How do you place a value on our teachers?

Does our society value teachers? Does our government here in B.C. value teachers and education?

Does our society value teachers? Does our government here in B.C. value teachers and education?

I have been asked a few times over the last several days, “Why are teachers asking for a raise?”

Teachers are trying to negotiate a contract with the government, and salary is an issue in any negotiation. However, teachers are asking for the government to put funding and protections back into education that they took out.

But since I was asked the salary question I will answer it.

One way the salary question is answered is via comparison with other jobs, teachers in other provinces and places, and the working conditions of these jobs.

In Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and other jurisdictions, teachers have higher salaries than they do in B.C. As well, in those provinces teachers have more time devoted to preparation, planning and designing lessons for all their students, including those with special needs.

An examination of other professions (pharmacists, nurses, health care technicians and others) that require five or six years of university training and specialized certification, shows that in B.C., teachers are paid less at the starting level and throughout their career. (I am not suggesting those professions are overpaid.) Couple this with the reality that many teachers go on and complete a master’s degree, at huge personal expense, which requires an additional two years of university training.

The teachers’ contract expired on June 30, and the number one issue for teachers is class sizes and composition of classes, which includes how many students with special needs are in each class and how much support is given to those students. Although every negotiation around an employment contract includes salary (I can’t think of any time an individual or group enters a job and the topic of salary doesn’t come up, yet there are those who seem to subscribe to the belief that no one deserves a raise … except them) there are many issues that are of major concern to teachers.

Currently in Okanagan-Skaha there are classes with 31 students, and nine of those students have special needs. There are elementary grade classes with 30 students and with seven or more students with special needs. Teachers had protections for class sizes once, but they were stolen.

In the late 1990s B.C. teachers agreed to a contract with no salary increases because, through negotiations, they were able to get class size limits, and ratios for how many librarians, ESL teachers, special education teachers and counsellors were in schools.

Teachers agreed to no salary increase to secure better conditions for students, and better learning environments. In 2002, these legally negotiated limits were ripped out of the contract by the BC Liberal government. In 2011, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that this was an illegal act.

Further, the court heard evidence that the government took $275 million from the education system (by cutting the number of teachers and pushing classes sizes to ridiculous levels) in 2002. The government did take that money, and has under funded education ever since.

Teachers deserve to be paid a good salary just as all workers, labourers, trades people and professionals do. But, the first statement teachers made when they came to the table to negotiate a new contract was not “We want a great big raise.”

Teachers want class size limits restored and funding for the system restored. Without the funding for students we run the very real risk of our public education system failing to meet the needs of our kids. There has been 10 years of massive under funding.

The best public education systems in the world have highly qualified teachers, small class sizes, and pay their teachers well. In B.C. we have one out of three.

Kevin Epp, president


Okanagan-Skaha Teachers’ Union