Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Letter to Minister Abbott re: Teacher bargaining and the Personalized Learning Initiative

Dear Mr. Abbott,

It was with great disappointment that I read today on Janet Steffenhagen's blog that your deputy Minister, James Gorman, will be meeting with "board of education chairs, superintendents, secretary-treasurers and BCPSEA trustee representatives" to discuss "collective bargaining... in the context of the Personalized Learning

Why is the Ministry having this conversation with everyone except teachers' representatives?

When is the Ministry meeting with the BCTF on the Personalized Learning Initiative and the relationship with bargaining?

What is your response to our vision, Better Schools for BC, that we provided you at our Annual General Meeting?

Why have you not contacted us to discuss the recent court ruling regarding class size and composition and our collective agreement?

Where is the dialogue, the discussion, the engagement, with teachers on these very important and fundamental issues?

Mr. Abbott I attended the BCTF Annual General Meeting where you spoke. You said you would talk to Susan, to the BCTF Executive, and to teachers. I took you at your word, as did the hundreds of teachers in the audience. We want dialogue and we want solutions. We are tired of being marginalized in the public policy discussions that impact so dramatically on our daily work and on our profession.

I appreciate that the collective vision of the teaching profession may be different from that of government. But sensible, effective policy must be informed by those of us teaching in classrooms every day. You cannot ignore the voice of teachers.

We had another guest at our AGM a couple of years ago, Judy Rebick, who made an impression on me when she said: "I used to think that listening meant that I stopped talking and let the other person talk." It was a funny moment, but the message was real. Dialogue is more than being in the same room. Dialogue is more than returning a phone call. Dialogue is more than letting the other person have their say.

Mr. Abbott personalized learning first and foremost requires time. As you described in your speech, central to the learning process is the relationship between teacher and student. It is a simple matter of fact that a secondary teacher in British Columbia with 120 students has very limited time to spend with each student - be it for personalized instruction, personalized planning and curriculum development, or personalized assessment. Given the average 10-hour day that BC teachers report they work, this is still only 12 minutes per student.

Teachers in BC for many years have been trying to address this problem by bargaining class size and class composition provisions. Fewer students means more time per student, and more ability to personalize learning. We sacrificed pay increases to make learning conditions better for students by trading off salary for class size. Your government unilaterally stripped these agreements from contract and a court has now found that this violated our constitutional rights.

The day of the court ruling, Ms. Lambert called on you to meet with her. She, on our behalf, has called on government to meet with teachers to address this situation immediately. This is directly related to both bargaining and the Personalized Learning Initiative. Why have you not called to meet with her? Why is your deputy Minister meeting without us to discuss these issues?

As Education Minister, you simply cannot ignore the collective voice of 40,000 teachers. That is not the path to better schools and an excellect education system.

Please ensure that teachers' voices are included meaningfully in this discussion.

Tara Ehrcke
Secondary math and computer teacher
President, Greater Victoria Teachers' Association


  1. nicely said Tara.

  2. Yes, I did. I received a letter from Deputy Minister Rick Davis. I wrote about it in another blog post here: