Students say they're caught in middle with teachers strike

For 12-year-old Lloyd George students Noah Fischer and Elliott Auriat, the teachers strike has created divided loyalties.

Although they sympathize with their teachers, they're also frustrated for students caught in the middle.

"We support their point, sort of," said Noah. "But on the other hand we can't catch up as easily because there's a lot of work to do and it's not as easy as it seems."

"And I feel bad for them involving all the little kids, because they don't know what's going on," said Elliott.

"All they know is they're missing school," said Noah.

Teachers went back to class Thursday after a two-day walkout over stalled contract negotiations and proposed provincial back-to-work legislation. However, job action continues as teachers limit their work solely to classroom time.

The curtailed duties also caused frustration for the Grade 7 students.

"They can't stay at lunch to help us so it's really annoying," said Elliott. "I need help with my math, but she can't help me because it's bell to bell."

And the boys' sympathy extended to the younger and older students feeling the sting of the dispute.

"I feel bad for the high school students," said Elliott. "My friend, she's in Grade 12 and for the final exam she wants to be able to learn more."

South Kamloops Secondary Grade 12 students Libby Gottfriedsen, Kate Mihalcheon and Brittany Powell are also of two minds over the teacher strike.

Gottfriedsen's aunt and uncles work as teachers and she's experienced firsthand the frustration of teaching large groups of students as a classroom helper.

"I'm with them because they're family," she said.

However, she and her friends are worried they won't graduate or get the grades they need if teacher walkouts persist.

"In English, we need 73 per cent or higher to get into college and to do what we want to do, so I'm kind of worried about that," said Mihalcheon.

Powell's concerns revolve around the mandatory government testing about to get underway. But she also supports teacher action over classroom size. Education minister George Abbott has said certain courses, such as music class and drama, would be exempt from the 30-student size limit.

"I took physics last year and there was only probably 25 of us. Nobody understood it so everyone was going to the teacher for help," said Powell. "So if there was double that, I can just imagine it being a really bad learning environment."

Comments from parents covered a wide range of opinions, from supportive to suggesting teachers have "cushy" jobs.

"I think this kind of action appropriate," said Toby Wendland, the father of an elementary school student.

He added that as a member of a health association, he's felt similar frustrations with the province.

"The government says it is doing fair negotiations, and that's not true."

Wendland believes the teachers have done their part in making concessions with regards to class sizes and wages, which isn't on par with inflation.

Brenda Percell, a grandmother and part-time caregiver of a seven-year-old boy, said she hasn't been following the issue, but she's seen the effect of the strike on her grandson.

"It's just a lot of 'I'm bored,'" she said. "He was happy to go back to school."

The teachers won't be walking out again for at least 10 days as B.C. Teachers' Federation president Susan Lambert announced Thursday the union postponed a planned vote for its 41,000 members that would have set the next steps in the contract dispute.

Lambert said owing to the BCTF's annual general meeting next weekend, the executive has decided to "stay the course." They will re-examine the decision come March 19.

A few hours after Lambert's statement, Abbott announced he expects back-to-work legislation to pass within seven days.

But late Thursday, the Opposition New Democrats signalled they weren't prepared to allow the law to sail through the legislature without attempting to extend and change the debate.

NDP House Leader John Horgan introduced an amendment to Bill 22 that calls for the appointment of an independent mediator to resolve the dispute.

"I'm proposing a cooling off period for the parties in this legislature," said Horgan.

Kamloops-Thompson Teachers Association president Jason Karpuk said the local organization will meet nonetheless on Friday evening to decide what steps they'll take to ensure the teachers' concerns remain in the public eye.

"We want to make sure we're not silenced over this period," he said.

Kamloops residents can expect to continue seeing rallies and teachers carrying signs over the coming weeks.

School district Supt. Terry Sullivan said the administration is back on bus and recess duty and has been feeling the workload they've been carrying since September.

"It's been a long haul."

He said the district is prepared to deal with whatever may happen.

"We have good communication in place. We can contact most of our 20,000 parents in half an hour," said Sullivan.

He encouraged parents to monitor the media and the district website for updates.

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