Teacher Stress Song
Marion Runcie, Maureen MacDonald, Geoff Peters 1981
BCTF President Al Blakey requested a song to “kick off” the BCTF Full Bargaining Rights campaign in 1981. At that time we were not a union and we were expressly prohibited by the School Act, from negotiating with School Boards, all conditions of employment. We were legally “Associations”. Bargaining was limited to Salaries and Bonuses (meaning medical and dental plans). Seniority, Layoff, Preparation Time, Class Size, Professional Development, Autonomy etc were not negotiable. Despite these prohibitions, three locals had earlier achieved Learning Conditions Contracts (Burnaby, Vancouver and Coquitlam)
In 1981 Geoff was President of the Coquitlam Teachers’ Association, Marion was President of the Burnaby Teachers’ Association and Maureen was Member at Large on BCTF Executive (later a Vancouver Elementary President). They compiled a list of all the “hassles” that make teaching harder—based on their personal experience, or from dealing with concerns or complaints from fellow teachers. Everything in the song really happened to a BC teacher.
The song outlines the stresses of teaching and offered a solution: full bargaining rights. Before unionization we had to go “begging and pleading” to the School Board for changes and improvements. The School Boards had the power to decide their own budgets, set tax levels and implement programs that the local community supported, but they were not legally required to negotiate with teachers. That did not stop us from trying. At the Board table we were rebuffed: “We can’t negotiate that. It’s not considered negotiable in the Public School Act.”
There are dated references and acronyms in the song that need explanation: WLC is Working and Learning Conditions. Many compulsory “canned” teaching programs were presented as paths to teacher effectiveness and as imposed “Professional Development.” Examples referenced are ITIP (Instructional Theory Into Practice), Mastery Learning, Project TEACH and TET (Teacher Effectiveness Training). Form J was an annual required form that was the official record of student numbers for each class. “The Act” refers to the legislation that prevented teachers from unionizing or negotiating for all conditions of employment.
After a lot of effort by teachers, we achieved full scope of local bargaining including the right to strike. We wanted to negotiate class size, class composition, support for students with special needs, maternity/parenthood leave, preparation time, professional development, and all conditions of work, because teachers are of course concerned about “more than just pay”. Local teacher negotiators made huge gains when we voted to unionize and bargained directly with our School Boards. Since then, of course, we were forced into provincial bargaining, and then in 2002 our contracts were stripped. We now await the results of our legal appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Teacher Stress Song concludes with “a message from our sponsor”, that the only solution for teacher stress is to teachers to get involved in your local teacher union and work for continued improvements.