If I was a young person contemplating a career in the teaching profession in this province, I would be confused about which version of the Ministry of Education I should prepare myself to work for: the Mr Hyde version that is engaged in an acrimonious battle with the teachers’ union or the Dr Jekyll one that is engaged in discussions with teachers about 21st century teaching?
My confusion would be based on the fact that during the time that the Ministry has presented a new BC Education Plan to the citizens of the province, a plan that acknowledges the “complexity of the teacher’s role” in the classroom, it has been negotiating in bad faith with the teachers’ union. How can these two situations emanate from the same Ministry?
It’s as though the Ministry has two different personalities, one being a kind of Dr Jekyll and the other like a Mr Hyde.
The question is, which personality dominates?
When the Ministry is being lead during contract negotiations by the Mr Hyde personality, it issues edicts that cut teacher’s daily pay by 10%; it locks teachers out of classrooms during lunch so that they are forced to have their lunch breaks on sidewalks and it refuses to raise teachers’ wages to compensate for the rise in the cost of living. The Mr Hyde personality has been systematically stripping teachers’ collective agreements since 2002.
The Mr Hyde personality guts public education funding while it increases funding to private schools. This gutting of public education funding has left many students without any support for their learning difficulties.
The Mr Hyde personality is quite remorseless and cares not a jot for Supreme Court rulings or for the Charter of Rights.
On the other hand, the Dr Jekyll personality seems to be guided by a moral compass when it mentions supports for students and for teachers throughout its new plan for education in the province.
The Dr Jekyll personality not only talks about placing students’ needs at the centre of the learning process but also acknowledges that doing so would require many changes that are not cost free.
The Dr Jekyll personality seems to be wanting to move the education system in BC to be more like the systems in Scandinavian countries like Finland and Norway, systems that are widely studied as a models for education system reform.
In contrast, the Mr Hyde personality seems to be taking its cues from the United States where school closures are disproportionately affecting some communities.
If I were to prepare myself to be working for a Ministry that has allowed the personality of Mr Hyde to dominate, then I would also have to prepare myself to work with textbooks that are 20 years old and to have only 12 of them for my classes of 35 or more. I should also not expect that my students will have access to 21st century technology, nor that there would be any supports in place for those who had learning difficulties.
For this kind of preparation I would seek guidance from teachers in developing countries like Kenya or Zimbabwe where the sheer lack of resources is the norm. I would learn from them how they cope, what they do when they have little or no resources in their classrooms. I expect that they will be surprised that I will have to adopt their strategies when I live in such a rich country, but I will explain to them about Mr Hyde…
But, if I were to prepare myself to be a teacher when the personality of Dr Jekyll is dominant, I would excitedly seek out information about how to turn my classroom into a learning environment and how to integrate technology into my teaching practice. I would read all the research on which the BC Education Plan is based so that I could get a more comprehensive idea of the context for how to structure classrooms to meet the needs of 21st century learners.
I do not envy at all the situation that potential BC teachers find themselves in.
Those of us who have been teaching for a while have our own dilemma to deal with. How do we continue to absorb the attacks from Mr Hyde while Dr Jekyll engages us in discussions about 21st century learning?
When the education system is on the table, we don’t quite know which version of Christy Clark will show up – the one that promotes an anti-bullying campaign in schools or the one who orchestrates the bullying of teachers through bad faith bargaining?
We also never know which version of Peter Fassbender will show up – the one who worked hard to save H.D. Stafford in Langley or the one who orchestrates the closing of schools across the province?
Over the past month I’ve heard from a few former students who are pursuing an education degree. When I see the light of excitement and anticipation in their eyes as they talk about making a difference in the lives of children, my heart aches and I become afraid. I fear that, given the current situation, Mr Hyde is going to destroy Dr Jekyll.