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

On being well: The social well being of the picket line

by Julia Johnson

After two weeks of the BCTF civil protest, teachers returned to their classrooms with a wait-and-see approach. The prevailing mood in my school on the first day of our return was a mixture of disappointment and subdued gratitude. Disappointment, because of the loose ends surrounding the unresolved issues of class size, class composition, working and learning conditions, and the uncertainty of the future of our bargaining rights. Subdued gratitude, because teachers would rather be inside the classroom teaching than walking the line. However, the prevailing mood during the two-week protest was courageous, buoyant, and energetic.

Picket lines, by their nature, evoke myriad emotions. For me, feeling like the victim of a bully was new. What surprised me was the way my emotions were on a roller-coaster ride. I was overcome with hopelessness, and depression seeped into my being the way fog renders one sightless. I began to understand the plight of a victim who is the target of verbal or physical attacks. I knew intellectually that what I was experiencing emotionally was a far cry from the torment a victim is subjected to at the hands of a bully, but I found it difficult to rein in my sense of hopelessness and sadness. The picket line, by bringing people close to each other, was the support that enabled me to bring my emotions under control.

Picket lines in my community (Quesnel) became a space for social interaction. Staff members had time to talk together. New friendships arose as unfamiliar colleagues walked together for hours and exchanged personal worries, fears, and hopes. Laughter was shared as engaging storytellers took advantage of captive audiences. Shelters were constructed to stave off foul weather. Propane and wood heat wrapped us in smoky warmth. Closet chefs working in portable kitchens created award-winning breakfasts and lunches. Members of the community stopped by long enough to offer verbal support, trays of doughnuts, and carafes of coffee and hot chocolate. Those who drove by showed their support by honking their horns.

The picket line atmosphere of camaraderie, shared focus, support, and commitment provided an opportunity for bonding like a social support group. Research has shown that social support groups promote feelings of connectedness, belongingness, and bonding that contribute to health. When individuals engage in social contact where values and attitudes are similar, the collective energy that is experienced far exceeds the negative feelings felt by any one person individually (Seaward, 1999). People brought together in times of trouble are better able to cope with the problem at hand.

The teachers of British Columbia, through their social interactions on the picket line and their concern for one another’s well being, created the supportive atmosphere that enabled each person to stand firm for education.

Julia Johnson, a learning resource teacher at Red Bluff School in Quesnel, is a BCTF PD wellness associate. johnsonj@abccom.bc.ca

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