On Thursday, September 18, 84 per cent of 31 000 B.C. teachers voted in favour of accepting Tuesday’s tentative deal between the feuding B.C. Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) and the Government Bargaining unit (BCPSEA). Most importantly for students and families, kids will be “enjoying” their first week back at school since mid-June.
Teachers agreed to moderate pay raises (7.25 per cent over 6 years) which is in line with current public sector raise schemes, and a signing bonus in lieu of settling the outstanding class size and composition grievances. This payment does not exonerate the B.C. government for either of the Supreme Court of B.C. rulings against them in the decades-long feud many parents, teachers, and students have had to weather. The controversial E-80 and E-81 clauses were removed, proposed learning and working conditions which were perceived by some as “riders” which tried to “deal around” B.C. Supreme Court rulings. The fact these were rejected successfully by the BCTF was considered a small victory for them in the negotiations.
The deal allows more prep time in teachers’ schedules, allowing for lesson and team planning as paid work, instead of being tacked on as extra unpaid duties, as much marking and preparation usually is. In addition, the BCTF will help manage a $400 million education fund which will be used exclusively for hiring teachers to help meet the class size and composition gap which was so hotly debated between the parties, which is very good news for those already enrolled in university Teacher Education programs. The likelihood of student teachers or teaching-certified students like myself gaining employment through this fund is far more likely.
One of the key talking points in the late night scrum with BCTF President Jim Iker was that “no missed time would be made up.” Students and teachers are going to have to make do with a shorter fall term. How this will affect provincial exam marks in January is uncertain; returning students and teachers already understand that they will all have to hit the ground running.
Not all teachers were excited to accept the deal, however. Some felt that a ‘no’ vote might have gotten them closer to what they wanted in terms of restitution for raises lost in the 2002 deal with then-Minister of Education Christy Clark. This is in contrast with those who expressed relief on the picket lines. I have had some teachers express to me that they are just happy at this point to be going back to work and felt quite elated that they would finally be allowed back in the classroom.
As a Certified Teacher, and one without a contract to even teach on-call, who, instead of moving north, doubled down on a Master’s in Education, I am relieved that some form of reconciliation has begun. Graduating into the toxic environment of job action, strikes and political animosity can be a barrier; no one expects to fight for the job one is certified to perform. Let’s hope the smoke clears fast, and new blood gets in soon with the energy to continue to improve the system from within, without expending so much energy in another round of bloody trench warfare.