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As strike drags on, B.C. teachers mull the ethics, economics of tutoring

French immersion teacher Jean-Michel Oblette, seen Tuesday before a rally, says he has turned down multiple offers to tutor.


Faced with a strike that threatens to drag on interminably, many teachers in British Columbia are doing the math on their growing debt and have started looking for work – as private teachers.

Craigslist has exploded with "childcare" postings in the past few days, with teachers offering their services and parents searching for ways to keep their children educationally on track.

(Read up on the issues and history of the education labour dispute with our explainer Q&A.)

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B.C.'s 41,000 teachers have been on strike since June 17. They received strike pay of $50 a day for the first week, but have not been getting any since then and have lost about $5,200 in salary, teachers on the picket line in Vancouver say.

Stephanie, a Vancouver mother with two young boys, said she was overwhelmed with responses when she put up a posting looking not just for any teacher, but one qualified to work with a child who has special needs.

"We had tons of responses; more than we knew what to do with," she said, asking that her full name not be used. "It was unbelievable."

Jean-Michel Oblette, a Grade 2 French immersion teacher, was walking the picket line in Kerrisdale when he was interviewed.

He has been tutoring on the side for years to supplement his income and hone his teaching skills. But this week, even though his debts are growing because of the strike, he has turned down multiple offers to tutor.

Mr. Oblette hasn't been advertising, but his name is known, and parents are calling.

"My conscience says I should not tutor for these kids this week," he said. "I absolutely need the income. But I am not comfortable with it," he said.

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"It's difficult emotionally," he said of the struggle to decide whether to teach privately. "And I am not blaming or judging any teacher … We have families to care for, we have rent to pay and sometimes the realities of life have to take precedence over our conscience and ideals."

Mr. Oblette said he believes that similar to him, most teachers are toughing it out on the picket line and are not taking private teaching jobs. But he wonders how long that can last.

"At some point, if this [strike] lasts for two more months, then we are going to be starved out of our ideals," he said.

Angela, an East Vancouver teacher who posted that she has flexible hours and 20 years of teaching experience, was one of the first to post her services on the weekend. And it didn't take her long to get responses.

"I've got three home-school and tutoring jobs in the last couple of hours … three [kids] in the last one," she said Tuesday.

"There's a lot of concerned parents out there … they have to go to work and their kid is sitting around not learning anything," she said.

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Angela, who didn't give her full name because she didn't know what her teaching colleagues would think, said she rewrote her Craigslist posting after seeing how other teachers were trying to outdo her ad.

"What's really funny is that I hadn't seen barely any posting until I put mine on yesterday … now it's getting very competitive. People are trying to top each other," she said.

Her ad reads in part: "I specialize in Junior/Senior High School teaching English, Social Studies, French & beginners Spanish … I teach fun, efficient and effective ways of writing, reading and learning."

Angela said she needs the income, but she also wants to teach because she went through a strike as a student and knows the impact it can have on a child's education.

"It's tough because you get into the next year and you are lost," she said.

M, a Vancouver teacher who didn't want to be identified even by her first name, said she is posting on Craigslist, combing Facebook for jobs and has printed a flyer that she's left at a local coffee shop.

M said the union has asked teachers not to teach or provide child care during the strike and she is worried her colleagues will be upset because she's offering services privately that collectively teachers have withdrawn.

But she and her husband simply can't afford not to work.

"I'm desperate. We're all desperate," she said of her teacher friends. "My husband and I are both teachers. We're in our early 30s … We have a toddler and seven year old … we have a mortgage and we have consumer debts and student loan debts."

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