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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 4, January/February 2008

Teachers’ Congress features duelling agendas

This year’s Teachers’ Congress, billed as an opportunity for rank-and-file teachers to talk directly to the government, found government officials and teachers largely talking about different things. The congress, held November 30 and involving about 100 teachers from across the province, was tightly scripted by the education ministry to avoid any conflict between the government’s priorities and teachers’ classroom experience.

In her blog, Vancouver Sun education reporter Janet Steffenhagen, entitled her comments on the meeting "Controlling dissent at the annual Teachers’ Congress." She wrote: "Minister Shirley Bond and her officials set the agenda, focussing discussion on literacy, healthy schools, and Aboriginal learners. Funny—no mention of funding or standardized tests—the two issues that came up this morning when three teachers had a chance to speak during a question-and-answer session with BC regional chief Shawn Atleo."

But the script wasn’t always followed. According to Langley teacher Susan Fonseca (one of those selected randomly from teachers who sent in their names for consideration), conditions are so stressful it was inevitable that teaching conditions would come up. While they did come up, she’s not sure Minister Shirley Bond or other officials heard the concerns.

"I knew I had an important message to deliver to the government about the unmet needs of our students," said Fonesca. "I was disappointed when I arrived that the agenda was structured more as a day for professional development rather than the proposed open dialogue."

Unlike last year, when teachers had the opportunity to blast Premier Gordon Campbell for the broken promises of Bill 33, this year he was a no-show.

But teachers nonetheless made their views known. According to several who attended, teacher after teacher got up and explained the deterioration of learning conditions because of crowded classrooms, and little or no support for students with special needs. The situation is so bad that many districts no longer test students for fear of them being identified as having special needs. They know they don’t have the resources for the additional services required.

Another issue that highlighted the gulf dividing teachers from the ministry involved retention. Bond stated: "It’s a discussion we haven’t really engaged in as a sector over the last number of years, but it’s a pretty significant issue" and argued for retention. But teachers clearly disagreed.

"There is no research that supports retention," said Janice Neden of Kamloops Thompson district. "What we end up doing is punishing children."

– Murray Dobbin

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