British Columbia

B.C. back to school with curriculum discussion, unhappy union

On the first day of the new school year, teachers are at work with a contract in place after an almost year-long labour dispute, but tensions are still running high between the union and the B.C. government, which is planning curriculum changes.

B.C. teachers' contract expires after the 2013 provincial election

While the back to school routine is familiar to many returning students, what will be taught in B.C. schools is set to change under a new curriculum plan being developed by the B.C. Ministry of Education. (CBC)

On the first day of the new school year, teachers are at work with a contract in place after an almost year-long labour dispute, but tensions are still running high between the union and the B.C. government, which is planning curriculum changes.

B.C.'s Ministry of Education published a discussion paper that it says will lay the groundwork for modernizing the public school curriculum.

Some of the "next steps" outlined include finding more ways to define and measure key competencies, and a revision of graduation requirements and graduation science assessments.

Principals and Vice Principals Association of British Columbia president Shelley Green said the resources are already in place to implement the new plan, which involves working with a range of individual learning styles.

"Schools are not just a classroom teacher with their children in front of them. They are full teams. We work in teams in all of those aspects, we have supports around them. Everything from our CUPE people on staff to our supportive learning is one aspect of the building, and we put those teams together," Green said.

But teachers were not part of the team that consulted on changes to curriculum, as meetings were held during last year's labour dispute, and the B.C. Teacher's Federation has expressed frustration that teachers' voices weren't at that table.

B.C. Teacher's Federation president Susan Lambert teachers can't function properly in their roles when their input isn't taken when designing changes to education policy.

"Teachers become professionally anxious," she said.

Lambert said teachers won't be taking any job action this year, but the B.C. government still isn't addressing teachers' needs to have a voice in curriculum and class size changes — and the outlook is troubling.

"[Teachers] come to school excited, re-energized — they've had the summer to think about their practice. But over the course of the weeks and the months of the school year, it is a heavy burden when you have a very large class, complex needs, and not the support that you need," Lambert said.

No 'bribes' on class size

The B.C. Teachers Federation also reiterated that it is opposed to extra pay for teachers who take on larger classes.

The union said the government is offering to pay teachers of Grade 4 to Grade 7 $2,500 more per year for each extra student if their classes exceed 30 students. High school teachers with rotating classes are being offered $312 per student over the limit in each block.

Lambert said the offer amounts to a bribe. She said the extra cash won't make overcrowded classrooms work for students.

She also said teachers don't feel it is ethical to profit at the expense of student learning conditions, and questions how school boards will find the money to pay for the scheme.

Contract expires in 2013

Lambert said class size and composition will remain big issues, and she is hoping the government will back from its "net zero" mandate when it comes to wages.

Education Minister George Abbott, who announced his departure from politics last week, won't be at the bargaining table when new contract talks begin in March.

The present teacher contract will expire at the end of the school year, right after the provincial election.

With files from the CBC's Jesara Sinclair and The Canadian Press