantees, too...

3. Gordon Campbell essentially flipping the bird at teachers: He took a nice little dig by saying that teacher's shouldn't consider this a victory, making a point of telling everyone that this "deal" isn't going to cost the government anything, it will just come out of the millions of dollars he's saved by not having to pay the teachers over the last two weeks. Well good for him. In Campbell's speech, he talks about his experience as a teacher himself. SCOFF, SPUTTER, *eyes rolling around in my head* Don't tell ME he has education's best interests in mind. Hogwash!

4. Jim Sinclair backs off professed support of teachers: Even before anyone had even SEEN the recommendations, Sinclair stepped down his support of teachers, calling off the BC Fed's involvement in the rally, and refusing to talk to Jinny Sims until a vote was held. I can't tell you how many teachers are FURIOUS over this.

5. Brenda Brown's fine on the BCTF: Considerably less than we thought it was going to be, actually.

6. Class Action lawsuits pending: Yes, taxpayers pay for a service that they didn't receive. But whose responsibility is it to provide that service? We would not be in this situation if the government had not "abused their legislative authority" (as stated by the government's own lawyers) and had actually sat down and negotiated with teachers.

7. Upcoming vote... will teachers really be back to work on Monday?

I'd like to write more on each of these things, but I've GOT to get away from all this for a while. It's making me crazy!

What a day.

Show me a sign

It's amazing what can be said in just a few words. Click here for some pictures of signs I've come across during this strike.

Merit Pay for Teachers

This makes me want to SCREAM!!!!! It's not that I am unilaterally opposed to merit pay for teachers. Honestly, I don't know how I feel about it. I think it's worth discussing, perhaps, but I have to be very VERY clear when I say that it would be an extremely complicated system that would have to be in place for it to actually work. Extending this idea to hiring might make some sense, too, so that teachers are hired based on some combination of skill and seniority. I still believe that seniority is very important, and it's only very warily that I approach the idea of merit pay for teachers.

Here's why: Most people say teachers should be paid according to their ability to "produce results." That is, to produce kids who have high scores on standardized tests. However, in saying that, we are forgetting that we are not talking about products here, we're talking about HUMAN BEINGS! Any educator knows that the LEAST accurate measure of a child's learning is a test score, and even less accurate are standardized tests. Economic conditions, family situations, whether a child is sick the day of a test, the fact that some kids freeze up when they take tests... these are only a few of the multitude of factors that can affect a test score. Do we want to teach our children to take tests, or to learn and function as literate, critically thinking, socially responsible human beings?

Furthermore, a system so focused on merit pay and test scores will ultimately create the kind of imbalanced education system we see in many parts of the United States: schools in wealthier areas get higher test scores, and end up with more funding. Schools in areas where people have a lower socio-economic status generally end up with lower test scores, and end up with less funding. This is, of course, a simplification of the situation, but in general, this is what ends up happening. It creates a system where the rich end up with a better education.

I came across the following analogy on an American teacher's website. It highlights the ridiculousness of this "merit pay based on test scores" idea:

The Best Dentist ---"Absolutely" the Best Dentist

..........My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don't forget checkups. He uses the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I've got all my teeth, so when I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he'd heard about the new state program. I knew he'd think it was great.
.........."Did you hear about the new state program to measure effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?" I said.
.........."No," he said. He didn't seem too thrilled. "How will they do that?"
.........."It's quite simple," I said. "They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a dentist's rating. Dentists will be rated as Excellent, Good, Average, Below average, and Unsatisfactory. That way parents will know which are the best dentists. It will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better. Poor dentists who don't improve could lose their licenses to practice."
.......... "That's terrible," he said.
.......... "What? That's not a good attitude," I said. "Don't you think we should try to improve children's dental health in this state?"
.......... "Sure I do," he said, "but that's not a fair way to determine who is practicing good dentistry."
.......... "Why not?" I said. "It makes perfect sense to me."
.......... "Well, it's so obvious," he said. "Don't you see that dentists don't all work with the same clientele; so much depends on things we can't control. For example, I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle class neighborhoods. Many of the parents I work with don't bring their children to see me until there is some kind of problem; I don't get to do much preventive work. Also," he said, "many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from an early age, unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay. To top it all off," he added, "so many of my clients have well water, which is untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?"
.......... "It sounds like you're making excuses," I said. I couldn't believe my dentist would be so defensive. He does a great job.
.......... "I am not!" he said. "My best patients are as good as anyone's, my work is as good as anyone's, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most."
.......... "Don't get touchy," I said.
.......... "Touchy?" he said. His face had turned red and from the way he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth. .......... "Try furious. In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below average, or worse. My more educated patients who see these ratings may believe this so-called rating actually is a measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist. They may leave me, and I'll be left with only the most needy patients. And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?"
.......... "I think you are overreacting," I said. "'Complaining, excuse making and stonewalling won't improve dental health'... I am quoting from a leading member of the DOC," I noted.
.......... "What's the DOC?" he asked.
.......... "It's the Dental Oversight Committee," I said, "a group made up of mostly lay persons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved."
.......... "Spare me," he said, "I can't believe this. Reasonable people won't buy it," he said hopefully.
.......... The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, "How else would you measure good dentistry?"
.......... "Come watch me work," he said. "Observe my processes."
.......... "That's too complicated and time consuming," I said. "Cavities are the bottom line, and you can't argue with the bottom line. It's an absolute measure."
.......... "That's what I'm afraid my parents and prospective patients will think. This can't be happening," he said despairingly.
.......... "Now, now," I said, "don't despair. The state will help you some."
.......... "How?" he said.
.......... "If you're rated poorly, they'll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out," I said brightly.
.........."You mean," he said, "they'll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience? Big help."
.........."There you go again," I said. "You aren't acting professionally at all."
.........."You don't get it," he said. "Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score on a test of children's progress without regard to influences outside the school, the home, the community served and stuff like that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think of doing that to schools."
..........I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened. "I'm going to write my representatives and senator," he said. "I'll use the school analogy -surely they will see the point." He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and suppressed anger that I see in the mirror so often lately.

If we are even going to TOUCH the idea of merit pay for teachers, the idea of basing it on test scores needs to be thrown right out the window.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bargaining in jeopardy

Well, Vince Ready was appointed as a mediator in this dispute. There seemed to be some hope that maybe, just maybe there might be some bargaining happening sometime soon. Last night, the BCTF bargaining committee, with a number of concessions, brought an offer to the table, only to be shot down - AGAIN - by the government. Mr. Ready says that the two sides are still too far apart to negotiate a settlement, and talks have stalled. All he's coming back with from talking to the government is more of the same thing we've been hearing for the last sixteen months: NO!

My concern is that, even if we negotiate a settlement this time, what's going to happen next time? Is the government going to take a "never again" stance to bargaining? Why are they SO bent on taking taking away bargaining rights from unions and acting in such bad faith?

Teachers, for the most part (and yes, there are some exeptions) are generally a fairly altruistic bunch. When we bargain for working and learning conditions, we always have the student's best interests in mind. There may occasionally be requests for salary increases included in that, which is perfectly acceptable. But salary increases have never come instead of improved conditions for kids. In fact, it's been the opposite. Time and time again, teachers have given up a salary increase in exchange for better learning conditions for students. Back in 2002, the government took learning conditions out of the contract and then made it illegal to bargain for them. For a government who says that they care about education, they are not showing it.

They come up with all kinds of ideas that might sound good, like the "Learning Roundtable" and the "Teachers Congress." They say that the roundtable is a place where all parties - teachers, administrators, school boards, and government - can come and talk about issues in education. However, there are no guarantees at that table. Given this government's track record, we need things like learning conditions locked into a contract in order to ensure that tehy stay protected. And the "Teacher's Congress?" This is an annual meeting where "teachers have a chance to talk directly with the government." What do you think we're trying to do right now??? This is not a government who listens to teachers now, what will be different then?

On another note, news stations today are talking about how parents are beginning to look at alternate education systems for their children. "Private school" and "homeschooling" are getting much more attention these days. With conditions worsening in public schools - larger classes, less support, underfunding, etc - people are getting concerned. Many people are opting for private schools. Great, for those who can afford it. What about those who can't? Slowly we're beginning to see privitization of the public school system, where the wealthy can afford to choose, and the rest are left with worsening conditions due to underfunding. It doesn't have to be like that. Schools are full of extremely talented, caring, motivated techers who simply cannot do the job they are capable of doing, but who still, somehow, continue to do an excellent job with less and less and less.

It's time to get a contract that addresses learning conditions and shows some respect for bargaining rights. Let's get talking. I miss my students and want to get back to work.

A Musical Interlude

Towards the end of our picket shift today we had a surprise visit from the Solidarity Notes Labour Choir. This group of singers has apparently been meeting to practice once a week, and is very good! Harmonies and political satire abounded. It's amazing what a few songs can do to boost morale!

I've posted the words to one of their songs, "Wobbly Doxology" in the coment section. Just click on "comments" to read it. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

How the Grinch Stole Education

Well, it's true that teachers are creative! That creativity doesn't stop when we're on strike. Lisa Johnson of Campbell River adapted Dr. Seuss' famous story. It's a little long, but definitely worth a read. You can read it by clicking here.

Green Ribbon Campaign

Teachers in the Kamloops area have begun a "green ribbon campaign." The have bought green flagging tape and are passing it out to anyone who wants it to show support for public education. The green ribbon symbolizes support for teachers na opposition to Bill 12. People are tying it to the antennas of their cars, around their arms, and making pins to wear on their jackets (though perhaps they're using fabric ribbon for that? I can't imagine green flagging tape pinned to people's clothing! :) Hee hee!).

So go buy some green ribbon and wear it/display it proudly if you support public education!

More on the crown prosecutors

Josef, a frequent commenter on my blog, told me that my post yesterday simply wasn't true. He had not yet heard about this story. Here is more:

Michael Van Klaveren, president of the BC Crown Council Association, explains why the crown prosecutors will not be prosecuting teachers:

"It is our position, right now, that prosecutors are in conflict of interest position when it comes to prosecuting any teachers [...g]iven the striking parallels between the teachers and the government and the prosecutors and the government. [...] As prosecutors we can not condone illegal strikes, but what is happening right now is ultimately the fault of the government. [...] When they don't get what they want at the table they simply legislate. And in essence they are abusing their legislative authority.[emphasis added]"
Van Klaveren asserts that the govenment has been acting in bad faith with many unions around the province, including his own. Twice, the BC Crown Council Association has won binding arbitration in relation to wages and working conditions, but with Bill 21, introduced in February, the government ripped up the arbitration, oredered prosecutors back to wrok, imposed a three year wage freeze, and took away theri right to strike. No wonder crown attorneys won't prosecute teachers.

Also, Gordon Campbell and Mike DeJong come accross so high and mighty about how no-one is above the law, and how teachers need to respect the rule of law. First of all, let me firmly state that I do not believe myself to be above the law. It is very difficult for me to do what I am doing every day. However, I believe that teachers are fighting for something crucially important. Further, I find it very hard to have respect for the particular law that deems this strike illegal, given the underlying motivation for which it was created.

Van Klaveren has some good thoughts on this government and the rule of law after dealing with his own association's contract disputes earlier this year (taken from a press release from the BC Crown Council on May 12, 5005. Click here for the full text.):
"This Government agreed to and participated in arbitration. When that produced a result the Government didn’t like, it simply passed legislation voiding the decision and tearing up its contractual commitments. [...] The Rule of Law applies to everyone in British Columbia, especially the government. The Rule of Law does not permit bad faith and arbitrary government action. Just because you make the law does not mean you are above the law. This unprecedented legislation violates the Rule of Law and simply cannot be allowed to stand."
And that, my friends, is why teachers are on stike. It is still about learning and working conditions. It is still about a fair and quitable salary increase. But it is also about the right to bargain, to stike, and to have legally binding contracts upheld and respected. How can we trust a government who time and time again has ripped up contracts and overturned even supreme court decisions with their new legislation?

It's time for the government to start negotiating, and then respecting the contracts it negotiates.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Quote of the moment

There's a new feature on my sidebar: Check out "Quotes" ------>

If you've got any good ones, leave them in the comment box, and I might post them!

Early Morning Picket Shift

Fog sits over the deserted playground as the sun rises.

The streetlights are still on and the full moon shines overhead. We eagerly await the coffee wagon.
Rain and early morning light make the fall colours shine.

Show of Support

The polls, the honks we get on the picket line, the show of support from teachers unions accross the country and even in Washington state and Mexico, and the support of all other major unions in BC are all wonderful. They help encourage us, knowing that we're doing the right thing for students.

But the most encouraging things during this strike are the visits from parents and students, writing to MLAs, bringing hot chocolate, and coming to say hello.

There was one such visit today. M and R came with their mom to remind us that they're behind us all the way. The mom told us that yesterday, M was with her babysitter and her mom had given her a loonie to spend at the dollar store any way she wanted. She found this and decided to buy it as a present for her teacher.

Crown council steps down from teacher's dispute

Just another example of how far-reaching the govenment's actions have been in ripping up leagally binding contracts accross the province...

The lawyers for the government in this labour dispute have decided not to continue representing the government. They feel that they would be in conflict of interest, since last year this same government ripped up their legally binding, negotiated contract, too, imposed a contract which included a zero zero zero wage freeze, and took away teh right of crown attorneys to withdraw services. Sound familiar?

Hmm... the government has had to hire a special prosecutor to continue because not even the government's own crown council will represent them.

(source: News 1130)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

This should make for an interesting day...

Well before the BC Federation of Labour announced their plan for a major protest and walkout , I was planning on going to Victoria for a rally on Monday. I thought, hey, I'm not working anyway, why not go to the rally. It's a way to support teachers and hey, I get a day in Victoria, too. Now it's turned into quite the day of protest. All unionized workers in Greater Victoria are being asked to walk off the job on Monday to protest Bill 12 (the bill that imposed a contract on teachers and set the satge for this strike being deemed illegal). There's gonig to be a huge march and then rally on the lawn of the legislature. What madness am I walking into here?

It's good to see that teachers have so much support. This is only the first step that the BC Fed has planned. There will be rotating walkouts like this around the province all week to rally support for teachers and to put pressure on the government to get to the bargaining table.

Unfortunately, it looks like this is going to get uglier before it gets better.

A note to those who know me:

If I tell you that I do'nt want to talk about the strike, please don't push it. I feel like it just goes around and around and around, and I get sick of talking about the same thing, particularly on weekends. Some separation between personal and professional life is necessary sometimes. It sucks being on strike, especially because everyone has an opinion that they are more than willing to share with you. Usually that's fine, but sometimes I just have had enough and want to talk about something else. How 'bout them fall colours? Aren't they amazing???

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Responding to comments *updated*

First of all - anonymous commenter Mike, still make your blog! Then leave me the link. Are you Mike from my school Mike, or Mike I don't know you so hello nice to meet you Mike? :) (The personal address in the comment jsut made me wonder if I knew you!)

These are responses to comments left on the "Good ol' Gordo" post...

Nollind, thanks for all your comments! I appreciate the support. Just try to keep comments less personal ("I feel sorry for you," that kind of thing). It's easier to debate when one doesn't feel belittled. Thanks!

Josef, I've kind of thought about that option, and yeah, teacher's can't jsut "go find another job." It's not that simple. And the thing is, the vast majority of teachers love what they do, and do'nt WANT to do something else.

I understand that you're talking about quitting with the intention of returning once things are settled, but that would actually be a much riskier situation, becuase if the government still didn't bend, there'd be no guarantees of getting jobs back, etc etc etc. It would be an ingenious idea though. But it's not quite as simple as that.

And I have to aggree with Nollind that the only reason it's illegal is because of the law tehy created to squash even the job action that fell into the government's OWN essential services legislation. They won't bargain, and won't allow even minimal job action that wasn't affecting kids (all teachers were donig was makig admin do supervision and not doing administrative paperwork). There are major changes that need to be made to the education system, and there is absolutely no venue for those changes to be made. The government has talked about "Round Tables" to discuss, but these are not binding. So we can talk and talk and talk, but there are no guarantees that anything will change. That's why we want class lize limits and guarantees for kids with special needs built into the contract.

Anyway, there is really no other avenue to fix what's going on in public schools right now than to strike, and unfortunately that's a right the governemnt has decided to take away from us and call illegal. But still, something has to be done.

I saw the sign below at the rally downtown last week, and I think it sums things up well.

"There is a big difference between breaking the law and having a law created to break you" ~ (I dont know who said this originally... anyone care to share?)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Good Ol' Gordo

and I say that with the utmost sarcasm...

For the last few years, Canada has been involved in a dispute with the United States over soft wood lumber. I do'nt know much about the situation, but basically, the US says that Canada unfairly subsidizes the softwood lumber industry and so have imposed tarriffs on Canadian softwood lumber imports. Canada has been arguing that this violates the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Gordo (aka Gordon Campbell, the premier of British Columbia) has been travelling all over the country the last few weeks - not here in BC during this teacher's dispute - talking about aboriginal relations and now about teh softwood lumber dispute.

Today, the big quote from Gordo on the news channel - the day after he appeared for the FIRST time on TV from the other side of the country telling teachers that what they're doing is illegal, go back to work - is the following:

"You have to support NAFTA if you want to benefit from the free flow of goods accross the border.... The NAFTA aggreement must be respected."

Cough! Choke! Sputter! WHAT????

Hmm... let me see... The US has taken a chunk of that contract- freely negotiated between two parties - and has just decided to eliminate it. Poof! Canada is upset, understandably. So, both federal and provincial governments are taking a stand against a violation of the contract, insisting that the contract must be respected. GORDON FREAKING CAMPBELL is saying that it's important to respect contracts in order to benefit from what the contracts were created to do.

And yet he can rip up a teacher's contract, make up new laws, and take control of a union's assets to try to force teachers to put up and shut up about this imposed contract.

How's that for a double standard?

On the other hand, wow, did anybody see anchorwoman Deborra Hope interviewing Gordo last night on the news? He looked nervous from his studio in Toronto, and she was on the attack. He had his little prepared speech about "We have Vince Ready doing an inquiry into the bargaining system" and "We have created these learning roundtables to talk," blah blah blah, but Deb Hope interrupted him to point out that none of these measures were binding on the governemnt. Sure, they can sugest, and they can talk, but the government can still do whatever they please. Deb Hope was pissed off, you could see it in her face. She even came close to a sneer at the end of the interview, it was awesome! Even the supposedly unbiased reporter can't hide her disgust.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I can't resist....

This was on a sign at the rally downtown tonight. I'm not usually one for political activism and cartoons and the like, but this was too funny! (Some context for those who don't know... that photo on the right is the mugshot of the premier of British Columbia who was arested for drinking and driving in Hawaii a while back. The big question being asked in this strike is "What kind of example are the teachers setting by striking illegally?" This poster, with the question "Who's the criminal?" is in response to that.)

(I'll have to tell the story about WHY I'm not a political actvist... I can peg it down to one day in grade 6. That story to come.)


Context to this strike

The British Columbia Teacher's Federation has put out a document outlining the issues and the context of the teacher's dispute. It gives a good summary of what has lead up to this walkout. You can find it here.

I can't believe I'm doing this

So I've had the urge to post about the BC Teacher Strike, but I don't feel like my other blog is the place to do it. So I made this blog. Wow, I'm a blog nerd. Anyway, here I can post away without turning my other blog all political.

Gotta love free access to internet publishing. Yeeehaw!

Comment away, I'd love to hear from you, whatever side of the fence you're on. My only rule... be nice! Swearing and personal attacks will be quickly deleted.