Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thank You, CMS

First, I want to say I’m sorry; I know this isn’t the way you wanted your year to end, in confusion and chaos, with really only one day’s notice that the end of the year is upon us.  I mean, your summer holidays start early, and you don’t have to write your final exams, so it’s not all bad, I guess, but this is not the way your year, and for some of you your time at middle school, should end.  You don’t deserve how this year is ending, and I wish it were different.
Next, I want to say congratulations on getting through another year of school.  Success is different for everyone, and I know that each and every one of you were able to celebrate a number of successes through the year.  Maybe it was straight As, maybe it was a victory on the rugby field or basketball court, and maybe it was getting through the year, and passing.  I hope I was able to help you achieve some of those successes, or at least not get in the way of you reaching them.  I know I have a lot to learn as a teacher, but you can trust that my effort and intentions were always there, even if my skill sometimes wasn’t.
I want to say thank you, for being (mostly) very patient with me as I figured out how to do this amazing, exhausting, rewarding, at times frustrating job.  Early on in the year, before I really knew any of you, I wasn’t sure that would be the case; there were some issues, as there always will be, and while I handled them the best I could, I wasn’t sure it would be good enough to get through the year.  Some of you can be very challenging at times… you know who you are. The real breakthrough for me came when, at the end of a kinda rough day, I mentioned in one of my classes that the reception for subs can sometimes be rocky; the response I got (“well yeah, but you’re not a sub, you’re our teacher”) was more important than to me than you will ever know.  I may have thanked you for it already; I will again tomorrow, just to make sure.  Crossing the line from sub to teacher was a big step.
As the year went on, I came to know those of you I taught better, and, gradually, even more and more of you; those in my classes, those who I coached, even those of you who I just came in contact with in the halls, or the gym, or my classroom.  A goal at the start of the year was to become part of the school community, and I think that is the goal I was most successful with:  thank you for helping me with that.
To those of you moving on to high school, I wish you the best of luck.  I had a number of discussions with other teachers this year about what a great group of grade 9s we had; not sure you heard that very often, but I think you should, one last time.  I taught most of you, came to know many more, and you went from the grade that I most nervous about teaching to the one I was most comfortable with.  You will probably not get a final awards ceremony, or success assembly, as you deserve, but again, that is through no fault of your own.  You’re caught in the middle.  It sucks.  I’m sorry.
To those of you back at CMS next year, I hope to see you there.  I have no idea what will happen this summer, but hopefully, if things fall into place, I will find a way to be back there teaching next year.  Have more things that bring a smile to my face, like Dang-it or literally, like Gandalf or 666, and find a new April Fool’s joke to play on you.  It got more difficult as the year went on; you started to realize, sometimes, that I wasn’t serious, that the surprise quizzes, or changed due dates were simply to mess with you.  You put a smile on my face every single day; I hope I was often able to do the same for you.

It’s been an awesome year, and I’m not going to let the terrible way it is ending diminish that.   
Thank you, CMS

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Why I Will Vote Yes

I’m no expert on the BCTF, labour law, or any type of union negotiations.  It’s very possible that my take on this entire process is na├»ve, or misguided, or just plain wrong. I sincerely hope that the people in charge of negotiations on our side are judging the situation much better than I am, and that the results of our current struggle are going to be very different than I am afraid they are.  Perhaps the purpose of the strike vote is to get another strong mandate from the union, to show the government that we are united in willing to fully walk off the job.  I hope so, because the alternative seems like a fatal mistake to me.
The gist of the Griffin case that the government shocked and horrified so many by appealing (and I never got that.  With so much money on the line, and so much face for them to lose with that decision, of course they were going to appeal. They had no other option.) was that the government was negotiating in bad faith, that their entire strategy was to stall, delay, and frustrate the BCTF into an all-out strike.  This was their end-game, the thing that they most of all wanted us to do.  Do we really think that has drastically changed in any of the negotiations since?
To me, it didn’t seem like the Phase One strike mode we were in was doing much… no emails, no meetings, not much change and not much impact.  If that were the case, however, then why did the government take the unprecedented step they took with the lockout?  It was a drastic, confrontational action that seemed illogical, vindictive and poorly thought out.  I now still believe the latter two points (are we finished with the clarifications yet?), but with how things have played out since, I’m starting to understand the logic of it.  Escalate, increase pressure, take the initiative.  Be in control.  What I didn’t get at the time was that the action could do nothing but increase teachers’ resolve, make us more unified… wasn’t that counter-productive to the government’s side in this?  Perhaps, unless they don’t think they will break us this time, but instead just want to beat us into submission.  Then, a unified union (redundant?) is exactly what they want… a strike will just come sooner.
I hate… no, I HATE, the idea of striking for so many reasons, especially at this time of year.  Mid-June should be a celebration of the just completed year for the younger grades, and that vital prep time for stressful and important final exams for the older ones.  These are kids we have worked our asses off for, and with, for nine months, and they deserve better than having us walk out in the last few days of the school year.  This is my first year of teaching, my first time having my kids (and they have become, in so many ways, my kids) for an entire year, and I have come to realize that I love the job, and I have a knack for it.  I’m not a great, or in some ways even a good, teacher yet, but the potential is there, and it will come with experience. I don’t want to end my year like this… but at this point, where are right now, I don’t think we have any choice.
There is a lot of talk on Twitter right now about what a No vote would mean; and I think that some of the more militant members of the BCTF are doing themselves, and their colleagues, a disservice with how coercive and, at times, bullying, they are coming across.  People who vote no will do so because they don’t believe a strike is in our best interests, in their students’ best interests, in the best interests of the public education system that you have to care about if you work in it.  I seriously considered it, and in many ways believe it would be the right thing to do; but I won’t.
As bad as a unified strike will be for our cause, in my opinion, it would be infinitely worse to have our union split down the middle over what we should do.  A weak mandate, widespread dissension within the union, in-fighting even as we are in the midst of a bigger battle, and we are done for.  Now is not the time to eat our own.  There will be questions once this is said and done, about the leadership, about our strategy, about where our money has gone to, but this is not the time to ask those questions.  I am rarely a pessimistic person, but in this moment, with these negotiations, I am there.  As Ben Franklin so aptly put it, we must all hang together, or we will surely hang separately.  I think our options now are a strike and imposed settlement, or a broken union.  I sincerely hope I’m wrong.
And it is not just our union’s future that is at stake here, make no mistake.  This government has mounted a systematic attack on the public education system, and we who provide it.  If we let them push forward their agenda, unchecked, the results to our public school system will be devastating.  It is no coincidence that Christy Clark’s son goes to private school; it is no coincidence that our current Minister of Education once said that the BCTF should get out of education.  They are not looking to make a deal here.  They are looking to break us.

I am no longer hopeful that any deal will be reached at the table, with the current situation.  We have handled the endgame poorly, and have taken a stand at a time I don’t think we should have.  That said, our options are limited.  We can strike, and deal with whatever comes from that, or we can split down the middle, and face the end of our union.
Better beaten than broken.  I will vote Yes.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

I know...

I’ll never forget the day I got the phone call that every parent dreads.  Lizzie has to go into emergency right now, it said… there’s a problem with her platelets.  I didn’t know much when I got that call, but I knew enough that an issue with her platelets could very possibly mean leukemia.  I know now there are worse words a parent can hear than that one (from second hand knowledge, thank… well, whoever it is you thank for that), but in that moment that was scary enough.
                We had noticed over the last few months that Lizzie seemed to bruise very badly, very easily, and the bruises seemed to linger longer than they should.  This came to a head when she slipped and fell while walking down a stone staircase, bruising herself very badly in the process; these bruises were very deep, and lasted far longer than seemed normal.  We finally took her in to get them checked out, and her doctor ordered blood tests.  It was these test results that caused that phone call; something wasn’t right, and in that moment it seemed like it could be very wrong.
                We figured out pretty quickly that while Lizzie’s condition was serious, it wasn’t nearly as bad as we initially feared.  Nights at the hospital were quickly unnecessary, and we began to spend time (more than we wanted, but less than so many others) at the BCCH Oncology/Hematology clinic, there for a few hours while Lizzie got her treatment.  We have been going there every three, or four, or five, weeks, as needed, for almost six years now, and that time there has made it clear that we are absolutely some of the lucky ones.  So many families, so many stories, all different and yet at the core all fundamentally the same; we do whatever we can, whatever we need to, to make our kids feel better.
                Over our time at BCCH, the stories of two families have stuck out for me, because of personal connections; these families are amazing, their stories tragic, and heartbreaking, and uplifting.   I won’t tell you their stories here;  if you want to read them, they can be found at these two links:  Jasper Mohan ( ) and Lilee-Jean Whittle-Putt ( )
                Jasper was, by every account I’ve ever heard, an amazing young man who could have done whatever he liked in this world; personable, well spoken, hard-working, and absolutely brilliant. He fit more into his 15 years than many will in a lifetime, a statement which sounds so trite, and yet in this case is accurate.  I never actually met Jasper; we were in the clinic at BCCH at the same time one day, and I intended to introduce myself, but he was so busy talking to nurses, and doctors, and parents, and other patients, that I never got a chance.  You could literally feel the room brighten when he walked in, and see the effect he had on so many people in such a short time; again, sounds trite, but true. Everyone knew him, everyone wanted to talk to him, and even then, with what would turn out to be only weeks left in his life, he was up to the challenge, and more.
                Lilee-Jean’s story is one that has hit a little closer to home; I know the family, not well, but as we do in a small town where your parents have taught virtually every kid to graduate in the last 30 years.  LJ has taken a turn for the worse in the last few days, and it looks like her story may be coming to an end all too soon.  All that is left to do now is pray, for those who do; I hope those prayers, of the countless people who are including LJ in theirs, are answered.  Children should not have to go through everything that this amazing, strong, resilient little girl has.
                As a parent, these stories hit a lot closer to home than they otherwise would.  You hug your child a little tighter, tell them you love them a little more often, check on them in the night one more time, as if these things will keep them safe from all the danger the world has to offer.  We do it because it is what we can do, and hope that by controlling what we can, we will keep them safe.
                I found out pretty early on that there were things beyond my control, that we can’t protect them from the dangers that lurk in their own bodies.  I am one of the lucky ones, though; my daughter is bright, and cheerful, and in almost every way perfectly healthy.  She is growing like a weed, growing up way too fast, and becoming more and more amazing each and every day.  Taller, cheekier, funnier, smarter; more her, more the person that she is going to become, and I am thankful every day that I get to see it.
Because I know what it’s like to get a phone call from the doctor, telling you that your perfect little child isn’t perfect, and there may be something terribly wrong.
I know what it’s like to sit on a hospital bed while doctors poke and probe your child, doing their best but scaring and hurting your child, with you unable to do a damn thing.
I know what it’s like to lay awake through the night in a hospital bed, your child sleeping beside you, while you wonder if tomorrow is going to be the day you get the bad news, even as you hope it will be good.
I know what it’s like to check on your child in the night, almost afraid to look because you are afraid something has gone wrong, something very specific and real.
I know all of these things and a million more, things that 9 years ago it never even crossed my mind that I would have to learn.  And in spite of knowing these things… no, that’s not right.  I think it’s even more because of these things I know, I know that when it comes to circumstances like this, I don’t know a single goddamn thing.
Andrew and Chelsey, my thoughts and prayers are with you.  Stephen and Barb, I am so sorry for your loss.