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.
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.”
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.”