As the Great Teachers War of 2012 winds its way to an inevitably bitter conclusion, it's worth brushing aside the overheated rhetoric and exploding a few myths as we watch events unfold.
First of all, let's all drop the idea that teachers are overpaid and underworked. Too much emphasis is placed on the fact teachers get two months of summer holidays plus time off at other school breaks.
And it's also simply wrong to assume teachers only work when kids are in their classrooms and pack it in for the rest of the day. Many teachers arrive at work well before any of their students do, stay well past the time the bell rings to end the school day, and take home a stack of work (marking tests, essays and projects) several nights a week.
Then there are the many teachers who regularly supervise extracurricular activities, from sports to band to drama to afterschool clubs.
Add it all up, and I would suspect most teachers work well in excess of 40 hours a week.
On top of this kind of schedule, there are also the mounting challenges in the classroom. Special needs children in the classroom can mean extra work and, for some, additional stress.
Throw in unruly behaviour by some students, overly demanding parents, and the internal politics of a school and it all adds up to a job that comes with many thankless aspects (and not a heck of a lot of money for many: salaries run from $46,000 to $80,000).
Of course, teachers also get more generous benefits than pretty well anyone working in the private sector. And I'd be surprised if many people back their demand for a 15 per cent raise (after receiving 16 per cent the past few years).
And, to be sure, there are some poor and underqualified teachers in the system (what workforce of 41,000 would not have some weak members?) and it can be frustrating for parents and principals in dealing with them. But the value of teachers should be judged by the best of them, not the worst.
That's one myth exploded. Here's another: as odious as many teachers may find Bill 22 (the legislation that imposes a cooling off period on their dispute), it will not destroy the education system or drive it into the ground.
To hear the B.C. Teachers' Federation tell it, one would assume democracy is about to end and our kids are about to be part of one of the worst education systems in the country (if not the world).
While ending a labour dispute with legislation is never a preferred option, it happens from time to time (even the labour-friendly NDP legislated ends to disputes when it formed the government).
When such legislation is brought forward, it is usually accompanied with howls of outrage, protest rallies and general condemnation by those most affected. And then life goes on.
Nevertheless, Bill 22 is much more controversial than its predecessors and it is understandable why there has been a volcanic reaction from the teachers.
The bill imposes a limited mediation process controlled by the government, creates uncertainty when it comes to class sizes and special needs students, and signals concessions will be extracted from the BCTF.
But whether Bill 22 will lead to a deterioration of the education system is debatable. The bill does not make larger class sizes a foregone conclusion, and the concessions the employer is looking for weaken the BCTF (which is all about control) but not necessarily the classroom.
However, the teachers themselves make eloquent arguments for the need to put more resources into the system, and Bill 22 comes up short on that front.
It will increase the funding for special needs students over the next three years, but teachers and school trustees all say that's not enough.
Teachers complain about a lack of classroom supplies and equipment, sporadic library availability and overcrowded conditions.
But in the end, the teachers are being badly served by both sides. Their union has spent months arguing for unrealistic pay and benefit increases, instead of focusing on classroom conditions. And the government now looks heavy-handed and onesided as it prepares to use the legislative hammer.
The result is a lose-lose situation. Teachers' morale will likely suffer; classroom conditions won't improve in the near future, and the BCTF will continue to be a political protest movement that can't function like a union.
I don't see this ongoing train wreck getting solved any time soon.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca
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