Vancouver teachers speak out on class sizes ahead of full-scale strike

Erin Tarbuck says many people seem to think they understand what it’s like to be a teacher, because they went to school.


Tarbuck was one of a number of teachers from David Thompson secondary school who stood with protest signs at West Broadway and Granville Street this morning (June 16), hoping to “educate” the public about their concerns as a full-scale strike looms on Tuesday (June 17).

“Teachers love what they do, and I think it’s easy to underestimate the complexity of a typical classroom in B.C.,” Tarbuck told the Georgia Straight. “The needs are great and diverse, and need to be met. It is becoming, in many cases, impossible to meet them in a meaningful way.”

For the English teacher, the biggest issue is class composition, specifically the need for an “appropriate balance” of students with special needs.

“You want to make sure that you aren’t overwhelmed, like some of my colleagues are, with eight or 10 students who really need significant individual attention to the point where they can’t really run the curriculum they need to,” Tarbuck said.

French teacher Aldina Isbister told the Straight she wanted to draw attention to the fact that public funding for private schools is increasing faster than funding for public schools.

“We not only need to fund schools properly, but we need to pay teachers fairly, because we’re the second lowest paid in all of Canada, yet we have the highest cost of living,” Isbister said. “And the kids deserve better. They deserve proper funding.”

Addressing the class-composition issue, Isbister recalled a “very memorable” year when, as an elementary school teacher, her class contained 28 students, including six with special needs. One student, who used a wheelchair, qualified for support, but the five “grey area” students did not, even though they required extra attention, according to her.

French teacher Aldina Isbister doesn’t want to be legislated back to work.
Stephen Hui

Isbister said she hopes the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and B.C. Public School Employers’ Association can reach a negotiated settlement to end the strike, because she doesn’t want to be legislated back to work.

“We have come to the table with a number of concessions,” Isbister said. “And the government, the only concession they have made is to go from a 10-year deal down to a six-year deal. Otherwise they are standing firm with their feet in cement, and we are the ones who have been budging at the table.”

Last week, teachers voted 86 percent in favour of a full-scale strike, which the BCTF served notice would begin on Tuesday.

This morning, Education Minister Peter Fassbender said that BCPSEA tabled a “significant, affordable and creative set of proposals to help end the stalemate” over the weekend.

“Our goal remains to get to an agreement by June 30 and put this disruption behind us,” Fassbender said in a statement. “I’m certain that everyone involved wants to head into the summer with the assurance that our education system is on a path to long-term stability.”

English teacher Ian MacLeod says class sizes affect after-hours work too.
Stephen Hui

Ian MacLeod, the English department head at David Thompson, brought a sign stating “Class size does matter” to the protest at West Broadway and Granville Street.

“And it really does,” MacLeod told the Straight, “in English especially, where a lot of our marking is student writing that we do after-hours. We used to have a class-size limit in Vancouver of 28 in senior English classes, which works better for groupings, works better for class projects, and certainly with the marking load, which is hours and hours of after-school work—work that we haven’t been able to do since Fassbender’s lockout actually.”

MacLeod maintained that teachers deserve a “fair” wage increase.

“I think that the government is playing a game of trying to make us just look bad,” MacLeod said. “They think this is all about optics when it’s not. We want the best education for our students.”

Comments (18) Add New Comment
If there's going to be any shaming then it's allocated to the teachers AND government alike. So, shame on you both for acting with less or maturity than the students you claim to represent.

Strike after strike, decade after decade, and each side consistently blames the other. What a crock. Nothing new in over 30 years despite teachers failed efforts to bargain and avoid strikes with NDP and Liberal governments. Is it lost on teachers that the common denominator is them?

What really is a shame is that this repetitive, mundane, blame game is somehow normal, and causes all the issues to sound like white noise. I for one am tired of it.

On the subject of wages higher elsewhere...who, but perhaps a few, don't face that reality? People move to Alberta and elsewhere for that reason...there's more money than people to fill the jobs so the wages go up. It's a simple economic geographic reality. Want the same pay? Try's what people have done for generations.

Rating: -12
Ian Macleod
Something I should have mentioned to Stephen Hui today: The government feels that there should be a 1 teacher to 25 student supervision ratio for Provincial Exams yet they would never hear of those ratios in a Grade 12 classroom where there is real work going on.
Rating: +2
Raise corporate taxes; pay teachers more.
Rating: -24
It is hard to convince people that it is all about the students then ask for a $5000 signing bonus.
Rating: +14
Martin Dunphy

Thanks for the comment. I believe it was the province that offered the signing bonus. That was merely a counter-offer, which is standard practice in any contract bargaining.
The statement, although factual, is a tad misleading.
Rating: -16
Smaller class rooms does not prepare students for universities or colleges when they suddenly are a number in a class room of 300-500 students. In the 90's classrooms reached 25-30 students. These numbers have not changed all that significantly. So real issue isn't class size.
Rating: +5
Many teachers believe because they are a teacher, they must know what *every* teacher thinks. And really, REALLY, do all teachers love their job?
Rating: +3
Concerned Parent
Thanks Martin, but $5000 is your rebuttal offer...obviously you can do the math and figure out the total dollar figure of that. The money being asked for is outrageous...The taxpayers of this province cannot afford what you are asking for. As for cost of living, you choose to live in the best province in the country, yet you want to be remunerated because of your choice? If anything it should be the least paid here as you have the best place on earth to live, and teachers in Manitoba should be highest paid...I am all for a fair settlement, but what is being asked for is anything but fair, it is ridiculous, and it is not about the kids...stop harping on that, it is about dollars, always is and always will be. You'll never convince me otherwise unless you drop all the money issues and concentrate on class size...worry about dollars in next contract once you get the class size right, if it really is all about the kids.
Rating: -2
Sorry Martin, $5000 dollars is too much to GIVE teachers just because they sign a contract. All the teachers are whining about is more money. $70,000 per year to work nine months is too much also. Not to mention the extended health benefits, etc. that teachers get. I agree with sticky - can't the teachers see that the common denominator throughout their history of constant whining is the teachers themselves. Sorry, but the public does not support paying teachers more than $70,000 per nine months. Quit your whining and think about the students first.
Rating: -4
Martin Dunphy

I am not debating you or "sticky" or offering an opinion.
I was merely offering a clarification to "john".
Thanks for the digression.
Rating: -18
a real concerned parent
I am not a teacher but I love when people like those above complain about their salaries. If they're so great, why didn't you become one? Because it's hard work, that's why. A request for a signing bonus after getting no pay for weeks is fair in any negotiation and 70,000 is bloody hard to live on in this city. The only bad guys here are the government, who continue to collect my taxes (and force me to pay for expensive childcare for the next few weeks) while they save over a billion a week by locking the teachers out. They are just trying to force more people into the private system, where our own premiere sends her child. Sickening. Any thinking parents will not vote Liberal again.
Rating: -5
If you're angry at an overpaid profession save your anger for rich business people. Do you have ANY idea how easy it is to fire people, or to cut wages, or to demand "efficiency" from everybody? That I'm afraid is stupidly easy. Such people are paid grotesque multiples of what teachers are paid, yet all these people do is destroy society. Why, in business, does one make so much for so little, and in education so little for so much?
Rating: -15
@ a real concerned parent
You don't seem to grasp the situation in terms of the larger picture...The education teachers require is comparable to what is asked of many other professionals who also have a BA and must complete some form of additional training to work in their field. Personally, I didn't seriously consider teaching because it seemed like a job that would look very similar from one year to the next. The faces will change, but the material does not. That isn't very intellectually challenging.

This is a PROVINCIAL teachers' strike, not just a Vancouver one. The cost of living outside of the city is much lower in 90% of BC.

You say living on $70,000 (actually the starting wage is $48,000), in Vancouver is hard. You need to educate yourself on what people in this city actually get paid. Service workers earn minimum wage to a maximum of about $20 an hour. Many of them don't receive benefits either. Even professionals such as Vet Assistants, Care Home Workers, Insurance Agents and Bank Tellers start by making at least 10 thousand less than teachers. Try surviving in Vancouver when your monthly take home pay is only $1500 a month!
Rating: +3
"The faces will change but the material will not' -
Wow, it's a REALLY good thing that you didn't become a teacher if you think
that is at all true.
What we teach and how we teach it changes all the time.
Sure, some subjects (math/science) have foundations that go unchanged but a good teacher finds a way to make them feel fresh and there are constantly new applications.
If you have never taught, best to not guess about what it may be like.
Rating: -5
Ian MacLeod
Sticky, i think you are quite uninformed. In 1998 I gave up the possibility of a decent raise for class size and composition. then, Christy Clark helped illegally strip these contracted rights with no compensation. Please note the word "illegal". if you were treated illegally you might sit and take it but teachers won't.
As for the other Ian who talks about college class sizes, this is completely irrelevant to how kids learn. University is a bit dog eat dog. Public school should not be like that.
PS - in an environment where I have been asked to do more every year since 2002, I do not mind asking for a reasonable raise. I'll bet those of you who don't want teachers to get a raise don't work for free.
Rating: -1
The issue of class size is interesting because I have not really seen anyone explain what it means.

I don't think it has much to do with the actual setting of a lesson.

Personally, I have been in classes with five people and classes with two hundred, usually as the learner and a few times as a speaker. The material is the material.

But then you have the marking, the one on one instruction, and the leadership skill required to maintain order and control.

Is there some sort of formula that accounts for these (and the other factors that I am sure to have overlooked), optimizing class size? If not, I don't see how the parties could ever agree.
Rating: -1
concered taxpayer
Maybe the experiment of placing student of different ability in same classroom has produced a system that tax payers cann't afford .
Rating: -6
If teachers who "chose" to live and work in the Vancouver area left to work in Hole In The Wall BC then who would teach your children? I live here because I need to live closer to my family. I'm an Education Assistant in Vancouver and I find comments like this to be offensive. There is a great deal more demand for my skills here. I could live in Hole In The Wall and have more than I do here but I wouldn't have a job. Perhaps we should all strive for better instead of settling for less all across BC?
Rating: 0
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