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July 7, 2012 / Carol Gibson

Teaching in BC: profession or trade union?

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Jan Drabek’s opinion article in The Vancouver Sun raised a number of critical issues related to teaching as currently organized in BC. Drabek characterizes the current organizational model as similar to a trades union. He also poses a critical question:

“Wouldn’t it be wise for teachers to at least explore the possibilities of re-organizing along the lines of these professions – architects, doctors, lawyers and even professional artists?”

The history in BC that addresses this question is disturbing. It suggests that the BCTF, from its command and control position in relation to teachers and education in BC, is not capable of working within a mature professional context. In fact, by its own admission, the BCTF systematically worked to ensure that professional self-regulation, as organized within other professions, would fail when teachers in BC were granted this opportunity. (Novakowski, 2010)

Mature established professions, medicine, law, engineering as examples, organized early to demand of governments that they recognize these areas of practice as self-regulating professions. Practitioners understood that their members required comprehensive knowledge within a discipline as well as the ability to use their knowledge in a practice that served members of the public.

In Canada, governments typically supported professional self-regulation. They recognize the specialized knowledge and specialized practice required of practitioners as well as the need for practitioners to be involved in certifying and regulating members of the profession. Mature professions take their self regulation responsibilities seriously, guard this professional obligation and ensure that their decisions as well as actions serve a public interest.

Within mature self-regulating professions regulatory functions are separated from political advocacy functions. For example, the Canadian Medical Association advocates for the political interests of the medical profession; the College of Physicians and Surgeons is the regulatory body responsible for certification, discipline and continuing professional education. In law, the Canadian Bar Association represents the political interests of lawyers; the Law Society regulates the profession with similar responsibilities as those specified for medicine.

What is the history related to teaching in BC? In 1987 government enacted the Teaching Profession Act. It granted to teachers the right to self-regulate through the BC College of Teachers. Teachers were given a gift. They were recognized as a profession. They were granted the rights and obligations of other mature self-regulating professions.

The BCTF responded forcefully and negatively to this gift. It was seen as a threat to the BCTF ability to command and to control teaching and education within BC. Ken Novakowski in the September 2010 issue of Teacher summed up the BCTF response succinctly: “After debating the merits of boycotting the college or participating in the college to limit its scope of activity(emphasis added) the BCTF decided on the latter.”

15 of 20 (75%) of the members of College Council were endorsed by the BCTF. These endorsed Councilors understood their role to “mitigate the negative aspects” of the college “and to stem its growth and cost to members” (Novakowski 2010). These endorsed Councilors also met with BCTF executive before each Council meeting to ensure that BCTF interests were paramount in all business of the College.

In 2003, after 15 years of attempting to self-regulate in the face of BCTF organized resistance and interference, government intervened and appointed 20 Councilors – a completely new Council. It is ironic that Novakwoski describes these appointments “as political hacks” and fails to acknowledge that the previous BCTF endorsed and elected Councilors whom the appointees replaced were “political hacks” for the BCTF.

In fact, a majority of appointees to this “Interim Council” comprised recognized and professional educators from across the province. A minority were appointed on the recommendation education partner groups such as those representing trustees, parents, Aboriginal educators and Faculties of Education.

Between 2003 and 2010, the BC College of Teachers continued to exist. Council went back to 15 BCTF endorsed and elected members and 5 appointed members. By 2008 at least 2 of BCTF elected members began seriously to question whether the BCTF campaign of resistance was consistent with the Oath of Office required of Councilors. This Oath necessitated “acting in the public interest”. They also seriously questioned the BCTF rhetoric asserting that “the interests of the BCTF as the teacher’s union are the same as with the public interest”.

The BCTF continued its active and relentless campaign to limit the ability of the College to self-regulate in the public interest. Finally, at the request of the then Chair of Council, the Registrar and the appointed Councilors government appointed Don Avison to review the College. In January 2012 the Teaching Profession Act was replaced by the Teachers Act. The BC College of Teachers was replaced by the Teacher Regulation Branch of the Ministry of Education. Teachers effectively lost their opportunity to claim status as a profession and to self-regulate.

The BCTF permits no interference with its assumed mandate to control teachers and public education in BC. Unlike the nursing profession which is able to separate the role of its union from the role of its professional regulatory body, the BCTF continues to view a professional self-regulatory body as well as all education partner groups as its competitors in the sector. Just as they have been largely incapable of bargaining without being legislated back to work, they have been equally incapable of working positively to achieve mature professional status for their members.

– post by Carol Gibson, originally published by City Caucus on April 13, 2012.

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