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

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      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.”


      We're now using Facebook for comments.



      Jun 16, 2014 at 8:09pm

      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.

      Ian Macleod

      Jun 16, 2014 at 8:25pm

      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.


      Jun 16, 2014 at 10:22pm

      Raise corporate taxes; pay teachers more.


      Jun 16, 2014 at 10:49pm

      It is hard to convince people that it is all about the students then ask for a $5000 signing bonus.

      Martin Dunphy

      Jun 17, 2014 at 12:11am


      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.


      Jun 17, 2014 at 6:31am

      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.


      Jun 17, 2014 at 7:30am

      Many teachers believe because they are a teacher, they must know what *every* teacher thinks. And really, REALLY, do all teachers love their job?

      Concerned Parent

      Jun 17, 2014 at 10:25am

      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.


      Jun 17, 2014 at 11:21am

      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.

      Martin Dunphy

      Jun 17, 2014 at 11:41am


      I am not debating you or "sticky" or offering an opinion.
      I was merely offering a clarification to "john".
      Thanks for the digression.