I fear for the future of the B.C. Teacher Regulations Branch under a GreeNDP government.
On its face, making teacher discipline hearings and decisions public on the web is just one more B.C. Liberal backhand to teachers and another decision due to be overturned by a more teacher-friendly government.
But I truly hope these findings remain public. How else would we know just how stupid, petty and backwards many of these decisions are.
They make clear that the bureaucratic Dementors that reign over teachers in this province intend to suck out all life, soul, individuality and humanity from the ranks. With great apology to Pink Floyd, it's now the teachers who must be Bricks in the Wall.
Some of this stuff is pretty standard. Every year, there’s a few educators who cheat on their timesheets. Some are clear violations, should have involved police, or did involve police and went through the courts.
But a shocking number of these decisions confirm what you have likely heard anecdotally from teachers at backyard barbecues — there is zero tolerance for anything resembling real life and emotion, no recognition of the harmful role kids can play, and any colouring outside the lines gets you in detention.
You might read these decisions quite literally and disagree with me entirely. But read enough of these technical reports — none of which, by coercive agreement with the offending teachers themselves, may ever be disputed by those teachers — and you might suspect there's more to these stories.
Like this teacher who told a Grade 7 student that they were “annoying” and “didn’t have any friends” and no one wanted to sit by them. A little harsh perhaps, but you sense the panic in what the teacher did when the next day he found out he was being investigated by the emotion police: apologize to the entire class, then seek input from all of his students about his sense of humour and whether they were troubled by his sarcasm. What was his punishment for being human? Five days suspension.
A couple of cases from the past year appear to show clear lapses of judgement from the teachers, but we don't know the conditions under which these things happened. They sound terrible, but are very likely the result of exactly what teachers have been complaining about for years — they need help dealing with kids who require additional resources. I'm not judging either of these teachers, I appreciate the window into the very complex situations they have to deal with. I know I would have lost my mind.
And if you read those cases and want to argue, consider this one first and whether you should offer the benefit of the doubt. She was teaching a Grade 2 class at an independent school and had two boys who couldn’t get along. She tried many different things to stop them from fighting before she had to get creative.
She didn’t do anything hasty, she made a plan and got consent from parents and caregivers and everyone signed off and carried through. She tied the two kids together at the ankle for the day, ensured they were safe and it appeared to work well. But she was still disciplined because:
“The act of tying students together evoked recollections of the experience of community members in the Indian Residential School system and the Catholic Day School system. (The teacher's) conduct in tying students together was not appropriately sensitive to the history and the impact the strategy would have in the community.”
This “professional misconduct” earned her a formal reprimand. She had to take a course from the Justice Institute.
Some of them are far less serious and even comical, like this poor teacher who had a problem with pigeons pooping and dropping eggs on all the cars in the garage. When a student offered to ‘deal with’ some pigeons, he turned a blind eye to it. Who knew the kid was going to shoot them with a pellet gun?
That lack of insight: Professional misconduct.
Most of the cases though are sad, sad stories of teachers who made the mistake of being human and developing real relationships with their students. This teacher offered a student the opportunity to use his car to practice parking if she did well on a test. Professional misconduct.
This teacher made the mistake of trying to play some games, which as you might expect, involves winners and “losers” (OMG) and those “losers” got sprayed with water or some kind of slime. Some might call that good old “fun” but alas not every single student in the class.
“Some students reported that playing the game was stressful and made them anxious.... (T)he parent of a student complained that their daughter was mocked by her classmates after this occurred,” and of course that ended the fun for everyone, punctuated by, yes, a formal reprimand for the teacher.
After we reported about this Vernon teacher, dozens of his former students took the time to tell us how great he was because they could relate to him. So far, at least, he hasn't been assimilated by the machine. By now, he will have served more than 27 days on suspension over the past few years because he uses words they actually understand. He is quoted in the most recent case saying "shut up”, “shut your mouth” and in the soulless language of a regulation decision “swore and used inappropriate language in class, using words like “shit”, “ass”, “dickhead” and “prick” and telling students to “stop bitching.”
“Some students reported feeling uncomfortable, anxious, intimidated and scared,” the report reads.
My goodness. How dare someone spread a little fertilizer around these little hothouse flowers.
These cases are only from the last year. I promise, if you want to go back and read more, you will see some of the most mundane teacher activities attracting the finger-waggers because some kid took it the wrong way or wanted revenge on a teacher or for really no reason at all. But I am sure glad I know what they are being sanctioned for so we can have this discussion and hopefully relay this to parents out there: Get over yourself. Leave the teachers alone. Think back to your teachers and you'll remember only the ones you hated and the ones you loved — but you remembered them. The rest had no impact whatsoever.
If that's what you want, keep up the petty complaints. These adjudicators have to give you their attention. I can just imagine how these cloistered clowns would come down on Morgan Freeman's character in Lean on Me or Robin Williams' character in Dead Poets Society.
Which brings us to the case of Robert Ammon, a teacher in Victoria, or most likely a soon-to-be former teacher in Victoria. He's due to return to school after a five-month suspension for professional misconduct because he dared to attempt to be a positive influence in the life of a 15-year-old student. There's a move afoot among parents to have him permanently removed and they've got the local TV station on side.
I wonder if they read the case because what a damn shame that will be. I have no doubt others will insinuate all sorts of terrible motives from the man, but to me: This is a guy who actually cares about students, not just his job. He sacrificed time and energy and perhaps soon his career to help a kid pass at life. Every adult in this kid's life failed him and this teacher refused to. He broke a few rules, coloured outside the lines of what a 'teacher' is supposed to do, seemed to be pretty careful about how he did it. No, there wasn't anything sexual about it, but yes he overstepped some boundaries.
Unfortunately, it had a tragic though perhaps inevitable consequence.
Like many of these cases, it looks messy and that's the one thing all these decisions reinforce — colour outside the lines and they will fail you.
What exactly are we supposed to learn from this?
— Marshall Jones is the editor of iNFOnews.ca