Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Citizens, We Need You

Well, here we are, with a deal to vote on. We're climbing up out of the trenches, dusting ourselves off, holding our noses against the stench of manipulation, and voting. We'll vote yes, but it won't be an overwhelming yes.

Throughout all of this, I've been tremendously optimistic. I'm an idealist - always have been - and I believe in the moral fight. The courageous stand. The battle for what is right and good. And this: this has been that fight. The question, of course, is, "Did we win?"

We didn't lose. We didn't see our union destroyed or our voices silenced. We didn't see our membership split and angry. We didn't get yet another series of zeroes in wage increases. We didn't have to picket into October. We didn't lose our homes or starve. And I guess that's good. None of those are things I wanted to see happen, and they didn't, so I guess that's good.

Why, then, I'm asking myself, do I feel so demoralized? I'm asking myself this, because when many were feeling discouraged, I was not, and now, here I am. Why do I feel like a beloved pet just died? And I think, slowly, I'm beginning to understand the answer.

The answer is, I was fighting for something that was bigger than this battle. I was fighting for children, democracy, and fairness. I was fighting against vilification, lies and poverty. I might as well have been fighting for world peace, and frankly, I'd've liked to have seen that, too. But this was a little fight, in a little province in a big country, in a big world, and I was never going to win world peace. I was never going to get what I was fighting for - not today, not tomorrow, and probably not in my lifetime. I wanted solutions. I wanted all of the pieces to be fitted together and neatly edged. I wanted to know I had achieved what I set out to achieve, and it turns out, that was never possible.

On Monday, or whenever I'm told to do so, I will go back to school and resume my role as a good little soldier in the war against ignorance. I'll bring 'my' kids into class, and I'll welcome them, and I'll hear their stories of summer and travel, and I'll care about them, and together we'll learn and work and do and at the end of the year we'll have an exciting three day field trip, just the way we always do. At the end of the year, they won't have had more space, smaller classes, or better equipment. They won't have had greater access to counselling or better support systems. They won't, in fact, notice any difference between the school they left, and the one to which they return. Down here on the ground, nothing much will change. And I was fighting for change, because change is desperately needed. So it should be no surprise, that I'm feeling sad.

But one thing is new. The difference, now, is that we are talking about it. Parents know about it. Grandparents know about it. People in the streets and offices and shops know about it. They know, now, that we have been propping up a faltering system for years. They know that we have collectively purchased millions of dollars of the equipment and materials that they see on the school shelves. They know that children can't get timely assessments, and can't get counselling, and aren't being provided EA time or technology that they urgently need. People know about it, and the conspiracy of silence is over. For that, I truly am, deeply grateful.

So here's the thing: don't stop listening. Please, please, please, don't forget. The outpouring of support from so very many people has been unprecedented, and amazing. And I am begging you, keep hearing, keep pushing, and keep helping, because what has happened here, has not solved the problem. It won't even change the face of the problem, unless the mothers, fathers, grandparents, business people and citizens continue to stand with us and help us to effect change.

We could, and we did, hold the line. But we cannot hold up the system. Not any more, not without help. We need the village to step in, and together, we will hold each other. Citizens, you are needed. Each and every one of you is needed, to give the children a change they will notice. Please stand with us, and keep hearing us, and together we will raise our standards and our children.

Together we will raise the bar.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Today and Tomorrow: Healing and Teaching

I had a lot of fun today. After some social activism, and attending a meeting of my local's Executive Committee, I got wind of a Liberal fundraiser over at a winery in Abbotsford. It turned out that members of some percentage a good deal smaller than my own (the 1%? 5%?) were paying $300 a plate to spend some dinner time with our Minister of Finance, Mike de Jong. A bunch of my colleagues and I from lower mainland and Fraser valley locals decided to go visit all of these wealthy BC Liberals and give them the opportunity to see what kind of people teachers are, up close and personal.

When we arrived, we found four security guards carefully watching and ensuring that the BMWs and Mercedes and sports cars were guided to their appropriate place on the spacious winery grounds. We assembled ourselves on the shoulder of the road outside, and began waving at the cars going by. Careful to avoid the winery property, and quick to move away from the bike path when needed, we set about donning picket signs, chatting, and greeting everyone we saw. I was in a particularly cheerful mood, and soon all of us were laughing and enjoying ourselves. Make no mistake, we were and are, deadly serious about our desire for a just, compassionate settlement to this strike; one that includes fair treatment for teachers and a strong, working, public school system for children. But sometimes, when in increasingly dire straits, people will show that delightful tendency to stare down their fears and wither them with laughter. Tonight was such a night.

As cars drove past, and we waved, and received more and more honks, thumbs up, and returned waves, our ebullience grew. Our smiles became wider and our enthusiasm, greater. Motorists responded. In conservative Abbotsford, many of the waves were tentative, but we soon noticed that people were smiling and enjoying our mood along with us. Sure, we had the occasional person stare straight ahead, but increasingly our fun became contagious.

We had a lot of fun!
Naturally, some repartee developed. We began to talk about how much we miss teaching, and to wonder how 'our' kids were doing. Before long, we were joking about being, 'teaching addicts', and we started begging some of the cars driving by to stop so that we could get a 'fix' of teaching! The drivers, of course, couldn't hear us, but they smiled and waved and honked, just the same. Pretty soon we were begging each other to let us teach everyone we saw. We took real joy in thinking about the fun, the good times, and the fulfillment we so often experience when in a room full of other people's children.

At one point, the lady from the driveway across the road came out to put out her trash. She indicated that she had questions, so I went over to chat with her. Her first remark was, "I thought teachers were just 9-3?" She wasn't accusing, just bemused. I explained that we wanted to help the current government understand the importance of the issues of under funding in the public education system, and that, as with our jobs, we were more than happy to take on tasks outside of school hours. She was supportive and receptive, so we chatted a bit longer, and then I rejoined my colleagues.

After awhile, the participants in the fancy dinner began to leave. Happily, even joyously, we waved, wished them a lovely evening, and exhorted them to drive safely. With only two exceptions, they waved and grinned as they drove away. One nattily dressed gentleman responded, when I remarked that I hoped he'd had a nice dinner, "I didn't eat anything at all!" "Oh!" I said, "They're starving you, too?" That brought quite a lot of hilarity from my companions. And all the while, there were cheerful background pleas to, "Please, let us teach! We just want to teach!"

Here I am, begging to teach!
As the day faded and twilight closed in, we began to discuss our departure, although Mr. de Jong had yet to make an appearance. We thought that he might be using a different exit, to avoid our rabble rousing. A couple of the security guards began to chat with us, and their smiles let us know that they were grateful for our peaceful, good natured approach. One even expressed his worry that as it got dark, we might be at risk of being hit by the quite speedy traffic. Before we left, though, Mr. de Jong and his blue Miata convertible made their appearance. The car top was up, but we were hard to miss, and even he smiled and waved at us. Only when he drove by, did we become political, calling out politely but pointedly, "Children need food!" "Fund the schools!" and "Arbitration!" The moment was fleeting, as he never slowed his car, and once he was gone, we said our goodbyes. There were hugs, and emails exchanged, and talk of a pub night some time when we can afford it, and we went our various ways.

It wasn't a huge demonstration; there were no speeches, no performers, clever posters or passionate marches. It was, however, a really lovely experience, and it taught everyone something. The people we waved and smiled at, began to see us as the ordinary citizens we are, instead of the selfish, greedy, demons this government would have them believe. The wealthy BCLiberal supporters, disarmed by our smiles, began to make eye contact, and to wave. No longer was it possible, for most of them, to maintain the fiction of, 'us' and 'them'. For those of us out there, from four thirty to eight, waving and laughing on a brisk September evening, it was a chance to live the profound truth of the words of the amazing Jack Layton:
"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world."
We didn't change the world tonight. We were just a small band of lively, passionate teachers who want, more than anything, to return to teaching in schools with the staff and resources to allow us to do our jobs well. We didn't change the world, but we did make a difference. For a few hours, we met disdain with joy, and we lived the determination that we have learned every day in our classrooms. That is the patient persistence that makes us teachers, and that is the passion for life that makes us love children.

That is why we cannot be crushed. We are teachers, and there is no profession more loving, hopeful and optimistic. Today, we hold the line to heal public education. And tomorrow, or next week, or next month; then, we will teach.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Talk at Tricities Youth Rally

Here is what I had to say on September 7th at the Tricities Youth Rally in Coquitlam. I was asked to provide information and perspective on some of the impacts of cuts to education in British Columbia. I'm not very slick with Blogger yet, so please excuse the poor formatting until I work out how to get it right.

The beginning of the talk was cut off, so I'll just let you know that I began by saying that my purple hair is in honour of my status as an endangered species: a British Columbia Special Education Teacher.