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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 1, September 2004

Good news for B.C.’s teachers

by Peter Owens

Polling results and focus-group research have shown that teachers are respected, trusted, and appreciated in British Columbia. Not only are teachers held in high esteem, but the values held by teachers are also shared by parents and by British Columbians in general.

Positive feelings for teachers
The BCTF conducted focus groups through an independent research company in January and June 2004. Focus groups are small groups of eight to ten people, randomly chosen. They are led through a discussion guide and respond to questions and ideas as a way to test arguments and messages. The participants of the public focus groups do not know who is sponsoring the research; the participants of member focus groups do.

We held groups in Castlegar, Kamloops, Nanaimo, and Vancouver. Public groups were composed of parents and non-parents. At one stage groups were given a list of 25 descriptors of teachers, some positive and some negative. Participants were asked to choose two or three descriptors they felt best describe teachers. Their choices were overwhelmingly positive. Some groups were completely positive. The few times that negative descriptors were chosen, the participants usually qualified the choice by saying that they had a specific teacher in mind but that they had a more positive image of most teachers.

The most common descriptor of teachers were:

  • have a difficult job
  • have to put up with a lot from students these days
  • trying to do the best they can under difficult circumstances.

All of the public focus groups were supportive of public education and teachers. Government arguments were seen as unreliable. When asked what is happening in public schools, the members of the public identified:

  • larger classes
  • less support for students with special needs
  • loss of specialist teachers
  • school closures
  • loss of libraries
  • lack of support and resources for our students.

Teachers most credible
Polling conducted in June 2004 by the Mustel Group found that classroom teachers are the most credible source of information about public schools. Respondents were asked, How reliable is each of the following as a source of accurate information about the public education system in B.C.? Classroom teachers came out clearly on top.

These polling results confirm information we obtained through focus group testing in January and June 2004. It is unusual for a union to rate as high as the BCTF did in this poll. Over 90% of British Columbians stated that they are familiar with the BCTF.

(Mustel Group, 750 interviews conducted between June 10 and 17, 2004. Results are considered accurate to within +/- 3.6 %, 19 times out of 20.)

How reliable is information from:
Classroom teachers—84.5%
School boards—75.7%
Parent advisory councils—68.3%
The Minister of Education—53.4%
B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils—51.5%
Your MLA—49.2%
The Fraser Institute—46.8%
The Premier—34.9%

The public wants to hear from you
Not only are teachers the most credible source of information, but the public expects teachers to speak up about the conditions in our schools. In the same poll in June 2004, 750 people were asked to agree or disagree with the following statement: It’s important for teachers to speak out on public-education issues like funding cuts, larger class sizes, and reduced support for children with special needs.

An overwhelming majority of those surveyed—88.1%—want teachers to speak out.

(Mustel Group, 750 interviews conducted between June 10 and 17, 2004. Results are considered accurate to within +/- 3.6 %, 19 times out of 20.)

Teachers should speak out on education issues:
Disagree—8.5 %
Don’t know—3.4 %

Education funding is too low
Almost two-thirds of the people polled in June 2004 feel that education funding in B.C. is too low.

These results are consistent with views expressed by the public and parents in focus groups conducted for the BCTF in January and June 2004.

(Mustel Group, 750 interviews conducted between June 10 and 17, 2004. Results are considered accurate to within +/- 3.6 %, 19 times out of 20.)

Funding for education in B.C. is:
Too low—63.6%
About right—23.0%
Too high—4.7%
Don’t know—8.7 %

The first phase of our campaign to ensure that public education is a vote-determining issue in the provincial election will begin near the end of September. Our initial message to the public will be that there are 2,500 fewer teachers and 113 schools closed since this government came to power. Teachers will be speaking out on behalf of students and public schools.

We know that parents and the public expect teachers to keep them informed about what is happening in our schools.

Peter Owens is an assistant director in the BCTF’s Communications and Campaigns Division and editor of the Teacher newsmagazine.

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