Contributed by Christine
Friday morning, October 7, 2005, 7:00 a.m. saw a group of teachers gathering outside of their Langley school. There was an uncomfortable air about the group, with nervous chatter and laughter interspersed with the somber reason for the gathering. They were the first of three picket shifts to bring attention to the BC Teacher's Strike.
Discomfort and nervousness are appropriate emotions since walking a picket line is contrary to a teacher's core sense of beliefs. We are nurturers and lovers of children who have chosen careers in hopes of developing students into productive and unique citizens. Teachers firmly believe that children can attain anything they wish. As our school motto states: 'Attitude Determines Altitude'.
The story behind this picket line began when 90.5% of educators voted for immediate job action against an unjust working contract. Unjust for several reasons: the contract is neither negotiated nor collective, and is definitely not in agreement with teachers' wishes. Furthermore, this contract was imposed on us by a newly-elected 'slash and burn' government who ripped up the previous contract, after promising that they would do no such thing throughout their election campaign.
When that percentage of educators, especially in conservative Langley, vote for job action, one can be assured there are issues strong to educators' hearts at stake, specifically students' learning environments. At present, teachers put in very long hours (an average 10 hour day is the norm) attempting to overcome our limiting contract to ensure that all students' needs are met. An impossible goal, but one that is pursued nonetheless.
Which brings me back to the teachers on the picket line. There are many educators present who would definitely be considered non-radical (and to some extent union oblivious) yet here they are, strapping on picket signs because they believe they are doing the right thing for their students. This is a selfless act, no glory or personal reward.
As parents, strangers, or passers-by voice their support, it helps rally the picketers' morale. Even the administrators come out with beverages and food to show empathy and understanding. They understand the situation imposed on teachers.
Then it happened - the group of teachers who had been thrown together to oppose unfair learning conditions were quickly united due to one teacher making his own stand. This so-called colleague did not show up for picket duty, but rather to go to work. Mr. K arrived at 8:15 am, averting his eyes to avoid the stares of disbelief and entered the school. He emerged only once, at 3:15 to head to his car to return home.
As he was pulling out, I asked him what on earth was he doing. To which he replied vaguely, ‘everyone has their own reasons.’ I simply responded, fine, but when we negotiate a fair contract, be sure to turn down any progress we've made. Stay with the large classes, the lack of support and the lower pay. Mr. K. does not have to picket if he is against that - he'll simply not receive the paltry strike pay that the rest of us receive. There is no reason for this man to spend a full day in school. It's not like he's in the position to engage in a day's worth of planning, marking, or whatever, as his job does not entail that much paperwork.
Mr. K. showed up again the next ‘school’ morning, same time, same aversion of eyes.
Then it occurred to me that although we may feel like fish out of water doing such blatant job action, Mr. K. in his odd way, has brought us together in 100% agreement. He has created a common ground for a large staff that does not always have things in common. Mr. K., by insulting us (through his daily presence), has made us realize that we are a solid, unified collective of teachers. We are united in our disgust and disappointment with both the government's refusal to bargain, and our one teacher who puts his own needs above those of our students, their parents, and most importantly, his colleagues.
So despite the initial discomfort and awkwardness about standing in a strike zone, we now realize that our presence demonstrates solidarity against legislative bullying. And thanks to Mr. K. we have also realized how united, like-minded, and cohesive a staff we are, with exception of course, of one lone figure.