Teachers frustrated with lack of progress

Rotating walkouts held by teachers’ union across B.C. for second time beginning next week

Kelset Elementary School teachers Rick Williams

This is not the way that Marilyn Hodgson wants to end her 35-year teaching career.

The Grade 2/3 teacher at Kelset Elementary School in North Saanich was helping her peers hang cardboard cutouts on the school fence during Tuesday’s walkout by teachers in School District 63 (Saanich) and in other B.C. jurisdictions. Those cutouts, she said, represent the 14.85 positions cut by the school board due to funding constraints.

“This is how my 35 years of teaching will end,” Hodgson said. “And it’s strike number four in my career.”

She said it’s a bad note to go out on but added she has never worked so hard in her career than she has in the last five years. Hodgson blames class sizes and the number of special needs students for the increased workload. Classrooms with 30 perfect students is one thing, she said, reality is quite different.

“It’s not a perfect world,” Hodgson said. “There are so many children (with special needs) in the classroom that you jus can’t get to them all.”

She blames the province for a lack of funding to shore up the numbers of school counselors, teaching assistants and other services for students.

“My class of grade twos and threes this year is lovely,” she added. “Last year, I had partial support in the class to help an autistic child. You still have to balance all the students’ needs.”

It’s issues like that — not necessarily wages, although that is an other concern — which are causing the most frustration.

Rick Williams, a kindergarten teacher at Kelset, said the loss of nearly 15 full-time teaching positions in this district has an impact on those left behind.

“If the number of students remain the same,” he said, “they would have to be served by fewer teachers.”

Districts and the province have been complaining of declining enrolment for years but Williams said classes keep getting bigger at the same time.

Williams said teachers are taking this job action to try to convince the province to abide by two Supreme Court decisions ordering the government to allow the B.C. Teachers Federation to negotiation class size and composition, contract items removed by the province in 2002. The province has indicated it plans to appeal the most recent court ruling.

“We have been at this for 12 years,” Williams said. “Every time we win, the government changes the goalposts. We would like to have this solved in our lifetimes.”

He said he wants people to know teachers are frustrated with this process and with a lack of respect from the province.

“I don’t want to be out here. I’d rather be teaching my kindergarten class.”

Contract negotiations continued this week, involving  issues such as wages, class sizes and composition. Teachers are asking for a 13.7 per cent increase over four years. The province is offering 7.3 per cent over six years plus a $1,200 signing bonus.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said no legislation is planned to end the teacher strike and the government won’t be imposing any contract extensions on the union.

Another one-day walkout in the Saanich School District is planned for Monday, June 2.

— with files from Black Press