What a difference a year makes, BCTF president Jim Iker said, standing before hundreds of union delegates in Kamloops for a summer convention.
“It sure was a different convention last summer,” Iker observed in TRU’s Grand Hall Thursday, recalling the long and frustrating teachers dispute that shut down schools in June and dragged on into September, delaying the start of school for more than 500,000 students.
On this date a year ago, there seemed to be little hope of even a mediated resolution to the labour dispute.
Iker spoke after keynote addresses by Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff, former BCTF president Irene Lanzinger and NDP education critic Rob Fleming, each one of them receiving a standing ovation as they criticized the B.C. Liberal government and railed collectively against the Harper government.
The BCTF president zeroed in on B.C. education concerns, including the introduction of a new K-9 curriculum this year. Iker said the changes bring greater flexibility to the classroom with fewer prescribed learning outcomes and increased ability for students to focus their studies.
“Teachers will continue to have a wide latitude to approach curriculum in different ways,” he said. “We still have concerns, though, as we go through these with government.”
Graduation requirements are undefined and core competencies lack clarity, he said. As well, curriculum updating comes under the government heading B.C. Education Plan, a name tainted by the bitter history of struggles between the union and the provincial government.
“We know what the BCEP was really about and that was about stripping our rights,” Iker said, alluding to the government’s refusal to allow class size and composition within collective bargaining.
Another union concern is the cost of implementing new curriculum, which is spread over three years, starting in September: “You talk about broken promises.” He said they were initially promised $3 million for curriculum implementation, well short of the $10 million. That has since dropped to “maybe $1 million,” but that too may be cut due to budget shortfalls.
At the same time the BCTF is trying to secure funding for professional development not currently covered by the province.
“We’re not going to accept any top-down management of professional development. We will support funding from government to enable any teacher from across the province who wants to access professional development when and where they want to.”
Iker began his speech with reference to the recently completed Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He thanked residential school survivors who shared their experiences of an education system that was used by state and church to commit cultural genocide.
Public education has a role to play in delivering on some of the 94 recommendations of Justice Murray Sinclair, he noted.
“We will continue to work in the classroom, to work together, building a new relationship based on understanding, respect and collective action.”
Then Iker turned his attention to Ottawa, urging delegates to remind members of the Conservative track record, emphasizing the Supreme Court of Canada.
“We’re depending on the Supreme Court in giving us that lead so we can take that case forward, so that we have collective bargaining in our province again, so that we can have class size and ratio built into the collective agreement.”
Yussuff, who immigrated to Canada from Guyana at age 16, was elected head of the CLC a year ago. He was the first in CLC history to unseat an incumbent president, that being former B.C. Federation of Labour president Ken Georgetti, its longest serving president.
"I understand fundamentally what you do as teachers and educators," said the father of a seven-year-old daughter. The BCTF has been a beacon for teachers elsewhere in the country, Yusseff added.
"You have a strong track record of fighting for public education. It's about time we had a government in this province that respected and understood that."