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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 1, September 2007

Teachers working on call and seniority callout

By Kendra Litke

The duty of a union is to advocate equally for all of its members. The BCTF is working to ensure that all of its members have seniority rights that provide security. There are more than 6,000 teachers working on call who do not have the same degree of seniority as do teachers working on contract.

Why seniority callout?

Objectivity—Seniority is the backbone of any union. TOCs now accumulate seniority. With a teacher-request callout system, individual teachers have the power to decide which of their colleagues will or will not be earning seniority. This is clearly contrary to union principles.

Contract teachers rely upon seniority to supply some degree of fairness in filling vacant positions. Seniority attempts to remove favouritism and nepotism in a process where a teacher’s livelihood is at stake. When a contract teacher expresses a preference for one TOC over another, there is none of the transparency, accountability, and due process for the non-requested TOC that contract teachers have come to expect. Contract teachers rightly demand a seniority-based process for filling vacant positions; so too, do TOCs.

Professionalism—Teachers working on call are hired on the basis of qualifications and experience in the same manner as contract teachers. Research done in 2005 clearly shows that TOCs in BC have the same level of education and experience as contract teachers. For contract teachers to express a preference among TOCs undermines the professionalism of all. For, if TOCs, with equivalent experience and qualifications, can be placed in classroom positions without adequate rationale, why can’t contract teachers be hired and replaced in the same manner?

Ethics—Contract teachers do not have their teaching performance openly ranked or evaluated by their colleagues. The selection of one TOC over another implies that a contract teacher has evaluated the performance of a TOC and either approves or disapproves of their methodology. The practice of selecting one TOC over another raises ethical concerns.

Union solidarity—Under a teacher-request system, TOCs must compete with each other on a daily basis in order to make a living. This actively undermines union solidarity. The teacher-request or preferential system sets up an informal, yet powerful, employer/employee relationship between colleagues. In a local where contract teachers pick "the best" TOCs, and where TOCs are forced to compete with each other to be the chosen, there is no incentive for those TOCs who are successfully competitive and focussed on their own survival to ally themselves with collegues.

Social justice—In order to get work, TOCs are forced to "market" themselves to their peers. The necessity of selling oneself to ones own colleagues undermines the dignity of the individual as well as the profession. Contract teachers expect objective evaluation and fair treatment from their employer. What teachers demand from their employer, teachers should practise themselves.

Why not a preferential callout system?

Is "teacher-request" callout necessary to provide continuity of service to our students?

Seniority callout does not mean TOCs are assigned regardless of experience and qualifications. As with contract teachers, TOCs fill vacancies according to both seniority and qualifications. TOCs in the classroom must have the necessary qualifications to do the job. A seniority/qualification-based callout system may even result in a more consistent quality of teaching than a teacher-request/preferential callout system as with the latter individual teachers may make a subjective judgment on qualifications that include nepotism and friendship networks.

Continuity of service to students is a responsibility shared by the TOC, the principal, and the contract teacher. It is the responsibility of administration to ensure that all TOCs called into a classroom are qualified to be there. The contract teacher ensures continuity by providing adequate day plans and notes on daily procedures and individual students. TOCs ensure continuity of service by using professional judgment and integrity in following the day plan. Although it may take a little longer for the contract teacher to supply adequate instruction for an unknown TOC, the time spent is a small price to pay for an investment in professionalism.

Numerous days away from a position does not necessarily mean that different TOCs are called. If a teacher is aware of a number of days that they will be absent, all the absences can be booked at the same time to ensure the same TOC. If the contract teacher is consistently absent a part-time assignment should be posted.

Why not an objective rotational callout system?

Although a rotational-callout system may address some of the concerns that arise with a teacher-request system, TOCs still have no assurance of an objective seniority accumulation process.

By extension, if the BCTF accepts that 15% if its members, teachers working on call, are assigned rotationally, so then should contract teachers be re-assigned each month or term.

Kendra Litke is the chair of the BCTF Teacher On Call and Underemployed Teacher Advisory Committee.

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