Striking Vancouver teacher dismisses criticism, says he's 'not a babysitter'

According to school board, few students dropped off at empty schools

Rain dripped off Steve Dunbars face as he walked an information picket line at Macdonald elementary school early Monday morningthe first day of a legal three-day teachers strike.

Teachers Taking a Stand read Dunbars mass-produced B.C. Teachers Federation sign.

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Its essential that were 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 hes 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. Theres just no way you can provide adequate support, he said.

Dunbar added that hes 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 shouldnt be a problem. Parents take their kids out of school to go to Hawaii or Mexico all the time. [And] Im a teacher, Im not a babysitter.

Dunbar suspects the governments 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.

Im feeling good because Im hoping this actually changes something and that the public realizes were 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 schoolsMonday 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.

Its 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 its made a priority.

Lynch agreed. Its stressful. Id rather be in there teaching my kids, he said, pointing at the school.

Early reports from the Vancouver school district suggested parents and guardians werent leaving their kids at schools, although schools are technically open and staffed by principals, vice principals and support workers who arent 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.

Its been very limited. Were actually really proud of parents for the fact theyve 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 were 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.

Twitter: @Naoibh

(This story has been corrected since it first appeared online March 5.)

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