Friday, March 9, 2012

Critical thinking and Bill 22 - A teacher rebuts George Abbott

Dear Minister Abbott:

Imagine there are two children arguing in the playground over a toy. Picture a tall, brutish bully, and a wiry, bespectacled nerd.  Never mind that the toy belongs to the nerd.  Never mind that the bully pushed the nerd over and took the toy.  Just imagine that you walk into the situation with no foreknowledge of any thefts or pushing. Perhaps you ask to hear the story.  Perhaps you even believe the bully's story that the nerd is greedy, and has lots of toys, and for some reason wants to take away the bully's toy just for fun.  Perhaps you distrust the nerd, because you once knew a nerd who was untrustworthy.  Now imagine that the bully pushes the nerd again. Right in front of you.  Another student runs in and shouts at the bully to return the toy: you have a witness!  It did belong to the nerd after all!  Suddenly, the bully steps on the nerd's throat and says, "If you try to stand up to me, if you tell on me, I'll make you pay.  I'll take all your lunch money, every day, until you give up."

Remember, this is happening right in front of you.  What do you do?

This is what we call an allegory.  We teach people to stand up to bullies.  We teach people to stand up for what they believe in, even in the face of bullies.  We are B.C.'s teachers and we are being stepped on.  What will you do?

Erin Porter
Greater Victoria School District> wrote:
Thank you for your email regarding the current contract negotiations with the BC Teachers' Federation.

Government introduced Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, to suspend the union's strike action, set a"cooling off" period, appoint a mediator to facilitate bargaining, and implement a new $165 millionLearning Improvement Fund and other initiatives that will benefit teachers and students. You can learn more about the Education Improvement Act at:

The legislation does not impose a new contract. Rather, it sets out a mediation process with the goal of reaching a mediated settlement within the net-zero mandate by the beginning of summer. If there is no agreement then the mediator will issue a report by June 30, 2012, with non-binding recommendations.

The Education Improvement Act also includes several initiatives that will benefit teachers and students. Collectively, these initiatives serve as government's response to the BC Supreme Court decision on Bills 27 and 28.

*       The Act implements a $165 million Learning Improvement Fund that school districts can use to hire additional teachers and education assistants, provide additional teaching time and support professional development and training to help teachers meet the complex needs in their classrooms. The process for allocating these funds will include consultations with the BC Teachers' Federation, classroom teachers, education assistants, administration and district staff.

*       The Act restores class size and related matters to the scope of collective bargaining, effective for the next round of bargaining which is expected to begin in Spring 2013.

*       The Act eliminates the use of district class size averages and implements a class size maximum of 30 students for Grades 4-12. The new cap will not apply to some subjects where large groups are desirable such as a band or drama class. The existing cap of 22 students for Kindergarten and 24 students for Grade 1-3 will remain in place and cannot be exceeded.

*       The Act allows a Grade 4-12 class to exceed 30 students if the principal and superintendents consider the learning conditions to be appropriate, but in these cases, school districts must provide additional compensation to the classroom teacher, proportionate to the added workload. This compensation can consist of increased pay, additional preparation time, professional development funding or a combination of different accommodations.

*       The Act eliminates the formulaic and cumbersome consultation process on class composition and promotes regular consultation between principals and teachers on all matters of class organization, including the placement of students with special needs.

The Education Improvement Act provides certainty to students and their parents by suspending the current strike so that every parent in BC can receive a full accounting of how their children are progressing in school and schools can resume the collaborative meetings that are so important to supporting our students.

The Act also puts a mediator in place to help the parties achieve a mediated settlement. The union's demands for a $2 billion wage increase are completely unreasonable given the current economic reality. Therefore, the mediator will help the parties to reach a settlement that follows the lead of other public sector unions who have already signed more than 120 agreements under the government's net-zero mandate.

Lastly, the Act puts more money into classrooms, improves supports for students and teachers, provides additional teacher compensation where class size exceeds the student limit, improves consultation on class organization, and restores the opportunity to bargain class size and related matters. Taken together, these are significant gains that recognize the important role and contribution of teachers.

The Education Improvement Act brings a responsible conclusion to this dispute and I hope all parties will take a constructive approach in the days ahead to move forward and provide the certainty necessary to improve our education system and support our students.

Yours truly,
George Abbott

Dear Minister Abbott,

It may shock you to learn this, but many of BC's teachers are actually very intelligent individuals.  While I am sure it took you (or your aide) precious seconds to forward me this generic form letter, I find it more than a little insulting that you did not take the time to actually respond to me.  Do you think I am unfamiliar with your bill? Do you think I blindly follow instructions without taking the time to read and think for myself?  Believe it or not, I teach students to read and think critically, and I pride myself on being able to do the same.

Your "mediation" is not mediation at all.  If you get to appoint the mediator, and you get to dictate the terms that this mediator can discuss, you have not appointed a mediator but a puppet.

If you actually believe that $165 million will make a difference to an education system that has been systematically stripped of supports for students for 10 years (totalling up to $3.3 billion), you need to come and sit in one of my math classes for a lesson or two.

I would thank you for removing the “formulaic and cumbersome consultation process” regarding class sizes, but since you are in reality removing any formal record of consultations and violations, I am going to reserve my gratitude.

I am interested to see how you will provide “additional compensation to the classroom teacher, proportionate to the added workload” of classes exceeding 30 students when you do not compensate teachers proportionally to “regular” workload in the first place.  Looking across the country, BC teachers are ranked between 6th and 11th in pay.  Teachers in other provinces get more preparation time.  In the face of such statements, some are bound to argue, “So why don’t you move?”  I could do that, and I fear many teachers will (or already have).  BC’s students, whom you claim to care so much about, are the ones who suffer when talented and respected teachers leave for greener pastures.  I don’t blame them for leaving – I blame you.

Instead of negotiating a wage increase that might bring BC teachers on par with (or at least closer to) our colleagues across the country, you call our demands “completely unreasonable” and refuse to even talk with us.  Is a pay increase unreasonable?  Not when cost of living increases mean that “net zero” is actually a net loss.  Is $2 billion unreasonable?  Perhaps it is high (which, I hear, opening offers in negotiations tend to be) but is it entirely devoid of reason?  Not when teachers in other provinces are paid similar wages.   I think you may have your numbers confused yet again.  It is the number 475 that is “completely unreasonable.”  And the number 1.3 million.  And the number 2,500.  The word “unreasonable” also means “beyond the limits of acceptability or fairness.”  That you are threatening to fine me, personally, $475 a day – A DAY – to exercise my right to strike in protest of Bill 22, is utterly beyond the limits of acceptability or fairness.

If you truly recognized “the important role and contribution of teachers,” you would not insult us with Bill 22.

Erin Porter


  1. A great blog site for education and politics in Canada: I just wish that Doug Little had an accessible email address.

  2. If you get TVOntario, you can watch "The Agenda" where Steve Paikin discusses with a panel of educators and other interested persons about education negotiations in Ontario.

    The show's video may appear tomorrow or by Monday.

  3. Fabulous. enjoyed your wit and focused thesis!

  4. Dear Honorable Minister of Education, George Abbott
    Did you approve Nanaimo School Districts use of the Education Improvement Fund?

    Article in today's newspaper
    Nine new "master" teachers will be hired in Nanaimo to provide extra support for classroom teachers next fall.

    The school district received a $1.5 million Learning Improvement Fund grant from the province to help deal with complex needs in classrooms. Trustees approved a plan to spend that money last week.

    About $191,000 will be put toward more education assistant hours in classrooms, more than $400,000 will be kept in reserve to deal with issues as they come up next school year and $862,000 will hire nine instructional coordinators, who will be part of school-based, inter-disciplinary teams that will move from classroom to classroom, school to school, as needed.

    Assistant superintendent Chris Southwick said there will be 10 teams, as one teacher is already working as an instructional coordinator in the district.

    "These people will be master teachers," she said. "They would be seen by their peers as people they would go to for advice and ideas. The bottom line is to be able to support teachers in classrooms. They would be working with the teacher and helping them. If they need to be there for two weeks, they'll be there for two weeks."

    Southwick said the teams, which will be under the supervisor of the district's four assistant superintendents, will include other specialists such as psychologists and speech language pathologists.

    The district is still working out the details of how and when the teams will be deployed, but this resource will be available to teachers who have tried various strategies, but are finding that students continue to struggle.

    District officials felt this was the best use of the money because the teams have the flexibility to go where they are most needed and it provides a more systemic model of support, said Southwick.

    "If you just put one person in one school for the whole year . the needs might change," she said.

    Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said the strategy will impact a greater number of students than if the district simply added the funds to its operating budget and reduced some class sizes slightly.

    "It's a step in the right direction," he said.

    Justin Green, first vice-president of the Nanaimo District Teachers' Association, said the union had hoped the district would use the money to relieve some of the pressure on class size averages.

    "This year we had the second highest secondary class sizes in the province," he said. "I'm not sure that the 10 coordinators are going to make the functioning of these classrooms better. We're spending a lot of money, but what are the roles and functions? What are they really going to be tasked with?"

    Ron Farino, president of CUPE Local 606, said the extra money for education assistants should add roughly 30 minutes per week per EA, which will hopefully allow them to do a bit more preparation work, consultation with teachers and spend some extra time with students.

    The "master" teachers hired will be district staff so they will make more money than the average teacher, from my calculations 95 thousand dollars. With this money Nanaimo School District could have hired 32 more teachers for learning assistant support so our at risk learners would have more help. As it stands right now at risk students receive very little if any support. This fund will be used to support teachers not at risk students. I am surprised that you would okay this plan.

    Margaret Smoker

    Grade One teacher

    Coal Tyee Elementary