Sunday, April 29, 2012

Spring Webinar Series (May 1 and May 15)

Databases and Curation 2.0

May 1 and May 15
4:00 PM (PST)
Cost Free!

BCTLA is continuing to offer professional development opportunities for educators with the launch of a spring webinar series in May.   

Host Gordon Powell will lead two workshops, the first focusing on getting the most from the ERAC bundle and the second on curation.

For more information and to register: 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bill 22 -- Perspective from a 30 Year Teaching Veteran in School District #85

The following letter was sent by teacher-librarian and ELL teacher Sandra Gunson (Eagle View Elementary School, Port Hardy) to her MLA Claire Trevena on February 29, 2012 - the Day of Pink.

Good Morning Claire and fellow members of Parliament in Victoria,

According to the radio advertisements by Premier Christy Clark, today is a day to wear pink representing our awareness of the importance to respect one another, improve our societal norms and conditions, eliminate racism and intolerance, and embrace understanding and acceptance of people's differences.

Tolerance and mutual respect, in turn, lead to improved communication and understanding amongst people with differing opinions or points of view.

This is my 30th year as an educator in the province of B.C.  I work in School District #85 (Vancouver Island North).  I am wearing pink at school today to acknowledge the ongoing importance of anti-bullying and tolerance toward all individuals.

I can't help wondering how many of our honorable MLAs and Ministers are wearing pink today?

All week (and every day) I live, and model, tolerance, respect for all individuals, curiosity and love of learning; and a caring supportive learning environment where students feel they belong and are loved, valued and respected.  I have been reading and discussing the messages conveyed within books, such as Just Kidding and The Secret Bully to my students all week.

It appears that there is something fundamentally wrong and ironic when Bill 22, the "Education Improvement Act", containing nearly a complete page entitled "Offences" (to list only one section of this legislated Act) is being discussed in Parliament on the day Premier Clark has been happily announcing as Anti-Bullying Day to the B.C. citizens. Perhaps this event alone requires some reflection.....

Since I am one of the 40,000 teachers affected by Bill 22, and have been a dedicated educator serving thousands of students and families in our beautiful province for 30 years (actually it is my 30th year teaching this year!)  I feel qualified to share my thoughts and story today.

I started teaching at age 22 (after five years at UVic) in 1982 in rural CFS Holberg.

In 1981 there were teaching jobs everywhere...many of my friends were offered positions at several different districts.  Then Bill Vander Zalm clamped down on education and cutbacks were severe.  Districts were laying off teachers in droves.

Although I was a President's Scholar, had won several Teaching Awards at UVic, had grade 8 Royal Conservatory Piano, and 2 Dance Teachers' qualifications in Highland and Tap, I received letter after letter from districts informing me that they would love to hire me, but had to lay off teachers.  Times were very tough for teachers.  Out of 3 sections at UVic (about 300 graduates) only 7 of us obtained jobs in 1982.

I had grown up in Port Hardy and was well known as a hard worker, full of energy and love of life. I had also been teaching dancing in Port Hardy since I obtained my first teaching certification when I was 17.  I managed to get my first teaching position in very isolated CFS Holberg.

The gravel road was nearly an hour's drive from Port Hardy (when it was accessible) and there were about 400 people on the base and 400 people in the nearby logging camp.  I lived in a teacherage, which was initially filthy and infested with rats, on Black Bear Road on the base.  It was appropriately named because sometimes the bears would push their arms through the windows to try and swipe fresh baking on the table or hide near the front door when I was trying to get into my car.  The deer were much more friendly!  The residents in Holberg informed me when I first arrived, "If you can't see the mountains, it's raining. If you can....It's going to rain".  They were right!

My first teaching position was 0.5 Kindergarten and 0.3 music specialist for Grades K-7. There was not any music program at the school previously, so it was challenging to get older students interested...but in time they all grew to enjoy music.  Apparently, because of my music/dance background I was hired as "Continuing" immediately.  I was one of the few "lucky" teachers.

Teaching jobs continued to be virtually non existent around B.C. during the early 1980's so I ended up staying 3 years at CFS Holberg.  During this time, I was very involved in the community and even had a highland dancing school there as well as in Port Hardy.

My Kindergarten classroom leaked profusely and electrical wires were exposed in several places.  Some parents contacted a TV station and they did a report about my Kindergarten classroom.  We ended up with a new pre-fab school being erected the following year.

During my years at San Joseph School, I worked at school until 10:00 p.m. most evenings. Several of the new teachers also put in really long hours on a regular basis.  Teaching children is a challenge and also an amazing privilege.

I was lucky because I did okay financially and could support myself when I started teaching. The teacherage had very cheap rent and there was not a lot to spend money on in my isolated posting.  I taught at 2 different dancing schools, had worked at good paying jobs every summer, and had obtained scholarships throughout my 5 years at university; therefore I had been able to avoid taking out any student loans.

Many of my fellow colleagues struggled to pay back enormous student loans and had to take up second jobs.  Note: This hasn't changed since 1982!

Working in isolation requires creativity, initiative, and strength of character.  Mentor teachers or district specialists are not available or rarely cross the distance to view your teaching reality.  Small, isolated school districts like #85 do not have the same options and support personnel available to their teachers as do teachers in urban centers.  Many of my students had never been on a plane, ferry, train or visited a fast food chain, museum, or gallery.  I saw part of my job as a facilitator to offer my students a porthole to the rest of the world.  We explored and embraced our own backyards while also being introduced and exposed to new and different worlds beyond our isolated corner.

When you live in isolation and a child arrives in your class covered in cigarette burns, who do you report to?  When a child reports that their dad is away hunting and their mom is hiding in the closet growling because she thinks she is a cougar, what are your options? When a backhoe driver sneaks down your teacherage road to take an unscheduled break and backs into your fuel oil tank putting a hole in the side of the teacherage spilling the fuel oil and making your home condemned while you battle CFS because they won't admit it occurred, who assists you?  Luckily the CFS doctor was on my side that time and condemned the teacherage insisting the Air Force provide alternate accommodation.  I ended up getting sick, but I never stopped teaching!

These are just a few examples of what my life as a teacher was like in the beginning of my career.  Yet...I endured and continued in this profession.  Why?  Because I love teaching and always felt I was making a positive difference in the lives of the students I educated.

As a teacher I felt valued, respected, and important.

In the 1980's School Board members and Superintendents made a point of travelling out to our isolated school about once a month and staying for most of a day.  Sometimes a Superintendent would even stay and play with the students in Kindergarten or join in our lessons.  I received memos and notes thanking me for being a dedicated educator--even from the Superintendent.

Great appreciation was always shown when I initiated talent shows, concerts, or anything above and beyond my classroom position.  Feeling respected and appreciated as a teacher made me feel very positive about my job.

Initiating new programs or exploring more effective ways to teach students was encouraged by administration.

There was not a feeling of administration/government versus teachers.

I felt more of a kinship...a unified direction where the success and best interests of the child was the bottom line.  When our new school opened at CFS Holberg the Lieutenant Governor arrived to cut the ribbon and he personally thanked and recognized all the staff for their contribution to the education of "our" children.  I felt validated, important, and excited to have chosen to be a teacher in B.C.

I wish I could say I feel the same way right now.

I have worked in Port Hardy since 1986.  I am an involved member of the community and am totally dedicated to being an educator in School District #85.

During my 30 years as a teacher in this school district I have taught a myriad of positions including: classroom teacher for over 27 years (from Kindergarten to Grade 4), school fine arts specialist, school gifted specialist, school district Math 44 and C.G.I. teacher trainer, mentor for several teachers in our district, district representative initiating new provincial programs (personal planning, Language Arts), and more recently teacher-librarian (Masters of Teacher-Librarianship from U of Alberta in 2010), and E.L.L. specialist for the north zone of our school district. 


In 2002 I started losing my voice totally for weeks at a time.

I was teaching Kindergarten and also music specialty at school. Worker's Compensation determined I was their first supported case of teacher voice loss.  

I had several appointments at the Pacific Voice Center in Vancouver and even attended a summer voice rehab. program.  I had to increase my water intake and change my life style to accomodate the damage done on my vocal cords from years of teaching in rooms with echoing ceilings and very large class sizes.  After that time I was not permitted to teach music or classes lower than Grade 2 for a couple of years and I have a phonic ear microphone amplification system. 

During this time, the school's teacher-librarian retired. I had worked at a public library and taken 3 courses during my university undergraduate degree. The principal offered the teacher-librarian position to me (0.5) in addition to my grade 3 classroom (0.5) if I started a diploma or degree program in teacher-librarianship.

As I was a single parent and solely responsible for my son, I could not afford to leave my position to attend a library diploma or degree program at U.B.C. The only university to offere online programs was the University of Alberta.

I was accepted and for the following 4 1/2 years I worked full time at school, raised my son as a single parent, looked after my 2 handicapped parents (cancer, stroke, and parapeligic), took Master's level courses online, and still also coordinated the school track and field team, choreographed musicals at school, ran library clubs, and so forth. Such is the life of a teacher. 

I did take 1 year off from my Master's courses after my father died.

I should add that after starting my Teacher-Librarianship Master's degree, the library position was cut from 0.5 to 0.2 (prep time coverage).  I felt deceived!

However, the parents in my school banded together and fought for the library program at our local school board and the administrators recognized the immense value in the library as a center of literacy/inquiry/and development of 21st-Century learning, so over the past few years my library time has increased again and I work collaboratively with teachers instead of separately as prep time coverage. 

In our school library I have a learning commons approach. In addition to over 18,000 books I introduce AV2 media enhanced books and Tumblebooks on the SMART Board.  I teach media awareness and introduce hoax websites.  I teach students and staff how to properly cite information and not plagarize.  I introduce the best search engines and databases on our laptops and computers.  

I also use ipads, ipods, document cameras, laptops, and various new types of technology and software or apps.

The library contains a collection of taxidermy from my family's museum.  We have a fish tank with tropical fish and also grow salmon fry for the salmonid enhancement program.  We have displays of local history.  It is a center of inquiry and investigation.

I work with all classes and all students to ensure equal access for all students.  Many of our students own phones (but only text plans) and home computers (but no Internet access). Classes also send down small groups to work on enrichment activities.  We are currently creating imovies in several classes. One is about the history behind our school building.  We have been interviewing former students and staff and taking field trips into the community to locate archives--even microfiche at our local newspaper. 

I have a library club for Grade 4-7 students.  Nearly 1/3 of all students in Grades 4-7 attend my library club. (54 students).  We work on collaborative projects, create QRcode messages around the school, learn advanced research, and some have started creating book trailers to attach to my school website.

I was one of the people called down to the fire and acknowledged by Kaleb Child at the ceremony for the signing of the Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement last Friday at the Fort Rupert Big House.  Minister George Abbott, you were dancing behind our Superintendent Scott Benwell when he spoke with me during the friendship dance immediately after the signing of the agreement.  You looked my way as you danced past me and smiled.

The words you spoke in the Big House do not feel synonymous with the forced legislation teachers are facing with Bill 22.

As a teacher in British Columbia right now, I do not feel valued, respected, important, or cared about.

These are the qualities and attributes I expect from myself as a teacher and these are the qualities and attibutes I ensure I share with my students.

I feed students, make sure every student struggling financially has a birthday and Christmas present, support students, love and care about students.  I strive to develop curiousity and inquiry in students, foster a love of learning, introduce 21st-Century technology and ideas, work collaboratively with all staff and colleagues, share ideas and constantly aim to develop individuals who are global, caring citizens.  I am not alone!

There are so many talented, caring ,inspiring teachers in our province.

But with the constant cut backs, loss of programs, growing class sizes, declining economic conditions, poverty, and changing family structure; our job as an educator in this province is getting more and more challenging.

We struggle to find solutions for lack of resources, ensure students are fed and have clothes, while dealing with an ever growing numbers of students with I.E.P's in classrooms which often stretch teacher's capabilities with classroom management and personal health.

As a teacher with "experience" I try to encourage and support the newer members of our profession.

What I see and hear is a deeply growing discontent with the way the government views and supports teachers.

I would like to remind the government and any MLAs or Ministers listening that if "family" is truly a focal point for this government, then this government would benefit from remembering that nearly all teachers have families, too, and the most positive, content families are usually those who feel unconditional love and caring, where members are respected, valued, and supported.

Does Bill 22 represent your "family" philosophy?

Will this Bill truly result in teachers feeling respected, valued, and supported?

Isn't this what we want to see for our future generation?


Sandra Gunson
Teacher-Librarian and E.L.L. Teacher
Eagle View Elementary School
Port Hardy, B.C.

Friday, April 13, 2012

My Letter to My MLA

The following letter was sent by teacher-librarian Lorena Duran (New Westminster) to her MLA Jenny Kwan.

Hello Ms Kwan,

As a secondary school teacher-librarian I want to thank the NDP for its continuing support for teachers. The current Bill 22 and the Liberal agenda against the BCTF and public education must be stopped! Like you, I arrived to Canada as a young child. I am originally from Chile, where students are waging a protracted strike to protest the privatization of schooling. I fear that a neoliberal ideology of privatization of schools is something that would be sought by right-wing parties such as the BC Liberals. Instead, we should strive to improve our educational system by following the public education programs of Sweden or Finland. But no, this would involve addressing issues of child poverty, class sizes, and autonomous teacher professionalism. These strategies would not favour the rich and ruling class who aims to keep more of its wealth, pay less tax, and contain their children in private schools with exorbitant tuitions. I implore you to continue to fight for public education, responsible government, and a social safety net that will insure the equitable access to jobs, health, and education for ALL.

Thank you.
Lorena Duran

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Letter to George Abbott

The following letter was sent by teacher-librarian Louise Sidley (Glenmarry Elementary, Trail) to Minister of Education George Abbott.

Dear Hon. Abbott,

Is making British Columbia the most literate place in the world a current government priority? I'm getting mixed messages. In this letter, I hope to articulate my bewilderment.

What I do know is that if the school library has adequate teacher-librarian and clerical/technical staffing and is well supplied with information and communication technologies, then the school library program increases students' opportunities to become information literate. (Canadian Association for School Libraries, CASL 2003)

What I do know is school libraries are active learning environments. Under the leadership of a teacher-librarian, working in collaboration with classroom teachers, students develop and practise the information literacy skills and habits of lifelong learners. (CASL, 2003)

What I do know is students with well-equipped school libraries and qualified teacher librarians perform better on achievement tests for reading comprehension and basic research skills. (CASL, 2003.)

What I do know is that although there are more than twenty years of research to support the notion that teacher-librarians affect student achievement, this information is almost unknown outside the school library community. (The Colorado Study, 1993, 2000, 2010)

What I do know is the school library is essential to every long-term strategy for literacy, education, information provision and economic, social and cultural development. As the responsibility of local, regional and national authorities, it must be supported by specific legislation and policies. School libraries must have adequate and sustained funding for trained staff, materials, technologies and facilities." (UNESCO, 1999)

At odds with this unequivocal research is that funding for school libraries across this province remains abysmal. On every count, this province has been falling and continues to fall far below the minimum standards set out by the Canadian Association for School Libraries. (CASL, 2003.)

I have been a teacher since 1983 and a teacher librarian for over ten years, and I feel that it is imperative that I let this government know that their policies and funding formulas not only contravene with research, they jeopardize the literacy success of my students.

With sincere regret, I can not accept this book given by a government that refuses to adequately fund school libraries.

No teacher-librarians = No [school] libraries = No books = Illiterate British Columbians.

Yours truly,

Louise Sidley

Glenmerry Elementary

Our libraries are a great investment in community, learning and literacy. They open doors of opportunity for minds hungry for knowledge and adventure. They are the front lines of the effort to make British Columbia the most literate place in the world.
- Premier Gordon Campbell

At the moment that we persuade a child, any child, to cross that threshold, that magic threshold into a library, we change their lives forever, for the better. It’s an enormous force for good.
- Barack Obama