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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 2, November/December 2003

Overwhelming support for a democratic college

by Peter Owens

We are receiving unprecedented support in challenging the government political takeover of the B.C. College of Teachers.

School boards
At least 33 school boards have passed motions calling on the government to revisit its decision to take political control of the college. Many have written to the minister calling on her to reconsider the decision in light of the disruption and confusion it is causing in our schools. An example of a letter is the following by the Cariboo-Chilcotin School Board:

Dear Minister Clark:
This letter, the result of a resolution approved by the Board of School Trustees on September 25, 2003, is in support of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Teachers’ Association and the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation in the matter of the makeup of the council of the British Columbia College of Teachers.

Consultation with parties who have a significant interest in a legislative change is a major tenet of democratic government, one to which the board adheres in its policy development. No less should be expected of the senior levels of government. The changes to the Teaching Profession Act that resulted in the elected members of the council of the BCCT being in the minority on the council were done without consultation.

The imposition of an undemocratic institution, the newly constituted College of Teachers, on the professional teachers of B.C. has deflected their energies from the important objective of improving student achievement to an unproductive, and, in the opinion of the Board of School Trustees, unnecessary political wrangle with the provincial government. The board encourages your government to set aside the changes to the college and commence a process of engagement with the teachers, other college members, school boards, and the public, to determine, what, if any, changes should be made to the college in order to enhance the delivery of quality education to the children of British Columbia.

Anne Goyette, Chair, Board of Trustees, School District No. 27

An example of a motion is the following by the Nicola-Similkameen board:

"Move that School District 58 urge the Minister of Education, BCPSEA, BCCT, and BCTF to work together to address disagreements regarding new legislation governing BCCT before issues such as teacher fee payment affect students and learning."

The motion was passed unanimously, and it is interesting to note that the board includes Gordon Comeau, chair of BCSTA, and Gordon Swan, a director of BCPSEA.

Retired teachers
The B.C. Retired Teachers’ Association and the Canadian Association of Retired Teachers’ have sent their support as well as the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

B.C. Federation of Labour
The following motion of support will be considered at the B.C. Federation of Labour November 24–27, 2003:

  1. The B.C. Federation of Labour fully supports the BCTF in its efforts to lobby the provincial government and opposition parties to support the following amendments to the Teaching Profession Act:
  2. To provide for two-thirds of the members of the BCCT Council to be elected in a democratic manner by practising members of the college.
  3. To remove Section 27.1 in order to protect teachers’ constitutional freedom of association and freedom of expression under the labour code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  4. To limit the interference of the provincial government in the operation of the B.C. College of Teachers.
  5. To ensure that discipline citations are initiated only by a college discipline committee that has a majority of elected council members.
  6. To replace the provisions of the public complaints with the process contained in the Teaching Profession Act prior to Bill 51.
  7. To eliminate Section 21.h of the Teaching Professional Act which provides for the college to establish and maintain a system of continuing teacher education."

We have received letters of support from:

  • Jim Sinclair, president, B.C. Federation of Labour
  • Cindy Oliver, president, College Institute Educators’ Association
  • Fred Muzin, president, Hospital Employees’ Union
  • George Heyman, president, B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union
  • Cindy Stewart, president, Health Sciences Association
  • CUPE, Vancouver Island local.

The following labour councils have passed motions of support: Vancouver and District Labour Council, East Kootenay District Labour Council, and the Quesnel and District Labour Council.

Public support
More than three-quarters of British Columbians agree that teachers, not political appointees, should hold a majority of positions on the B.C. College of Teachers.

Seventy-seven percent of British Columbians agreed that teachers should have a majority of their representatives on the college. And, interestingly, more than 74.4% of Liberal supporters agreed that teachers should have a majority.

"More than 78% of teachers have written letters in opposition to the college changes. More than 75% of British Columbians agree that her government has made a mistake by taking over the college. Almost 75% of Liberal supporters think she made a mistake. We are once again calling on Clark to meet with us because teachers believe that sitting down and talking face-to-face is the best way to solve any problem, whether it’s between children in the school yard, between parents and teachers, or even between citizens and government.

We are appealing to Ms. Clark to sit down and problem-solve with us," BCTF president Neil Worboys said.

Of more than 30 professional colleges in B.C., the teachers’ is the only one not governed by a majority of practitioners of that profession.

The province-wide poll was conducted October 1–9, 2003, by the Mustel Group and is accurate +/-4.4% at the 95% confidence level.

Parents/PAC support
A letter to the local Langley paper on October 21, 2003:

Dear Editor:

I teach my children that when they have conflicts with family or friends, it’s best to first work it out directly with that person.

Any therapist worth his or her salt would give the same advice. Anything other than that is creating a triangle, detrimental to any co-operative relationship.

Yet our education minister, Christy Clark, would like to see parents do just that ("Teachers raise ante in protest," October 14, 2003, The Langley Advance).

Bothered by something your child’s teacher did? Well, heck, then just take it to the top. Why try to resolve it simply and efficiently, directly with the teacher, when you can bypass the teacher, the principal, the district, and the entire school board, and go straight to the B.C. College of Teachers?

Why settle for molehills when you can have mountains?

And just to stir the pot up a little more so that we can all be "engaged" in this process, let’s fill the seats at the college with a majority of non-teachers. Isn’t the governing body of every other profession occupied by individuals not employed in that profession?

Oh, my mistake—that’s just Ms. Clark’s way of showing her "very deep respect for the professionalism of teachers."

This woman needs to give her head a shake. If I were a teacher, I’d withhold my professional fees too.

I have the utmost respect for the staff at my sons’ school, and am proud of the relationships I have formed between home and school. I, for one, will continue to approach my child’s teacher directly, if I have an issue, and only if it can’t be resolved that way will I take it to the next logical level, rather than leapfrog right to the top.

I’ll be damned if Christy Clark and her gang of idiots are going to dictate how I resolve problems between my child and a teacher.

Michele Lavery, Willoughby

The following letter was sent to Christy Clark from a school PAC, October 27, 2003:
It recently came to our attention that Bill 51 included significant changes to the Teaching Profession Act and the B.C. College of Teachers, and we would like to express our concerns regarding these changes. Aspiring to boost public confidence in the education system is an admirable goal but it appears that you have unwittingly set off in the opposite direction. The Province online poll published October 23, 2003, shows that 67.8% of the respondents said that the ability to bring complaints about teachers to the B.C. College of Teachers did not boost their confidence in the education system. We believe this is, in part, because of the sweeping changes you have initiated with the BCCT.

As a result of these changes, a number of our teachers have asked the Maple Ridge School District not to deduct the $90 BCCT membership fees from their pay cheques. Membership implies that one has the ability to have some influence over, or say in, the matters of the group you are associated with. As you have summarily removed this ability, we agree fully that they should not be required to pay these fees and are sending a copy of this letter to the board of School District 42 in support of their request.

While professional colleges have historically been governed by a majority elected from among their peers, the BCCT will now operate with a minority of elected professional members and a majority of cabinet appointments. We are of the opinion that registering a complaint to a board that is unfamiliar with the practical applications of teaching will cause more problems than it will solve. Would it be appropriate to ask a teacher to determine if a doctors’ medical treatment of a patient was suitable? Of course it wouldn’t. How could they possibly know; they are not doctors. So how can you deem it appropriate for a majority of political appointees to determine whether or not a teacher’s actions are acceptable? They have never taught.

One of our members was especially upset as she had read that part of the college’s mandate was stated as being "to solicit" complaints, not "to address" them. While we applaud the move to allow parents to correspond directly with the college, we are dismayed that it is encouraged as the first step, not the last resort, as it should be.

The parents and teachers in our school, along with many others that we are familiar with, enjoy a rapport based on respect, trust, and a common goal to do what is best for "our" children. We are worried that we will lose this collaborative effort as a great number of teachers have expressed reticence about participating in open and honest dialogue with parents for fear that if something is taken the wrong way, they will immediately be reported to the college. Misunderstandings are not uncommon when people are engaging in verbal communication, especially if, for example, the parent of an unruly child is being asked to participate in problem solving. Parents often hear with their hearts, not their heads. It will be daunting for a teacher to address such an issue knowing that if there is even the perception of a problem, they may be reported without first being given the chance to clear things up with further dialogue. Legislation that erodes the trust and communication we have built up over the years cannot possibly be seen as a positive step.

At a district level, we have achieved successful relationships with our teachers and administrators based on mutual trust and respect. If your goal is truly to instill parental trust in our education system as a whole, your first step should be to foster that same environment between your ministry and our teachers. The shortage recently experienced in Ontario due to the adversarial nature of the relationship between teachers and their government was a disgrace and it is too high a price for our children—our future—to pay. Accordingly, we respectfully ask that you reconsider the request of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation for amendments to Bill 51.

Terrie-Leah Kovesdi, Alexander Robinson Elementary School PAC Executive.

Faculty association support
Excerpt from a letter delivered to the Cranbrook District Teachers’ Association:

"The College of the Rockies Faculty Association would like to lend our support in your struggle to oppose the effects of Bill 51 and the amendments it made to the Teaching Profession Act.

"This draconian piece of legislation has created a College of Teachers that is no longer accountable to the taxpayers of this province, to the teachers who are expected to pay the bills, or to the students in your classrooms. Most professional governing bodies in this province have at least 2/3 of their members elected from within the profession. We believe that teachers should be represented on their professional body in at least the same proportion. We support you and all members of the BCTF in your fight to keep our public education system student focused and accountable."

Velma McKay, president,
College of the Rockies Faculty Association

Vancouver secondary administrators speak up

A letter to Tarry Grieve, the chairperson of the college council:

I am writing on behalf of the Vancouver Association of Secondary School Administrators to express our initial response to the legislated changes to the College of Teachers. As you are aware, we are a separate and distinct organization from the B.C. Principals’ and Vice Principals’ Association, and therefore wish to address our concerns directly to you.

We have reviewed the legislation and the recently released Strategic Plan of the college council, and are concerned that there appears to be a conflict with our basic beliefs in representation, professionalism, and due process. We, as an organization of educational administrators, uphold the following principles, which should be embedded in any structure that governs our profession.

  • The governing college council should be representative of, and accountable to, the members of the College of Teachers. The majority should be elected by members and should include a provision which ensures school administrators’ representation.
  • Existing processes at the school district level governing employer/employee relationships should not be suspended by college regulations.
  • Processes used in initiating and investigating professional conduct and practices of members should be respectful of the dignity, confidentiality and the rights of the individual involved; initiation of any question of the performance should first, and primarily, be addressed at the local level.
  • Members should have the opportunity to take responsibility for their professional growth, recognizing their individual, rather than prescribed, learning needs.

We would appreciate an opportunity to clarify and explore these issues with you directly. Therefore we are requesting a meeting with you and other representatives of the college council at your earliest convenience. I can be reached at Templeton Secondary School (604-713-8984) or geadie@vsb.bc.ca. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Grace Eadie, president, Vancouver Association of Secondary School Administrators

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

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