September is a time of renewal… changing seasons, crisp nights, fall colours and back to school excitement. It’s my favourite time of year. Until yesterday, most of us hung on to some hope that Tuesday would bring upon us this annual sense of renewal. Now we have learned that this will not happen as schools will not open on time.
For months I have intentionally steered away from blogging about the the labour unrest between the BCTF and the Provincial Government. As a school administrator, I am not a member of the BCTF so ‘technically’ I am on the ‘other side’. But not everything can be explained from a technical stance. Matters of the heart are anything but technical. And to me, this is a matter of the heart. You see, I don’t just love the students I get to work with, I love our teachers and support staff who give every day to enhance the lives of kids.
To become an administrator, you need to be a teacher first, and usually an exceptional one at that. I too went into this profession to make a positive difference, share a love of learning and inspire hope for the future. Just like most teachers, I believe I have the best job in the world; not because of the pay or the holidays, but because I get to work with young minds, I get to create, I get to be part of a professional learning community and I get to feel a sense of renewal that comes every time a child or teacher achieves another milestone. Regardless of my job title, at heart, I am a teacher and a learner first (and I feel confident I speak for my admin colleagues).
There are many blog posts that delve into the political unrest and impasse that divides the BCTF and the government. Most of what I read is technical in nature either explaining the history behind the dispute, the current conditions or the financial demands for a settlement. I am not going to write about those things. Why? Two reasons. First, I don’t feel I’m an expert on the situation, and second, I think it all pales in significance to what really matters. So what matters most? The people. Everyone involved in this mess. The students, the parents, the teachers, the support staff, the administrators, the leadership teams, the board members, the tax payers, etc. Each one of us is human, and each of us is somehow connected to this ugly situation that has caused a lot of hurt.
When this dispute started last spring, boards across the province were faced with the impossible task of cutting millions of dollars from their budgets. Teachers were laid off, support staff were let go, some trustees decided not to run again, and schools felt the heaviness. Unfortunately boards made impossible decisions knowing that whatever they decided to do, someone would get hurt. Many meetings saw tears from all ‘sides’. Blame began, dislike spread for those making the cuts and the first ugly signs of ‘sides’ started to arise.
As job action progressed, teachers were instructed by their union to enter phase two of job action where staff meetings and email between administrators and teachers ceased. Again, unnatural ‘sides’ emerged, as both ‘sides’ had different responsibilities they had to meet. Again, on paper, a technical divide emerged. Yet a strong staff is not made up from technical job descriptions aligning together – but instead from human beings that come together to share, grow, celebrate and inspire one another. A strong staff has heart. Asking these ‘sides’ not to work together is like asking a happy couple to break up. It doesn’t feel right. As we were all asked to take ‘sides’ we did so, knowing almost secretly that we are all in this together, not because we have the same political beliefs, but simply because we are human and because we have heart. It saddens me that we had to say goodbye to retiring teachers on picket lines. It saddens me that some jobs were cut completely and not replaced. It saddens me that teachers and students had to miss many year-end activities that they looked forward to.
But here’s what saddens me most. When I turn on the news or social media, I am flooded by opinions of what teachers and the government should or should not do. I am flooded by sweeping statements that judge the character of the people involved. I am flooded by opinions of what should be done, what school should look like and how things should end. This boggles my mind. Yes – I would hope that everyone cares about kids, education and the future, but caring for kids does not make everyone experts in education. Hopefully we all grew up seeing a dentist as well, but certainly unless we have also gone to dental school, we do not feel we are an expert in dentistry. Our teachers are experts in education. They give their lives to their careers and they continually develop as mentors in learning for our children. They are fighting a fight not about wages, but about learning conditions. They know we have one of the best education systems in the world. They know what conditions they need to maintain this. It kills them to see a system erode to a point where they can’t best serve each child. Financially they have paid a steep price, but what saddens me most is the hurt they must feel against their profession and their character as they face public scrutiny from some. Throughout this ongoing dispute I have seen people turn against trustees, against leadership teams, against administrators and against teachers. And every time we take sides or have people against us, we all get hurt.
I do not have all the answers, but here’s what I do know…
My mom was a teacher for years and a principal. My husband works in a support role with kids with special needs. I want the best school experience possible for my two boys. Most of my best friends are educators. And there is something that unites us all – we did not go into this profession because of our technical skills or scholarly success. We became educators because we lead with our hearts. We love our jobs, we love the kids, and we love the miracles we see every day when we connect with a young mind and see one radiate with curiosity, hope and wonder. We love the magic of connecting with other humans. We lead with love.
As September approaches, our hearts are heavy. As students, parents, teachers and administrators, we are all hurt. The excitement of the first day will not be here on Tuesday.
The day will come when ‘technically’, things are all worked out. But just like any broken relationship, it’s hard to forget about the hurt. Our hearts all need to heal. As we move forward I encourage all of us to do so in kindness. If you have an educator who made a significant difference in your life, take a moment to tell them. If you support your local schools, take time for a random act of kindness to show you care. If you have friends struggling to find childcare offer to help. And if you are not sure what do to, stop and think with your heart.
As the picket lines return on Tuesday I will not be taking sides. We are humans first and for that reason alone, ‘sides’ should not exist. We are in this together. May we take care of one another and keep sight of better days to come when the joy of learning will return.