The de-funding of education in B.C. usually doesn’t get much attention until a crisis threatens to shut down the schools. Then suddenly, everyone takes notice.
This time it’s the support workers who, if negotiations fail, will soon be in a position to strike.
These folks – secretaries, custodians, maintenance technicians and educational assistants – do work of immense value, yet often get the least appreciation.
In my 33 years of teaching, I relied on these people constantly, and was overwhelmed by their professionalism, generosity and adaptability, often in face of very difficult circumstances.
Educational assistants, for example, are required to be experts in all the various barriers to learning which students face. They also must be conversant with all the school subjects and be able to provide discreet assistance to students inside and outside of the classroom.
They have to do all this within the educational structure of the individual teacher. Oh, and their students often have behavioural, emotional or medicals issues to go along with their learning difficulties.
Needless to say, it’s a very tough job. And the pay, relative to the required skill level, is absurdly low. “Full-time” is considered to be 25 hours a week. As a result, a “full-time” educational assistant will make about $20,000 a year. Could you get by on that?
The B.C. government has allowed education funding to slip far below the national average. By doing so, they are especially hurting the most vulnerable children, as well as the workers at the bottom of the ladder.