Last year, I ran for school trustee in Penticton, falling one position short of winning. Through the process, I met other trustees, the superintendent of schools, teachers, principals, parents, students, the union, MLAs and many citizens in my district.
One thing that really stood out is how much anger there still is in the school system, even though the teachers’ strike is over.
It is disheartening to see teachers (not all mind you) going to work angry — angry at past deals, the strike, the current deal and the union’s court battle with the provincial government. How tiring it must be to go to work like that every day.
What I see ahead of us in B.C.’s school system is not a few years of labour peace but a just more years of fighting, anger and gearing up for the next fight.
I asked many teachers during my campaign if their union, and in particular, B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker spoke for them, if he was the voice of them. For a few he was, but for many it was a resounding no.
So I researched; how does the head of the teachers’ union get elected?
I was surprised to learn that each teacher doesn’t get a vote in picking their union president. Instead, they elect representatives who then elect the head of the union.
This got me thinking; what type of teacher gets elected as a local union representative? Usually, it’s an intelligent, passionate teacher who is extremely angry at the provincial government and has been groomed to continue the fight. I hear perfectly reasonable people calling Premier Christy Clark a criminal — or worse.
It made me wonder, what if the teachers’ union was led by a collaborative communicator? If the provincial government continued to be combative with such a teachers’ union leader, it would run a high risk of not being re-elected. That would force the provincial government to switch to collaborative communication, too.
I understand, given their history, that there is a lack of trust between the province and the BCTF, but we have to start somewhere.
I have asked my children, how do teachers solve an argument or a fight on the playground, do they ask who started it? They said, no way. So what if the teachers’ union and the province took this advice and forget who started it. The past is the past; both sides need to focus on a long term vision of collaborative communication, working together for the betterment of education in B.C. and the students.
For teachers, imagine going to work every day knowing that your employer is not fighting or angry with you, but instead supportive and helping you to grow and be happy in your job.
I encouraged teachers I met to focus on electing as their union president a positive communicator who can separate the anger and emotions and focus on what really matters.
Many said, “I don’t want to get involved, I just want to teach.” I understand that. But if the majority of teachers don’t believe that their union is speaking for them then something needs to be done.
Over a few years, if enough union representatives took a positive outlook, the attitude of the entire teachers’ union could change. If a leader with a positive, collaborative attitude were elected, I am almost certain that the negotiation style of the province would be different.
Teachers could set an example for other unions in the province on how to communicate better. We all know that if two sides collaborate rather than fight, everyone gets more (except the lawyers, of course).
Let’s all focus on the future of our children, not the past and maybe we can avoid a strike and focus on making the B.C. school system the best it can be.
Keith MacIntyre, a professional engineer, small business owner and the father of two boys in elementary school, ran unsuccessfully for Penticton school board last year.