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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 3, November/December 2005

Student teachers

by Rick Appel and Mark Vance

As we handed out signs for the rally, we noticed immediately the turn out was better than we expected. We were also busier than expected—speaking to the media and talking with each other. The rally was organized by SFU and UBC student teachers to show support for the striking teachers. What this meant to each of us certainly varied, but it was clear from our conversations with other student teachers that the rally was necessary.

The rally took place at Broadway and Granville in Vancouver, on October 21, the day teachers began voting on acceptance of the Ready recommendations. Teachers joined us for the rally, and there was no doubt that many were concerned about the outcome of the vote. Had public awareness of the issues confronting teachers increased? Was it time to return to the classroom?

To many of us, it felt like time to return. We were in the middle of our long practicums, and a continuing strike might well have resulted in either extending or repeating these practicums—the former was more palatable, while the latter was difficult to swallow.

However, we believed that repeating our practicums would have been worthwhile if teachers were successful in gaining improvements to teaching and learning conditions. As student teachers, we were experiencing the realities of BC classrooms first-hand. We were teaching large classes and trying to make time for students with learning difficulties and behavioural concerns. Like the striking teachers, we recognize that addressing these issues is the necessary starting point to improving public education. We also realize that this is not an exhaustive list—there are many other aspects of our education system in need of repair.

We are committed student teachers. We have chosen this profession because we fundamentally believe in education and want to make a positive difference in the lives of our students. In our current practicums, it is clear that our students recognize our commitment as well. We have not turned to teaching out of economic necessity. We have made conscious decisions, switching from already successful careers as a contractor and college instructor respectively.

This is why we took this labour dispute so seriously. From an employability standpoint, finishing our practicums is only the short-term goal. Our long-term goals are the same as those of working teachers.

The excellent turnout for the rally showed that other student teachers share these goals. We, and other student teachers from SFU, had already joined teachers on picket lines at various schools. At the start of the week, student teachers from the University of Victoria and SFU made their presence and support known at the protest on the Legislature lawn in Victoria.

For us, the student-teacher rally was just as important as the previous support we had shown. As future teachers, we felt beholden to make a statement of support for our future profession. We do not hope that teaching will be a career of job action and labour strife. However, we fear it. Many others fear it too. We believe the support we received from the passing motorists was evidence of this.

However, the conversations we had with pedestrians allowed us the opportunity to clarify the message on our signs. Many passersby were alive to the idea that we were protesting against an employer that was not our employer—yet. This was a valid idea deserving a valid response. We are still working toward certification, and we do not know how a full school year feels. Nevertheless, student teachers are already committed teachers. We have made the commitment to a profession, and with that comes concern for the issues surrounding that profession.

As the rally wound down, and our classmates and future colleagues made their way home, we recognized the success of the afternoon. Speaking to people allowed us to show our support. People learned that teachers are committed before they even begin teaching. They learned that although we faced difficulties, we still believed in the profession. The purpose of the rally was to show that student teachers support public education. Our signs clearly stated this, but our conversations helped people on the street understand what this really meant to us.

Rick Appel is on practicum at John Oliver Secondary School, Vancouver, and Mark Vance at Alpha Secondary School, Burnaby.

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