Parents and students alike expressed bitter frustration about the province’s role in education as they gathered outside Premier Christy Clark’s constituency office during what should have been the regular start of classes.
“I feel stressed, I want to be back at school right now,” said Maya Courtney, age 8, as she worked on a placard highlighting her concerns about not being back in class with her friends.
Other children expressed similar confusion and anxiety about ongoing labour strife, holding signs with strongly worded messages like, “stop lying Christy Clark.”
Mother of three, April Weleschuk was at the rally with her brood because she said she was disappointed that talks hadn’t resulted in a resolution that put children first.
“I believe the kids are the future,” she said. “My children know why teachers are fighting for what they’re fighting for.”
From her experience, issues like class size and composition are ever present, putting her on the teachers” side of the labour dispute.
“They’ve come home a few times saying they can’t get the help they need in math,” she said.
She’s advised them to ask for help, only to be told that their teachers don’t have the time.
“That worries me a lot,” she said. “We’ve thought about private school, but affording three kids in private school is not feasible.”
According to those gathered, current learning conditions aren’t just prompting parents to consider an exodus from the education system, it’s pushed teachers with long careers into retirement.
Retired teacher Kathy MacMillan explained that prior to 2002, classroom conditions at the primary level were much more manageable.
In terms of classroom composition, teachers were designated no more than one student with a severe behaviour issue and two more with moderate difficulties—and there were no more than 20 students in the class.
When the caps on composition fell to the wayside, the classroom dynamic changed dramatically.
“The decline from 2002 to 2008 was enough to send me into retirement,” said MacMillan.
Diane Schjodt also retired in 2008 because of the problems arising in the classroom.
“I loved teaching— it was very hard to retire, but I was burnt out,” Schjodt said. “All that was going on was too much.”
The province’s 40,000 public school teachers walked off the job in June, first in a rotating, and then full-scale strike action two weeks before summer vacation.
Negotiations are expected to continue this week, as are protests.
Another rally supporting teachers is scheduled for tomorrow, outside Clark’s office at 4 p.m.. Teachers are to increase picketing, as well.