SURREY – On what would have been the first day of classes for the new school year, teachers instead found themselves standing in Fleetwood in the pouring rain, waving signs and hoping their voices were being heard.
That was the scene Tuesday (Sept. 5) as hundreds of teachers and supporters came to education minister and Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Peter Fassbender’s office in a demonstration of solidarity.
Organized by the BC Federation of Labour, the rally was one of several held around the province during the week and the second at Fassbender’s office this summer.
And despite the rainy weather, hundreds of teachers, parents and other union representatives made their way to the Fleetwood location to show the minister they would not be deterred in their fight.
“I came out today because I’m a teacher and a parent and so it’s a double whammy for me,” said Sid Siddique, a teacher from Maple Ridge. “This has dragged on for so long now, how much longer is anybody’s guess but that’s why we’re here. The funding of education has reached ridiculous lows and we need to fix it. Unless we raise our voices in this way, what else is going to happen?” Looking at the crowd gathered, Siddique said he was heartened by the turnout.
“It’s great to see so many people turn up, it’s not just teachers,” he said.
Also in attendance were local NDP MLAs Sue Hammell and Harry Bains and MP Jinny Sims, who also served as BCTF president from 2004 to 2007, as well as Surrey trustee Charlene Dobie.
For Surrey teacher Arlene Laing, who’s been teaching for the past 34 years, she said the government needs to change its position if it truly wants to help students.
“What I’ve seen is a great decline in terms of the composition of the classroom,” she said. “The numbers of special-needs kids in the classrooms and the complexity of their needs are increasing.”
Laing said she’s tired of seeing cuts forcing special education teachers to take on multiple students when they should each be receiving specialized learning.
“We’re talking about kids that have unique needs that actually require oneon-one support,” she said. “That time is being eroded and they’re starting to clump together kids in classrooms and hoping that one (educational assistant) can cover multiple children at a time, it’s happening more and more and more.”
But with the hundreds gathered enjoying the speeches and songs that ensued, Surrey Teachers Association President Jennifer Wadge hoped the minister – who was away during the rally – would also hear what they had to say.
“We also had a rally in June and he wasn’t here then either, and we were again told he wouldn’t be here today and that’s really too bad,” said Wadge. “He’s been elected by the people in Surrey and it’s really too bad he can’t be here when people are trying to get a message to him.”