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Rally reminds public of education issues

Teachers rallied at secondary schools across Nanaimo Tuesday afternoon
Shelley Serebrin

Teachers rallied at secondary schools across Nanaimo Tuesday afternoon as a reminder the union is fighting for better working and learning conditions in schools.

"It's to rally our teachers, to get them reinvigorated and it's also to get the message out there that teachers are still here and we're still fighting for improvements," said Justin Green, first vice-president of the Nanaimo District Teachers' Association.

Teachers have been without a contract since June and job action, which consists of refusing to do certain administrative and supervisory tasks, began when school resumed in September.

The union is asking the province for improved working and learning conditions – including more stringent limits for classroom sizes and the number of special needs students in each class – improved wages and benefits packages and more power at local bargaining tables.

More than three dozen teachers gathered at Nanaimo District Secondary School at about 3:30 p.m., carrying signs in English and French.

Virginia Burns, a special education teacher at Cinnabar Valley Elementary School, said she wants people to be aware provincial funding levels are inadequate.

"Funding isn't meeting the needs of the kids right now," she said, adding her school has three education assistants who are trying to meet the needs of more than a dozen students in different classrooms.

Ann Rainboth, a teacher at Pauline Haarer Elementary School, said she feels limited by the job action, but teachers are willing to stay the course to fight for more funding.

"I know some of my colleagues have six special needs students and they don't have full time aids," she said. "The teachers can't do it alone. We just want to teach. We want to get our job done."

Fairview Elementary School teacher Karen James supports the teacher job action because she feels like she's doing something to try to get better supports in schools.

"At least I'm standing up for students and working conditions by being on strike," she said.

James's Grade 4/5 split class has 26 students, six of whom are on individual learning plans and are designated special needs students.

She is allotted one education assistant to help these children, but the EA spends most of her time with one child, who is a safety risk.

"It leaves me very scattered and unable to meet the needs of my students," said James. "It makes me feel guilty."

Erin Currie, a special education teacher at Fairview, said she has double guilt – she feels like she's letting down not only students but also teachers because she's trying to do to much with her time.

NDSS Grade 10 students Cassie Squire and Rachel Fritz joined teachers at the rally.

"We're getting blank report cards," said Fritz. "If you fail a class, you're not going to know until after the job action is over."

Squire said it's not fair that students won't get formal grades because teachers are not preparing report cards, but thinks teachers deserve more from the government than they are getting.

Green said more than 80 teachers showed up at Dover Bay and he counted about 50 at Wellington.

"For something we put together in less than a week, it was good," he said.

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