FOULDS: Teachers’ union should focus on classroom, not sick days

Good teachers teach because it is part of them. It is who they are. Teaching should be a passion, a calling — not a job or a vocation.

There are teachers who seem to have been injected with the passion to teach while in the womb.

We all know of teachers who deserve to be paid well for turning a “job” into a calling born from the deepest recesses of their DNA.

I know of many. Three that come to mind are Sue Steenson, Tracy Clark and Steve Powrie — all teachers at Aberdeen elementary and all who crush any notion that all teachers have cushy jobs and work from eight until three.

There are countless others at Aberdeen and elsewhere, but these are three I have had the pleasure of watching with admiration all year long.

Steenson was my daughter’s Grade 6 teacher at Aberdeen elementary this past year, while Clark and Powrie ran the junior and senior band programs.

Many was the time this bleary-eyed dad would drive daughter to school at seven in the morning for early-band practice or rush to yet another evening concert or drop off daughter on a Sunday so she could practise with classmates.

Not one of those mornings, evenings or weekends would have been possible had Powrie or Clark not been there, waiting to teach on their own time.

The week-long field trip to Victoria would not have been possible had Steenson not insisted each and every kid work hard to fundraise every penny needed. It would have been a pipe dream had Steenson not spent countless hours outside classroom time organizing it all.

These are the people who come to mind when I search my mind for the definition of “teacher”.

Conversely, there are teachers who simply made the wrong career choice and should never have stepped foot in a classroom. On the weekend, I spoke with a former co-worker, who has since moved to the Lower Mainland.

There, she is waging a mighty battle as she tries to have her child’s Grade 4 teacher spend some lunch-hour time helping her daughter grasp some math concepts.

The teacher’s response? “Lunch is my time.”

Thankfully (at least in my experience), classroom duds like that are few and far between.

All of which brings me to the widening chasm that is labour negotiations between the B.C. Public Employers Association and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

Critics of the BCTF’s stance are sometimes accused of teacher-bashing. In reality, critics are bashing the union representing the teachers — sometimes with good cause.

This week, the employers’ association released details of some of the issues brought forward by the union, some of which are so ridiculous they beg to be criticized.

Granted, BCTF president Susan Lambert and various local association presidents have responded by noting these are only opening positions in the bargaining process.

(The fact neither side can find time to resume bargaining until Aug. 23, only nine days before the start of the school year, suggests to me spending time at the lake trumps working feverishly to derail job action that will hurt students).

However, for the union to have the gall to demand wage parity with the highest-paid teachers in Canada is spectacularly arrogant, considering teachers in B.C. are paid very well.

According to BCTF wage grids, the average starting salary for a teacher in B.C. is $47,000. In Kamloops-Thompson, the wage grid shows a bottom salary of $47,795 and a top salary of $81,488.

Yes, the employers’ association remains in its zero per cent increase stance mandated by the provincial Liberal government, which enjoys pointing to various other unions that have signed off on zero per cent deals.

That is tough to swallow, to be sure, but the BCTF did reap a five-year, 16 per cent wage hike and a $4,000 per-teacher signing bonus in 2006.

It should also be noted, at the risk of eliciting much condemnation from some, that teachers enjoy an enormous amount of time off each year — summer vacation, Christmas break, spring break and all statutory holidays.

Given the time off, teachers actually earn far more than the BCTF grid shows, if salaries are calculated based on days worked.

The union is also asking for more sick days, more bereavement days, more professional-development days — more of a lot of things that few others can hope to receive.

The BCTF has also cited classroom size and composition as major bargaining issues and this is what the union should be focusing on — in bargaining and in the public-perception battle

Teaching should be a passion, a calling, not a job or a vocation.

Teaching is not easy. It is harder than any armchair critic will ever know.

It is made more difficult with larger classes, more special-needs students and fewer assistants to help with an increasingly diverse teaching curriculum.

Good teachers know this, but they teach because it is part of them.

It is who they are.

They carry on, making musicians out of students before the sun rises and munching lunch while reviewing times tables and grabbing a bite as they rush to the gym for after-school basketball practice and digging into their own pockets to buy drinks for an entire thirsty class while on a field trip.

That is what the BCTF should be selling the public, not contract demands that only serve to paint teachers as greedy public servants out of touch with the reality of what most others receive in compensation — monetary and otherwise.

Christopher Foulds is editor of Kamloops This Week. His email address is here. His blogs can be found here and here. Follow him on Twitter here.