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.
Expressed for well. Even though I no longer teach in BC, many of my good friends still do, and I definitely sympathize with all involved. We teach because we have a passion and love for education. It’s obvious as an administrator we share that same passion.
Well put kristi. I think you’ve hit it dead on.
Thanks Jenn. Best of luck this week whatever it looks like.
I think this was a great reminder when I see all the name calling and mud slinging on social media. My children (ages 13 and 16) and I were very sad and disheartened in June and now that feeling has been reignited. My daughter finished grade 7, and I finished 11 years of heavy duty volunteering at our elementary school. With everything going on, there was no real closure (yes, we had a promotion ceremony but it was rather “flat” – there was no way to make it a real celebration without the teachers). Our school is on the smaller side and a pretty tight knit community. The “sides” made it very tense in those last couple of months from the moment you walked the door, namely because of “heart” you are talking about. I see now it’s going to take awhile to heal.
I agree the name calling, and mud-slinging has been the hardest part of this situation. It was nice to see you comment on how this is about learning conditions and mention all the tough cuts that had to be made. It has been hard financially and personally as a teacher. I have tried hard to maintain good relationships with everyone in my school but I must admit it is hard to here admin tell us personally that they support us yet make no public comment about how current funding is eroding the system. Why have our colleagues in leadership chosen to be so silent?? Why can you not at least state the facts about the hard decisions you need to make with the current funding? Sometimes silence when someone is hurting is just as bad as taking a side. A successful conclusion to these contracts for teachers will be good for administrators as well but they will have taken none of the hits – no public bashing, no financial hit
Beautifully said. I am one of those teachers who is very sensitive to the hurtful remarks being thrown out in the media. I love my profession and my students, so it is very upsetting to hear some of the comments about what they ‘think’ teaching is. Thank you for this article that reminds us all to be kind to each other. It’s really not that difficult.
Someone taught me a trick today – they said every time someone criticizes you or your profession, change the name so it sounds like they are talking about someone else. Kind of a fun way to re-read some of the crazy comments that are hurtful.
What a fabulous article! As a 34 year teacher, I want you to know that, for me, you got it 100% right! It does KILL us to go through this! We DO love our students, colleagues, parents; our jobs. It is a privilege to work as we do. To be reviled by our government is destroying the carefully crafted fabric of our education system.
Teachers like you are the reason so many people understand and support our teachers during this difficult time. Love is always stronger. May happy days return soon.
I must respectfully disagree: we are definitely not in this together. By remaining silent publically, you are by default taking the side of the Liberal government. This puzzles me since administrators know as much as any public school teacher about how many students have been affected by cuts to library, learning assistance, special education, and a multitude of other areas. You are correct when this dispute is settled, things won’t go back to the way they were. I am not even sure they should since the administrators of this province did not speak out about the lack of funding for public schools. Forget being on the “side” of teachers, adminstrators of this province have not been on the “side” of students.
I appreciate your thoughts. Just like teachers we have channels we can speak through such as superintendent meetings, board meetings, our blogs, etc. I agree with you the provincially the BCPVPA hasn’t had a loud voice during this time which is something many of our members have discussed and or encouraged. Hopefully we can focus on what what admin and teachers have in common rather than what sets us apart. We are all teachers first and all care about kids.
These are wise and well-spoken words straight from the heart. You have put into print what is many, many hearts. Thank you.
“I have two boys whom I want the best possible school experience for.”
Why would you use “whom” then end your sentence with a preposition?
Seriously? My daughter had the good fortune to have Kristi as her counsellor at Charles Best and she found a way to focus on what really mattered. I can’t believe that you missed the message and found a way to get stuck on a preposition.
Thanks 🙂 I fixed the sentence but I definitely agree with you!
I echo the “seriously?”
I was raised in Coquitlam too but went to Como Lake and Centennial for French Immersion in the mid to late 80s. The point was, as she understands, if you are going to attempt to follow proper grammar and syntax, either go all the way or don’t even try. Otherwise, you look like a hick. Yes, I’m picky and this sounds prescriptivist, but the written word is very much different from spoken colloquialisms and it does matter when you want others to take you seriously.
Other than that. I appreciate her perspective and agree with her arguments but I tend to side with the teachers. It’s hard to believe a politician whose overriding principle is to do away with unions (private or public) and sell off all publicly owned corporations (whether they make money or not). I have a visceral hatred for the BC Liberals and the manner in which they have managed to obliterate collective bargaining and the rule of law in this province.
By the way, I’m a paramedic.
I’ll find my way to a picket line tomorrow. Will you?
I have fixed the sentence. Thanks for the edit. Hopefully you took away more than the typo.
Eloquently put, Kristi. An important message that’s overlooked, despite the fact it is our responsibility as adults and parents to model a sense of civility and empathy.
thank you so much for putting into words what I feel in my heart today as I don’t make my lunch and pack my tubs for tomorrow morning. I have been wandering around all day not knowing what to do. I teach grade one and I am beside myself today. I want the best for my kids (students) and have seen cutback after cutback over the years. Let’s hope for a miracle this week.
It is a strange September for sure. Lets hope better days are just ahead.
Hello Ms. Blakeway,
Although you make some good points, I must take issue with the idea of school administrators not taking a side in this strike. It is not about sides. I implore administrators to please speak up. You all know exactly what the class size and composition strains are in the classrooms of BC. Administrators have always been a part of the school-based teams that fight the good fight for more supports within the classrooms in their buildings—that is, when school is in session regularly. As soon as job action and strike conditions become necessary, administrators go mute. This sudden silence is damaging to the whole state of public education. Your voices are another potentially valuable resource in terms of making the public aware of the dire class size and composition issues—you have insider knowledge, too. It shouldn’t only be teachers speaking out. It shouldn’t be only CUPE staff showing support (I know that thousands and thousands of parents and general members of the public are visible and vocal, but I’m referring specifically here to employees that work in schools daily). Administrators really should speak out. You don’t need to contribute opinions to issues of wages or benefits, etc, but you certainly should feel qualified to offer opinions about the need for more reasonable classroom conditions, more EA supports for students, restoration of teacher-librarians, more counsellors and LA teachers, and so on—these are the things needed for you to run a truly effective school. Even if administrators felt it was too “political” to offer opinions about these things, you could simply “tell it like it is” in the way that teachers have been doing for months. Tell the public what your schools used to have and what is now gone; tell the public what your buildings’ current needs are and how, despite fighting for improvements via SBT meetings, those needs are not being met. Your silence provides no benefit for public education. It is not about taking sides; it is about speaking the truth, revealing the reality from another credible, knowledgeable source.
I wonder what threat, what hammer, is being held over administrators so that not one (that I’ve heard of) in BC has felt safe enough to speak out about class size and composition issues. I’ve known administrators to be very passionate advocates for improvements during the regular school year—to hear nothing at all from all of you in this time of crisis is odd.
Speak up now; don’t forever hold your peace.
Thank you for you thoughtful, heartfelt words. We are all in this together…
Silence has many meanings. One is that silence is golden; there are times when information hurtful to our family and friends is better left unsaid. Then there is silence that speaks volumes. This is a pregnant silence that is heavy and full of unspoken truths or truths that dare not be spoken.
Then there is the silence of culpability, when in Martin Luther King Jr.’s words: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
It seems to me in this present situation between teachers and government that a couple of groups who could be speaking out loudly and clearly for public education are silent. It seems odd to me that the Coalition of Business will speak out about education, offering intervenor intervention, yet two groups who ought to be speaking out in support of public education remain collectively silent.
These two groups? Superintendents and administrators who are supposed to be educational leaders. But where is the leadership? Why the collective silence as public education is being destroyed? Both groups have had to close libraries, lay off specialist teachers, cut back custodial hours and much more. Yet, during this crisis, they remain collectively silent. If and when they speak out, they speak out about lack of funding but not about contract stripping or Supreme Court rulings.
The Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association, in their list of standards, uses lofty language such as “moral stewardship”. Under these standards, administrators are expected to “model the moral courage to uphold and foster the values, vision and mission of the school”, and by extension, the public school system as a whole. And yet, collectively they are silent.
Perhaps the ugly truth is that with no language around class size and composition, these groups are silent because their jobs are made easier. New students in the school? Put them in a class with little or no thought about the size or composition of that class. Seven students with Individual Education plans? What does one more student in a class matter? And because administrators no longer have to concern themselves with these issues, they don’t. Students have been placed in classes and their job is done. It’s now the teacher’s job to manage and make the class work. And, when the classes don’t work, teachers take the blame for not being able to manage the diversity within their classes.
It is true during this current job action that some administrators around the province have brought coffee and food to the teachers walking picket lines. The gesture, while appreciated, isn’t enough. To borrow from Dr. King once again, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
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