Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014

Teachers News

The Big Squeeze

Some problems with 'flexibility'

Submitted by Paula Aquino, Chilliwack teacher


t appears that the stalemate in bargaining hinges upon what the government calls “flexibility”. Teachers (the BCTF) would like to see fixed numbers for class sizes and ratios for specialist teachers such as librarians and counsellors. The government (BCPSEA) doesn’t want numbers or ratios, which they claim do not meet the educational needs of students and are discriminatory to some students.


BCPSEA further claims here that these limits reduce the ability of “elected officials and senior educators” to make decisions and additionally, that “respectful collaboration and consultation” is the way to make these decisions.

So, let’s consider what this has actually meant in the classroom over the past 12 years. Now I’m speaking from my personal experience in two school districts, but if you peruse the multitude of articles, letters, and blogs on the Internet, you will see this experience is not just mine.

First, I will return prior to 2002. I teach Home Economics, and keep in mind that almost every shop and Home Economics laboratory in the province is designed and built to accommodate 24 students, even in new schools. At a time when many district contracts limited laboratory classes to 24, the language in the local contract where I worked read;


“The number of students in a laboratory or shop shall not exceed the number which can be accommodated safely.” This is the language of flexibility. Here is how this language was interpreted: Some schools in the district had lab class sizes of 24, plus or minus 2 (meaning up to 26), while other schools in the district had 30. What made the difference? It was decided by individual school principals. I’m not sure how a facility built for 24 is “safe” for 30 in some schools, but not in others?

Fast-forward to the years since 2002. Class sizes are now “limited” by a district average, meaning some classes may have 32 (or more) while others may have less, as long as the district average remains at or below 30. If classes are more than 30 or had more than a certain number of IEPs, according to the legislated contract, “consultations” between the teacher and principal were held. What was a consultation? Teachers expressed concerns about the ability to effectively promote learning, given class size and composition, and signed a paper to that effect, and the principal (constrained by budget and scheduling issues) signed that the class would proceed as it existed. “Consultation” was simply a process to rubber-stamp administrative decisions.

Do I think flexibility could be a good thing for government and administration? Yes. Largely because it saves them money, not so much because it is good for students. Do I think some flexibility would be a good idea. Actually, yes. Because I understand there are costs to be considered – what do you do when you have one extra student over 30? It doesn’t make sense to hire another teacher.

The problem is that given my experience, I have seen government and administrators use “flexibility” to create learning environments that have been at best frustrating for students waiting a long time for assistance or having their learning interrupted with behaviour issues, and at worst unsafe. When I see “flexibility”, for me, it means that some (not all) “elected officials and senior educators” take advantage of that language to create untenable classroom learning environments, and so I don’t trust it.

In the end, while I value “flexibility”, I don’t trust “elected officials” to use it to improve public education, and I don’t believe it protects students’ rights to the best possible education. I think there need to be some fixed numbers and ratios in a contract. And so, E.80 as it stands, is not something I can agree to, and I continue to stand for students and proper funding for quality public education in British Columbia.



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