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Debunking myths around teachers strike

As the Great Teachers War of 2012 winds its way to a bitter conclusion, its worth brushing aside the overheated rhetoric and exploding a few myths as we watch events unfold.

As the Great Teachers War of 2012 winds its way to a bitter conclusion, its worth brushing aside the overheated rhetoric and exploding a few myths as we watch events unfold.

First of all, lets 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, many teachers arrive at work before any of their students do, stay well past the bell and take home a stack of work several nights a week.

Then there are the many teachers who regularly supervise extracurricular activities. 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. Throw in unruly behaviour by some students, demanding parents and the internal politics of a school and it all adds up to a job that comes with many thankless aspects.

Of course, teachers also get more generous benefits than pretty well anyone working in the private sector. And Id 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 under-qualified teachers in the system 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.

Heres another myth: as odious as many teachers may find Bill-22, it will not destroy the education system.

To hear the B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) 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.

While ending a labour dispute with legislation is never a preferred option, it happens from time to time (even the labor-friendly NDP legislated ends to labor 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.

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 the bill does not make larger class sizes a foregone conclusion, and the concessions the employer is looking for weaken the BCTF, 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 thats 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 one-sided as it prepares to use the legislative hammer.

The result is a lose-lose situation. Teachers morale will likely suffer, classroom conditions wont improve in the near future and the BCTF will continue to be a political protest movement that cant function like a union.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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