The BCTF could learn a valuable lesson: don't spend millions in advertising, forget shutting schools down for days, and don't bother withdrawing from all non-teaching duties. No, to get public education issues on the front page of the local paper and to the top of public consciousness, all teachers have to do is not provide names for awards night.
The kerfuffle began when teachers at HSS decided not to forward subject award winners’ names to the school administration. If they had wanted to, the administration could have used teachers’ marks to select the student with the highest grade in any course (as was done at Pemberton Secondary), but the administration chose not to and cancelled awards night.
And then came the onslaught. Our in-boxes began to fill with emails from parents; students became activists; and administrators tried to cajole us into changing our position. It was as though teachers were out to undermine the very fibre of the public education system.
For a little perspective, subject awards are just one way the school recognizes achievement, and only a handful of students receive them. Many awards (scholarships, honour roll, athletics, performing arts) were given to students this year, and several teachers presented certificates in their classes. So to say that this whole story had to do with tempests and teapots is a gross understatement.
There’s also the fundamental problem with awards. How do you choose one of 200 students in English 11 and say he or she is the top student? What possible criteria are there for “best” or “top?” What kind of value judgments are implicit in awards?
The awards are generally a means by which we publicly acknowledge students who already know that they’re talented. These students shouldn’t need this kind of external motivation. Learning isn’t like the Stanley Cup playoffs; it’s not about winning a trophy.
What’s most frustrating about this whole thing is that, for the past decade, government has attacked public education, and the collective response of parents, students and the media has been akin to a yawn.
Teachers railed while class sizes increased, special-education funding was cut, library and counselling time hacked, and the public generally stood back and stared doe-eyed.
“Why don’t they seem to care?” we teachers wondered.
Yet something as trivial as a few awards not being given to a few students set off a tidal wave of vitriol on teachers: we’re selfish, uncaring, mean-spirited. But if that’s what it’s going to take to get people to understand that there’s a full-out attack on public education, then call us selfish and uncaring. After all, we’re doing it for your kids.