Author: Tom Kertes

My thoughts on PPE for teachers.

The BC Teachers’ Federation just held its last Representative Assembly (RA) of the school year, remotely by conference call. Building on lessons learned from the remote Annual General Meeting (AGM) held just over a month ago, the RA considered many resolutions and it was a productive meeting. Issues were debated, motions amended, and union democracy advanced.

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Ten lessons learned from AIDS to help us through COVID-19.

I knew about ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, a grassroots network of activists) before coming out. Coming out right after graduating from high school, I soon gravitated to its direct action and in-your-face style of activism, in part because I read a book by one of its founders, Larry Kramer. Kramer considered government neglect of the pandemic genocidal; the collective embodiment of hate as indifference.

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Why fads, trends, and gurus won’t protect public education during COVID-19.

Defending the integrity of public education matters most to those facing the greatest obstacles to justice and fairness. That’s one reason why we should be on the lookout for simplistic “one-size-fits-all” approaches to teaching and learning. We must also pushback on Trojan Horses, radical approaches that would undermine public education waiting to be brought into the public education system during this time of crisis.

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Why B.C. students need rigorous education with integrity, not just grades and credentials, during COVID-19.

Key to getting public schools back on track is to focus on the integrity of teaching, learning, and reporting of student progress. If the curriculum is to be scaled back, then this must be made explicit and the costs to student learning should be known. Lost teaching and learning time for most students, especially students with limited resources available for at-home learning, should be clear and visible.

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Will the BCTF lead on professional guidelines for schools during COVID-19?

Today is is the last day that the BCTF’s Executive Committee is planning to meet before the end of August. There will then be one final meeting of the Representative Assembly at the end of June. The Annual General Meeting met in late May. What this means is that soon all the critical decisions related to planning and preparing for a possible return to school in the fall must either be made today or at the end of the month, or that emergency meetings will need to be called before the end of August.

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A Challenge and an Opportunity: COVID-19, ending systemic racism, and strengthening B.C’s public education system.

The teaching profession is in the midst of an historic moment – right now. Urgent action is called for in this time of crisis and opportunity. With back-to-school in September, coming sooner than most realize, now is the time to engage with BIPOC communities, reflect deeply as a profession on racial injustice, and to collaborate together, with government and other stakeholders, to prioritize making “we’re all in it together” a call for action, solidarity, and justice.

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An open letter to my union.

I am a public school teacher in a middle school in northern British Columbia. You, my union, are a lifeline in many ways.

You help me, and other professionals in my part of the province, stay connected to the profession at large. You provide a means for me, and other professionals, to speak up on behalf on the unique challenges and barriers that our students face.

I teach students who are majority Ts’msyen, Haida, Nisga’a, Gitxsan, or of another coastal or inland First Nation. This means my students bring a wealth of culture and resilience with them. My students are (just like the students of all other teachers) smart, creative, curious, fun, and engaging.

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Why teachers’ collective silence on racism, reconciliation, and COVID-19 equals death.

“Silence = Death” was a clarion call to action made by AIDS activists in the early days of that pandemic. At a time of willful government neglect, because of who the HIV virus killed, we knew that our survival depended on our voices being heard. What I learned then, when I came out as an AIDS activist in the early 1990s, is that silence always equals death, even now.

British Columbia currently faces more than one crisis; the COVID-19 crisis is one amongst many. We face opioid addiction, child and adult poverty, racism, colonialism, violence against women, and the climate crisis. Each crisis connects to all the others. And all are made worse by the pandemic.

COVID-19 also brings to light long hidden emergencies – made worse by the pandemic. For example, the societal neglect of nursing homes, causing deplorable conditions at some facilities – with low standards of care, overworked staff, and lost lives – is now visible for all to see.

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This revolution was not televised.

If you listened to this week’s Annual General Meeting of the BC Teachers’ Federation, then you already know that our profession just went through a revolution. Given this, the future of our status as a profession is now at stake. What happens next is up to us. This revolution was not televised. It didn’t need to be. That’s because the meeting was held remotely across many platforms (streaming video of the motions as text, spoken words over the telephone, and online ballots). Glitches aside, the live co-ordination between the three platforms was a marvel, a testament to technical ingenuity in a time of crisis.

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