Dear Christy Clark,
My name is Chris. I teach at Tamanawis Secondary in Surrey. I love my job, but I am angry. Let me tell you why.
Some background: when I last worked in the private sector, in 1998, I worked for a forestry contractor and made $5,500 a month, working 12-hour days, and E.I. for a few months in the off-season. When I started teaching, I made $2,400 a month, working 12-hour days, and was laid off in the summer.
I didn’t become a teacher to get rich. I became a teacher because I love kids and I love teaching.
Since 1998, the time I devote to voluntary activities to help kids and school– above and beyond what I am paid to do– has increased. Same goes for my colleagues. I run our school’s Gay/Straight Alliance and our Poetry Slam Club, I sit on Staff Committee, I train languages teachers in comprehensible input methodology, and I am a Union rep. My workday– now that I have been doing this for fourteen years, and have some of my lessons figured out– is, for half the year, about eight hours long, and for the other half about eleven. I am marking, answering email, planning, collaborating, and helping kids, sometimes at nine o’clock in the evening. I do this because it’s what needs to happen to make a classroom and a school run.
But you know what? My workload pales in comparison to other teachers’. Our coaches regularly work sixty hour weeks when teams are in full swing. Our music, dance, drama, art, Advanced Placement and special-needs teachers are often at work ninety minutes before the bell, and here as late as 9:00 PM. These people– who have partners and kids– are busting a gut, day in and day out, so our kids can learn the skills that fine arts and sports and political activism teach: that community empowers us, that working together– with instruments, voices, lab partners or team-mates– is what people do, that kids can make a difference, and that we can make something worthwhile and beautiful and successful together. My admin are no different. I can send and receive email at eight o’clock on a Thursday– or Sunday– evening, and I’ll get a response. From newest teacher to Principal, our staff is working all the time.
And you know what? I don’t know a single teacher who complains about the workload. We do what we do because, at the end of the day, we want to share our passions and knowledge with B.C.’s future citizens.
And we succeed. Recent graduate Missy Martin, after networking with banks, businesses, families and elementary schools, delivered hundreds of care packages to Downtown East Side people– the same ones your party threw onto the street after 2001, Ms Clark. Sofia Walia has become one of the first Indo-Canadian athletes to play elite-level field-hockey at the Junior and Senior national level and now plays for Rutgers. Tamanawis Calculus teacher Suminder Singh’s student Sargun Bajaj received a perfect score on the international Calculus exam; one of six scores in the world. And the rest of his class was not far behind. I could go on. Any B.C. teacher could go on, because B.C. teachers– like teachers anywhere— want to see our awesome kids excel.
Do you think, Ms Clark, that what these young people accomplished happened during class time? Can you imagine a calculus teacher, who is preparing students for an international test, finishing work at 3:15 pm? Does hockey training end when the bell goes…or does it start?
I enjoyed becoming a B.C. teacher in 1998 and I’ve continued to love my job. But things have gotten more difficult–much more difficult– over the last fourteen years. And in large part, Ms Clark, that’s because of you.
From 1998 until 2014, B.C.’s consumer price index went up by about 36%, while my wages went up by about 22%. During this period, my workload increased. From 24 kids in an English class to 30, to online reporting, to the introduction of email, to a steadily increasing number of special-needs kids and a steady decline in the number of librarians and special-ed teachers and assistants, the workload has grown. In other words, I do more work for 10% or so less money.
Meanwhile, Provincial MLAs from 2006-2008 got increases of 20% over two years, while then-Premier Gordon Campbell got a 35% raise in one year. MLAs have seen raises of about 50% over the last 14 years, while senior bureaucrats have seen double-digit increases in some cases in one year. Ms Clark, you make about $190,000 a year, but you made a bunch less in 2002 when you were Minister of Education. Would you have opted for the Premier’s job if you had been told that you’d receive a wage cut in exchange for doing more work?
In 2001, when your party was elected, the biggest resource boom in thirty years was getting underway. Oil, lumber and natural gas prices were rising. B.C. was in a position to benefit…but the governing party cut both income and corporate taxes. The top five or so per cent of B.C. taxpayers saw savings of $40,000 a year; the rest of us much, much less. In 2002, my own M.S.P. premium went up exactly as much as my tax bill went down. The Liberals also invested massive sums in the Olympics, in highway infrastructure, and in a B.C. Place roof, among others. The commodity boom, and the massive cuts in income and coporate taxes, plus low post-9/11 interest rates, resulted in a property boom, which disproportionately benefited the wealthiest and made life much more difficult for poorer people. Have you ever tried to live in Vancouver on $20,000 a year, Ms Clark?
Not only did the government cut taxes, it also cut expenditures, mainly by sidelining unions, cutting parks programs and maintenance, delaying raising the minimum wage, throwing people with mental challenges onto the street, kicking people off welfare, and so on.
The results– outside of education– have been, well, less than spectacular, especially if you aren’t rich. B.C. has a chronic nursing shortage. One in six B.C. children lives in poverty. Income inequality and homelessness, by any measure, have risen. Post-secondary costs are through the roof. The worst thing, Ms Clark, is that B.C. is not a poor province.
In 2002, a lawyer friend married to a banker told me that her and her husband’s tax cuts, for that year alone, were worth about $90,000. With those, they put down payments on two new Jaguars, and, the following year, on a Whistler condo. In 2002, another friend– who taught E.S.L. in a public school, to recent-immigrant kids, in Richmond– was laid off. Nobody begrudges people their luxuries, but you don’t have to look very hard to see who gained and who lost as a result of Liberal tax policy.
In education, the problems have grown. (For now, let’s ignore the illegality of government contract-stripping, Court-declared bad-faith bargaining, and the subsidisation of private schools, to name just a few…but you can read an independent analysis of how duplicitous your government has been here.)
Let’s just focus on the in-class facts, Ms Clark. B.C. has lost about 1,500 librarians, special-needs teachers and counselors in the last 12 years. When the government was ordered by the Courts to restore some of this funding, through the “Learning Improvement Fund,” only about 1 in 10 positions was restored. Class sizes, by any estimation, are up. When the BCTF and the government dispute class sizes and student-teacher ratios, the discrepancies are easy to explain:
- the government counts every person with a teaching license, including administrators, superintendents, etc, in their teacher counts.
- the BCTF counts only teachers who have regular contact with kids: classroom teachers, counsellors, librarians and special-needs teachers.
In B.C., the average class has three more students per class, or twenty-one more students during the year, than in Alberta. If it takes, say, ten minutes per week of marking per student– and that’s conservative, as any English or Math teacher will tell you– B.C. teachers have three more hours of work outside of class than do their Alberta counterparts. On top of this, B.C. teachers also have an average of 200 minutes per week of preparation time, half of what Alberta and Ontario teachers get. Ok…more work, less time. Is there any salary compensation to make up for that? No…B.C. teachers are now near the bottom of the pay scale nationally.
In terms of funding, B.C. spends about $1,000 a year per student less than other provinces. This is showing up not only in a lack of special ed funding, library books, etc, but also in terms of poor infrastructure maintenance (my own school building turns 20 this year and has never had the full-building makeover its architects deemed necessary). You can blow off the painting, the steam cleaning and the heating-duct scrubs…but when they do need doing– and they will– the bill is always higher for maintenance delayed. And guess where the money will come from? That’s right– classroom services. Maintenance issues aren’t even an ideological question, Ms Clark. They are one of simple economics: pay and maintain now, good deal; defer and fix later, more expensive.
So, Ms Clark, why am I angry as hell?
I am angry because I cannot spend enough time with special-needs kids, or send them to specialists who can help them.
I am angry because there aren’t enough counsellors in our school– 1500 kids and 3 counsellors– to help the kids with family or social stress.
I am angry because I live in one of Canada’s richest provinces and yet one in six kids is poor and because poverty has only negative impacts on kids and their education.
I am angry because lots of schools no longer have enough librarian time to help kids with the free voluntary reading so crucial to autonomous literacy.
I am angry, Ms Clark, because your government has forced my well-meaning administrators and school board trustees to choose what to cut.
I am angry because when you visit schools, you visit private schools like St George’s (where your son is enrolled), and not public schools, where you might atually see the problems your policies have caused. Ms Clark, did you enroll your son in St George’s because it has classes of 30+ kids, many of whom are special needs, and/or E.S.L., or because you didn’t want him in such classes?
I am angry because, Ms Clark, as the Courts have found, your government has repeatedly lied to and cheated both B.C. taxpayers and the B.C. Teacher’s Federation.
I am angry because the Liberal government refuses to bargain meaningfully. Your Minister Factbender’s repeated assertions that the BCTF’s position has not changed are flat-out lies; beyond abandoning your ludicrous (and unanaimously-panned) ten year deal, B.C.P.S.E.A. has made no real changes to your position, even while lead negotiator Peter Cameron makes $225/hr for repeating himself and not moving negotiations forward.
I am angry because the Liberal Lockout interferes with my students’ end-of-year education, and my salary, to no meaningful end. My colleagues and I would rather be helping our kids at lunch than standing outside my building. I do all the work I am contractually obligated to do, yet the Government refuses me some of my wages. And for what?
I am angry because my Social Justice 12 students whose Action projects– volunteering with the homeless, and in women’s shelters and food banks, and at Sikh food charities– have been selflessly done to benefit other people but they may not have the chance to present or receive credit for these projects. And how many other end-of-year projects– theatre productions, graduations, art shows, film screenings– will your government cancel as part of its “lockout?”
I am angry because I am expected to do more work, with fewer resources, for less money, than I did fourteen years ago, while you and other politicians have seen double-digit raises. While I don’t want to be rich, I would appreciate if I didn’t lose salary to inflation every year.
So there, in case you’re unaware, you have it. I don’t really enjoy feeling this way. But I do. Because of you. And I don’t think I’m alone in my feelings.