EDITORIAL: The BCTF’s big gamble

BC Teachers' Federation stance on extra-curricular activities could affect the union's support among B.C. parents.

B.C. teachers are taking a big gamble by pulling out of sports and other extra-curricular activities.

While the intended target of their campaign is the provincial government — which they want to withdraw Bill 22, the document enforcing mediation and new class size and composition rules — what teachers are more likely to experience is strained relationships and a drop in public support.

Teachers, who have enjoyed strong parent support in their last two contract disputes, say they must take this action because the legal right to strike has been taken away from them. But few students and parents in the weeks ahead will be able to equate the loss or complication of planned school activities with larger issues the teachers seek to address.

If they wish to keep the public on their side, B.C. teachers will need a deft communications strategy to explain why collective bargaining principles are more important than an end-of-year field trip or tournament — or grad.

In School District 43, where class sizes are already kept to within acceptable standards and $3.1 million will be spent supporting vulnerable students, the teachers’ message may be even more muted.

What’s more, many, if not all, of these events will go ahead anyway, especially in the wealthier neighbourhoods, leaving teachers with less clout and fewer relationships on which to build strong bonds. With parents and other members of the community picking up the slack, teachers will be left out of the loop and out of the action; their students will go on with their lives, winning ribbons and scholarships and other acknowledgements without the teachers who helped them earn these achievements.

And for those students who struggle, there will be another reason to disengage when their favourite coach, choir or other sponsoring teacher stops giving their free time for political reasons or because they fear reprisals from their co-workers.

All this heartache would be worth it if there was some tangible pay-off in the end. But the public education system has never been perfect and teachers will be hard-pressed to explain how punishing kids is punishing the government.