Letter: Strike should not be teachers’ only option

With the strike days not only are we missing extra-curricular activities but actual school as well.

To the editor:

I am in Grade 9 at Constable Neil Bruce Middle School in West Kelowna. I am writing to discuss the current situation concerning teachers going on strike.

These strikes are primarily caused by disagreements between the teachers and the government. However, it is seriously affecting the students.

In the past, to be plainly honest, I have never had much experience concerning politics. I suppose naivety is a common trait amongst youth; however, recently I have taken a keen interest in something that is difficult to overlook, especially when it is directly affecting me and those around me. I have researched information to help me to understand the reasons behind this and previous strikes.

My understanding is that teachers are finding it difficult to cope with the large class numbers that they have. Currently, for class sizes of over 30 students, the teacher would have to be paid extra. In the average class at my school there are 29 or so students; basically right up to the limit of how many students the teachers can teach without being paid extra. Teachers want the right to be able to determine how many students are in each class, as well as how many who have special needs. It is crucial to give teachers a say in this decision as they are best placed to know how many students is a sensible and manageable quantity, based on particular circumstances. Also members of the CUPE union, such as custodians, bus drivers and secretaries, are losing work for reasons that are beyond their control.

In 2006, the teachers came up with a new contract with the government allowing them to decide how many special needs students and students as a whole were in each class in return for them giving up pay increases. They did indeed give up their pay increases but the government didn’t follow through on their side of the deal and the teachers got nothing in return.

The basis of the current strike is the same issue. I have witnessed first-hand how teachers struggle with class numbers. At one time, 12 or more hands could be in the air. This is certainly not ideal, and I’m sure there are ways to improve the situation.

So far, measures that have been taken are ruining much loved aspects of our school’s curriculum. We were supposed to have mentorship games day cancelled. My Outdoor Education class has a three-day hike in Okanagan Mountain Park towards the end of the year. My class has fortunately already gone, but the second class trip has been cancelled. I personally am not missing out, but anyone can see that this is utterly unfair to those whom have not yet been on the trip. Close friends of mine in that class have expressed their disappointment and outrage, made worse by the fact that they have already wasted money on food and supplies for the trip.

With the strike days not only are we missing extra-curricular activities but actual school as well. As I am in an honours class, I am due to take my math provincial exam at the end of this school year. With no breaks, a new rule coming into play about not having teachers help at lunch time, and the hour before/after school the teachers were allowed to be there reduced to 45 minutes, there is not time to ask for any kind of additional assistance. The strikes are jeopardizing our education.

Some sort of compromise or new system needs to be made to enable the teachers to manage a reasonable size of class. Teachers should not be forced by their union to go on strike but should be allowed to express their opinions and concerns, to freely protest in whatever way they choose and not necessarily by going on strike.

The government needs to give genuine consideration to their opinions. Continually brushing off an issue does not make it resolve.

The government has offered $1,200 to teachers who sign a contract stopping the strike by the end of June. This is not a resolution. It is merely a temporary hose to calm the fire—more of a bribe than a carefully thought through, properly negotiated solution.

To conclude, from what I have gathered, the media seems to be making it appear as if the teachers have no regard for the students. Well if this is so, why are there so many extra-curricular activities in the first place? Why are there so many teachers willing to run after school and lunchtime clubs even when they get no income from it?

And why do they want smaller classes? It’s because they care about giving the students the attention they need and deserve and they want to ensure that their students have an environment in which they can learn, rather than just being ‘taught at.’

So, rather than having this ongoing fire between two groups that are both supposed to want to help create a good education system, a resolution needs to be reached together, with the students’ interests at heart at all times when decisions are made.

Thank you for considering my thoughts and opinions and taking the time to read my letter. I know that education is important to everyone so I hope these flames can be extinguished once and for all so we can all get on with our wonderful learning experience.

Frances Smalldridge,

West Kelowna