A letter sent five years ago from Vancouver Island high school teacher Don McRae to then-B.C. Education Minister Shirley Bond has come back to haunt McRae now that he's the provincial education minister.
McRae was a teacher at Georges P. Vanier secondary school in Courtenay on Vancouver Island in September 2008 when he wrote the letter, which has since been used as the basis for a YouTube video produced by the B.C. Teachers Federation. In the video, featuring an actor and voiced over by a B.C. drama teacher, the letter writer - McRae - explains to Bond the difficulties of teaching four social studies classes in one semester with 128 students, 18 of whom have learning difficulties that require individualized education plans.
"My concern is that I do not know just how effective I will be as an educator this year," he said. "With large classes, management becomes an issue and I spend more time trying to get the students on task, rather than teaching content and skills.
"I find it difficult to create positive relationships with my classes when there are so many students of varying needs and issues. It stretches one's ability to have students reach their full potential, when you can spend so little time with each individual."
McRae's letter goes to tell Bond he's having difficulty keeping up with his workload in his own classrooms and on school committees and expresses his worries about burning out as a teacher.
"If I continue to teach classes of this size and composition, I do not see how the system will get 18 more years of service from me," he said. "I will eventually break or stop caring, and then it will be time for me to move on.
"Many thanks for listening to my concerns, Don McRae," the letter ends.
McRae joined the Liberal government in the 2009 provincial election and became education minister last September.
The B.C. Teachers Federation produced the video, The BC Liberal Truth Is Out There, as an example of the real issues teachers are now facing in B.C. classrooms. Prince George District Teachers Association president Matt Pearce presented it to School District 57 trustees at Tuesday's public school board meeting.
"Don McRae was a classroom teacher, and like most of us, the conditions that are present in some of our classrooms are simply beyond managing," said Pearce. "They're bad for kids, they're bad for teachers, and he felt strongly enough about it when he was a teacher to write to Shirley Bond, the education minister at the time.
"Now, 3 1/2 years later, he's the education minister and he doesn't seem to have the same kind of perspective on the concerns of teachers now. We don't have a lot of the problems that some districts do, but we still have some that are beyond managing for the teachers and are really poor learning environments for the students."
McRae could not be reached for comment Wednesday, however ministry spokesperson Matt Silver confirmed McRae did send a letter to Bond while he was still a teacher.
Pearce and PGDTA vice-chair Tina Cousins visited one Prince George elementary school classroom in which there were 10 students on individual education plans in a class of 24. Over the past four months in that classroom, Pearce told trustees there were 144 incidents of students being sent to the office for bad behaviour, an average of two per day.
"This is a veteran educator, not somebody new who doesn't know how to manage a classroom. This teacher has so many hair-trigger kids who come into the classroom with needs that are not being met and are expressed through behaviour," said Pearce. "The teachers have done everything they can at the school level to get them addressed and they haven't changed, so that's why we brought it here to the board level."
The BCTF is taking the government to B.C. Supreme Court in September to grieve the government's actions in stripping the teachers 2002 collective agreement of language that protected the ability of teachers to bargain on class size and class composition. Pearce said because the court already ruled in 2011 the government action was unconstitutional, this time the BCTF will be seeking damages.
"We gave up salary to get those clauses into our collective agreement because teachers felt strongly about protecting our learning environment," said Pearce. "If you take those away, and do it illegally without compensation, then the argument becomes, 'what was the loss created by your actions.' That loss could certainly be in the hundreds of millions."