Letters: A teacher’s letter to the community

Journey Middle school teachers talks about reason for strike

Many of you may know me. I may have taught you, your kids, or someone you know. I have been a teacher at Journey Middle School for 12 years. In those 12 years, I have never felt compelled to write a letter to the newspaper.  Tonight, as I watch the news and listen to the radio, I feel like I owe it to you to let you know why I voted to escalate our job action.

If you are watching and listening to the media you undoubtedly are thinking teachers are walking out on Monday because we want a raise. Who doesn’t want a raise?  That would definitely be nice. However, I want you to know that I sat in a meeting today where the vast majority of teachers in the room agreed we would gladly take money off the table if the government were willing to negotiate on the issues we feel are the most important.

When I first started teaching I had 24 students in my class, and  three students with special needs. Over the last few years, those numbers have both increased alarmingly. In recent years I have had between 30-35 students, and up to nine students with special needs in one room.  This does not even include those undesignated students who are not working at grade level, or those with special social or emotional needs.  In order to cope with these increasingly challenging classes, I just work longer and harder.  I work with kids at lunch hour and after school, and I adapt and modify what I am teaching to try to reach as many students’ needs as possible. I don’t mind because I feel what I am doing is important and valuable, and worth it when I can help kids feel successful.

I teach math. In my classes I have to teach to multiple different levels and learning styles.  I can do it because I am passionate about math, and I just work longer and harder. I tutor at lunch and after school and I run around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to help those who need it, every single class. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out that in a class of 30 or more, in a 50-minute period, with a 20-minute lesson or activity, there will be less than one minute per student if I divide up the time left equally among them.  It just simply doesn’t add up to an acceptable situation. I voted to escalate job action because if they make my classes any larger and put more students with special needs in them, with no extra support, then I quite simply don’t think I could do it. I can barely do it now.

I spend thousands of dollars on my professional development.  When I told my students the government wants to let my employer tell me what I should do for my professional development, and then evaluate me on how much I learned; they were incredulous.

I coach volleyball at Journey. I run practices one day a week and take students to games on another day. I love coaching because I get to know kids outside of the classroom, and help them learn to play and enjoy a game I have played my whole life.  I had to cancel our game that was scheduled on Wednesday. I was near tears all day as I tried to reconcile my desire to support my team, with my need to support my union.  When I voted to withdraw all voluntary services if Bill 22 is passed, I did so with a heavy heart.  I voted to do this because I feel like taking a stand right now is so important and I pray that it will be worth it.

As we head into a time where emotions are running hot and people are looking for someone to blame, please remember there are more teachers out there like me, than not.  I do not want to be on strike. I want to be in my classroom with my students. I just want my classroom to be one where every person’s needs are met, including my own.  I just want a fair contract that supports the needs of students and teachers. I want the government to act with honesty and integrity and to remember that we live in a democratic society.

I wanted to write this letter to this community that has become my home.  I wanted you to know why I will walk out on Monday, and why I voted against my heart and with my head to escalate job action.  I did it for you and me.  Because we matter.

On the way out the door today, one of my students told me that she hopes that she gets to come back to school soon because she loves it.  Me too.

Danita Stewart

Metchosin