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British Columbia B.C. teachers unsure about province’s professional development plan

In B.C., every teacher is entitled to six non-instructional days per school year, of which five are professional-development days.

The B.C. government wants to intervene in teachers' professional development programming to make sure it is helping educators provide the best possible instruction to students – a plan that has left teachers baffled by what they see as government meddling.

On Thursday, the government announced the plan as part of proposed amendments to the Teachers Act. The amendments will give the government the authority to review and adjust professional development to, as they see it, serve students better.

In Victoria, Education Minister Peter Fassbender said it is time to "drill into the detail" of the plan, and that he is committed to working with the B.C. Teachers' Federation to figure out how to enact it.

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"We need to get into the consultation. We need to define the specifics. Once that has been done, we will be sharing that to the benefit of parents and everyone in the system," Mr. Fassbender said in an exchange with reporters at the provincial legislature.

"There is no legislative requirement for professional development, nor is there a definition for what the route to that might be," he said.

"That is why it is important we work with the teaching profession to define that moving forward and that is what this bill allows us to do."

Mr. Fassbender said he called the head of the teachers' union on Wednesday night to notify him about the plan.

"I assured him that we are going to have a very robust consultation on all aspects of the new bill," said the minister.

But the union leader said that was not sufficient consultation.

Jim Iker also said the status quo is working well.

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"B.C. teachers are very proud of B.C.'s professional-development programs and initiatives," Mr. Iker told a news conference at the BCTF's Vancouver headquarters, adding that teachers' professional autonomy needs to be respected.

In B.C., every teacher is entitled to six non-instructional days per school year, of which five are professional-development days. Programming for those days is organized by union locals and the teachers' employers. Within the BCTF, 32 organizations specialize in subject areas that provide programming.

"There are over 41,000 public-school teachers in British Columbia teaching dozens of different subjects. A top-down government mandated approach to professional development will not be successful," Mr. Iker said.

But, on a conciliatory note, he said education ministry staff told him on Thursday there will be two years of consultation on how to make the government's proposal work.

Still, Mr. Iker was skeptical. "We don't need anybody to be telling us that we need to do this or that and it needs to be mandated, because we already do it."

He suggested the government's announcement was an attempted "diversion" from controversy about the government's demand that school boards cut costs by $54-million over the next two years, trimming from administration costs without affecting classrooms.

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Mr. Fassbender said the new approach will be financed out of existing education spending allotted for professional development.

The minister also said he would not use penalties to coerce teachers into co-operating because he expects they are also interested in tools to help them offer the best instruction to students.

Rob Fleming, the New Democratic Party's education critic, said giving teachers such short notice was "disgraceful" and that the minister should have held talks with teachers before enacting any legislation.

Beyond that, he said Mr. Fassbender was being a bit vague.

"It's really unclear at this point what the government has in mind here," he said in an interview. "Right out of the gate, what we are seeing is a top-down approach."

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