The newly-elected president of the BC Teachers’ Federation says pandemic response and addressing a shortage of teachers will be his top priorities.
The BCTF selected Clint Johnston as its next president on Tuesday.
Clint Johnston, president-elect of the BCTF, currently serves as first vice-president, while also serving as vice-president of the Canadian Teachers’ Association.
Johnston says he’s been at the bargaining table with the province since mid-March and expects to tackle priorities that have been affecting teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly those linked to the teacher shortage amidst burnout and COVID safety concerns.
“It’s more than just the teaching we do, we provide a safe place, we support kids, we feed kids lots of times,” said Johnston. “I think it’s that additional wear that COVID put on teachers, so we need to see from the government some real initiatives, some real ideas and resources around supporting the mental health of teachers who are doing that vital work.”
According to the 2021 BCTF health and safety survey taken by 15,000 members, the majority of teachers reported that overall health and safety precautions were inadequate in schools, including ventilation systems and personal protective equipment. Three in four teachers reported class sizes were too large to safely follow social distancing protocols, while less than half considered leaving the field over the next two years due to the pandemic.
As students are set to return to the classroom on March 28, Johnston stressed the importance of mask wearing to maintain safety following spring break.
“There’s a lot of young students who can’t be vaccinated so we do think that it’s important that as much as possible, people continue to wear masks hopefully, but more importantly that masks are made available for those who want to wear them, an N95 mask that are effectively keeping yourself and those around you safe,” Johnston said.
Adequate ventilation systems in B.C.’s aging schools remain an avenue for further investment as Johnston stressed the importance of infrastructure development by the Ministry of Education on behalf of teachers.
“The BCTF has been calling for upgrades to outdated and inadequate ventilation systems in schools long before the 2020-21 school year began,” read the 2021 BCTF report. “In November 2020, the BCTF Executive Committee highlighted the continued urgency of this issue by recommending the provincial government immediately address air quality standards with enhanced filtration systems and portable HEPA units, where necessary.”
Asked about his leadership style, and how he planned to represent members’ differing opinions, Johnston praised the democratic process with which the BCTF.
He said the union has implemented governance stemming from the grassroots level, adding that while teachers may have differing opinions, controls are in place to ensure that the opinion of the majority is heard and acted upon.