While the massive January snowfalls have become less frequent recently, threats of strikes by the Alberta Teachers Association at the beginning of the year are starting to happen with a frightening consistency. Continuing this trend, over 90 per cent of the union's members recently voted in support of strike action and, by all indications, a walkout is imminent. This course of action is disturbingly flawed.
I am in no way against teachers' demands that they receive substantial raises. I think they are one of the more necessary and influential professions in society. Teachers are among the most undervalued and underappreciated members of the community and their current pay scale is shameful. They have every right to make the demands they are making and they have every right to play hardball.
No, my problem with the recent threats made by the ATA is their timing, something they've exploited in the past. Instead of talking strike in September, at the start of the school year, they have decided to make their move in February, seriously jeopardizing the plans and future opportunities of many upcoming graduates.
I refuse to blame the teachers for this decision as they are at the mercy of their union. My disgust and disappointment is focused directly at the ATA itself.
Teachers are by nature benevolent people who want to help their students reach their full potential and the blatant disrespect displayed by the government has them over the barrel. A high school teacher is not a negotiator and hence defers to his or her union rep to best serve his or her interests. They have placed their faith in the union and that faith is being abused.
By threatening students, especially those graduating or involved in extra-curricular activities such as athletics, the union is rapidly eroding public support-a necessary part of the leverage they hold in negotiations like this. People like myself, who sympathize with the plight of Alberta's educators, are losing patience and withdrawing support of their cause primarily due to the course of action of their union.
This is a very unfortunate situation because I believe the waning support could ultimately be a death knell in a province gung ho on privatization and spending cuts. The complexity of negotiations and evident bad blood on either sides of the debate aside, the ATA must respect the teachers' devotion to their students and be aware of the necessity of public support. They are losing sight of this and it will only hurt them in the long run.
I hope teachers become a more valued aspect of society, I hope education is recognized for the integral role it plays and I hope these seemingly incessant battles will start finding a more respectful and permanent resolutions. However, none of this will be achieved if the ATA stays its reckless and confrontational course.