Teachers on the Sunshine Coast affectionately call the 150 km stretch of highway ribboning through stunning forest and ocean vistas from Langdale to Egmont “our hallway.” Known for its tourism and talented artists, the Sunshine Coast is also strong on unions, with its unionized mill, ferry, school district, government, and hospital workers. Community solidarity was evident at teacher rallies and picket lines during the 2014 strike. Teachers describe their communities as supportive, creative, and safe. One teacher shared that “every time I have a field trip, one parent sends in double the fee, so a student who wouldn’t be able to afford it can also go.”
Shishalhl (Sechelt Nation) language and culture is embedded in the curriculum and teachers infuse Aboriginal perspectives through ethnobotany work, cedar harvesting, adopt-a-tree programs, even making “wood cologne.” The district’s traditional canoe supports floating field trips on coastal waters.
With over 30% of teachers new to the district over the past five years, mentorship is a priority. Their mentee-driven model is supported with release time for in-service, staff development, and curriculum implementation.
Professional development is collaborative and ongoing, supporting autonomous choices made by teachers. The union office hums with so much activity it feels like a bee hive at times. School PD representatives use the BCTF PD Lens to guide decisions. A Joint Education Implementation Committee of teachers, district staff, and the superintendent meets regularly to address complex issues.
In this tourist paradise, rising real estate prices and rental housing shortages due to a proliferation of short-term rentals create accommodation challenges for newer teachers. Yet they keep coming, and they want to stay!
Women lead in this local, providing strong role models. The Sunshine Coast Teachers’ Association (SCTA) has focused on succession planning by creating space for the ideas and energies of younger, newer teachers. As one teacher noted, “as a new woman teacher, I felt myself echoed and included,” adding “it feels empowering, to think of my union.” Clearly, camaraderie is a draw for these new teachers who describe their union as a place “to make friends, have fun together. It’s a safe place to fail. If someone knocks you down, your union will pick you up.”
Union life began early for Louise Herle. She recalls her parents, with four children under age 10 plus the dog squeezed into the car, driving from Saskatchewan to Fredericton so her father Wendelin, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, could attend the Canadian Teachers’ Federation AGM. He became CTF president.
Louise’s teaching experience spans Kindergarten to adult education, focusing on music, French, and English language learners. Louise has served in many roles: social justice, global education, health and safety, professional development and most recently on the BCTF Judicial Council. She is a role model and strong mentor; as one teacher said, “About 10 years ago I felt like leaving the profession. Louise urged me to get involved. Having a voice in the SCTA kept me in teaching.”
Louise highly values all professional relationships. While, as president she must remain alert on behalf of teachers to support the collective agreement, the motto, soft on people, hard on issues, serves her well. To maintain morale during the lengthy 2014 strike, teachers and Sunshine Coast Labour Council formed a band, Local Voices, that still performs at union events.
Louise says a highlight of her presidency has been the BCTF victory at the Supreme Court. She notes however, that teacher unions must remain vigilant, since “the struggle for decent wages and working conditions for teachers and quality public education continues.”
Midway though her busy seventh year as president, Louise is also studying Spanish and making travel plans for her upcoming deferred salary leave.
Sunshine Coast at a glance
Land: Traditional territory of the shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation and the Skwxwu7mesh uxwumixw (Squamish Nation)
Education system: 250 teachers, 13 schools (nine elementary, three secondary, one alternate), 3,340 students, including 144 ELL learners with 20+ home languages, including Arabic, Tagalog, Farsi, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese and Czech.
Capilano University/College has a Sechelt campus.
Provincial parks: Sargent Bay, Mount Elphinstone, Mount Richardson, Francis Point, Tetrahedon, Smuggler Cove, Roberts Creek, and Spipyus.
Hiking: Sunshine Coast Trail, Dakota Ridge, Cliff Gilker, and many more.
Iris Griffith Center nature programs.
This article was written by Marion Dodds and was originally published in the November/December 2017 edition of Teacher magazine.