Rain dripped off Steve Dunbar’s face as he walked an information picket line at Macdonald elementary school early Monday morning—the first day of a legal three-day teachers’ strike.
“Teachers Taking a Stand” read Dunbar’s mass-produced B.C. Teachers’ Federation sign.
“It’s essential that we’re out here this morning,” he told the Courier.
Dunbar, an on-call teacher who taught for 30 years before retiring from full-time work, said he’s witnessed in-class support erode for students over the years, coupled with an increase in class sizes. “The difference is absolutely huge,” he said.
Five years ago, Dunbar said, he worked at a school where his class included two autistic students, one student with Asperger syndrome, two beginner ESL students and two students with behaviour problems. “There’s just no way you can provide adequate support,” he said.
Dunbar added that he’s troubled by criticism that a three-day strike is inconvenient when he insists the focus should be on overall educational concerns.
“This is three days out of [students’] education,” he said. “The kids are going to be fine. Three days out of their school career shouldn’t be a problem. Parents take their kids out of school to go to Hawaii or Mexico all the time. [And] I’m a teacher, I’m not a babysitter.”
Dunbar suspects the government’s Bill 22, which was scheduled for debate Monday afternoon, will pass, but he maintains that bodes poorly for the troubled relationship between the provincial government and teachers.
“With this legislation, the situation is only going to get worse. It just sours things,” he said.
Teacher Patrick Robert was trying to remain optimistic at the information picket at Ecole Bilingue, a French Immersion school on West 14th near Oak Street.
“I’m feeling good because I’m hoping this actually changes something and that the public realizes we’re not only fighting for teachers’ salaries, but for student learning,” he said.
The 27-year-old said even if legislation is passed in spite of the strike, teachers must call attention to the issues.
Teachers Mark Ogilvie and Jeff Lynch shared similar sentiments outside Henry Hudson elementary at York Avenue and Cypress Street.
Ogilvie, who carried a homemade sign that read: “Independent mediation, not legislation,” teaches physical education at three elementary schools—Monday and Tuesday at Hudson, Wednesday at Trafalgar and Thursday and Friday at Hastings elementary. Ogilvie noted he was given a $200 budget at Hastings, a school with a student population of more than 600.
“It’s important to make a point, to take a stand,” he said of the three-day walkout, adding, “The message for parents is contact the government and tell them what we need and what you need. The funding could be there if it’s made a priority.”
Lynch agreed. “It’s stressful. I’d rather be in there teaching my kids,” he said, pointing at the school.
Early reports from the Vancouver school district suggested parents and guardians weren’t leaving their kids at schools, although schools are technically open and staffed by principals, vice principals and support workers who aren’t part of the job action.
Spokesman Kurt Heinrich told the Courier Monday afternoon that only 13 students had been dropped off at schools on the first day of the strike.
“It’s been very limited. We’re actually really proud of parents for the fact they’ve been able to manage this big inconvenience really well,” he said. “The general message we want to get across is we really appreciate people adapting to this difficult situation and we’re looking forward to getting back to regular learning on Thursday.”
As of Monday afternoon, the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association had not reported any problems or concerns with the information picket lines.
(This story has been corrected since it first appeared online March 5.)