Vancouver teachers hope more help reaches kids

Ongoing conflict erodes enthusiasm

Patricia Kenon hopes money from the provincial government for more teachers will address problems in classrooms.

“Last year I had a special needs boy that had a [support] worker, but then, on top of that, I had two students with fetal alcohol syndrome, a child with post-traumatic stress syndrome, a child that was LD [learning disabled] that wasn’t designated yet… so it was overwhelming,” said the teacher of 19 years who taught grades 3 and 4 at Mount Pleasant elementary last year. “You start relying on some kids to help you with the slower kids, and that’s not fair.”

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She says from experience that class composition isn’t just a problem at inner city schools.

Mount Pleasant elementary’s inner city project teacher Steve Mulligan is also pleased the agreement includes money for more teachers.

“There are some teachers who are disappointed in the salary increase because when you consider we’re coming off three years of zero, it works out to less than inflation,” he added. “Some people are disappointed that we’re not going to be catching up to other provinces.”

Mulligan notes the number of students designated with special needs doesn’t reflect the real need for support because there are long waiting lists for testing. He said other inner city schools have 30 children waiting to be tested, but can test only three a year.

“Those kids are going to be gone out of elementary school and not have had testing,” he said. “The premier is saying that this marks a new era of conciliation and that needs to come with some extra funding.”

The agreement, which hadn’t been ratified by the Courier’s print deadline, is for six years with teachers receiving an increase of 7.25 per cent over that period. The largest portion of that increase is to take effect this month at a rate of two per cent.

“I propose that we just tie our wages to the cost of living,” Mulligan said. “So many teachers would buy into that in a heartbeat.”

The government will provide $400 million over five years to hire more teachers.

Premier Christy Clark says the government can provide the raise and more teaching support in classrooms without hiking taxes, cutting services or increasing the provincial deficit.

Mulligan will vote to ratify the agreement because he wants the disruption to end.

“I’m from a two-teacher family,” he said. “For especially those families, it’s been really hard.”

Teachers have lost five weeks of full-time pay.

Mulligan wonders why reaching a negotiated settlement took so long.

“A lot of what we’re accepting in this agreement is what was on the table in June, so it feels like, why did it have to go this long,” he said. “Those are questions that the population of B.C. needs to ask of their government, why did it need to go into September and why were these serious negotiations where people were willing to move not happening in the summer.”

He’d like to see a more conciliatory approach between the government and union moving forward but wonders how that will be possible amid ongoing court battles regarding class size and composition limits.

Mulligan says he’s seen teachers become less generous with their extracurricular time over his 14-year career as a teacher as a result of the conflicts with the government about class size and composition. He hopes the government will give more so teachers will feel more inclined to devote time and energy to unpaid work.  

Both he and Kenon noted ample support from teachers and neighbours during this latest labour discord.

“I was afraid to tell people that I was a teacher in the last couple weeks because I didn’t know what I was going to get back,” Kenon said. “But, really, the support has been crazy good.”

Clark expects the province won’t see another strike for five years. So what would Kenon like to see when it comes to negotiating the next contract?

“I hope I’m retired,” said Kenon, who’s been aching to get back in the classroom. “I only have six years left.”

Mulligan hopes the protracted labour dispute, which saw teachers limit their administrative activities in April, face a partial lockout with docked pay in May, start rotating and then full-scale strikes that have continued into the third week of the new school year, has provoked British Columbians.

 “If there is one real positive that’s come out of this strike, I hope that it’s the people of B.C. waking up to the idea that public education needs to be protected,” he said. “Not everyone can afford to go to private school and that is the way that we create an equitable society, by making sure those kids who are growing up in poverty have a chance to escape it and that their children and grandchildren might have a chance to escape it.”

crossi@vancourier.com

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