A Cochrane high school teacher reflects on how the falling oil prices affects his profession

downturnthumb2Grant Hoe has been teaching at Bow Valley High School in Cochrane for a decade now. He recently took the time to answer a few questions, through social media, about his take on falling oil prices in Alberta. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

How long have you been teaching for? What got you into it?

I've been teaching high school social studies for 10 years. It was always something in the back of my mind that I thought I would enjoy and would be good at. I was right on both counts... I think?

Take me back to 2008-2009, when the last oil crisis occurred. Was your profession affected by that crisis? If so, in what way? Did you have any specific worries?

Honestly, the last oil crisis led to some lean salary increases, but there was no talk of wage rollbacks. Support in schools has been sliding since I started, not just since oil started tanking. Classes are more complex, they're bigger, and there seems to be fewer and fewer support staff such as teaching aides and resource assistants. Couple that with a huge spike in ESL kids, the emergence of technology, and today's high schools in particular can be difficult places to work in.But it's far easier to go after the low-hanging fruit like teachers, because the government knows that the public holds us in contempt every time funding comes up.

-Grant Hoe, high school teacher in Cochrane

How did the 2008 oil crisis affect your life outside of your profession, if at all?

Teaching, for those that really try to do their best, owns you from September to June. While you have more set course/lesson plans after your initial years, you are constantly (or at least should be) reflecting, adjusting, and changing, which can be a lot of work. I'm in the middle of trying to overhaul my grade 12 course and it's a ton of work. And I have the diploma exam hanging over me and my students to boot. A lot of personal time goes into marking, planning, and such. We do get quite a bit of vacation time, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't make me any less exhausted during the school year.

How has the fall in oil price compared to the last one for you? Are there any concerns so far? Has there been any effects already? Any expected in the future?

4389889668 732d5672fc oThe teachers that occupy classrooms like this one can find themselves effected by the economic downturn.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Sessums/Flickr
This one is far more significant than the recession of 2007 because the government is in a much more precarious position. There seems to be two main opinions among teachers— that we're in for another Ralph Klein salary cut, or that Prentice is floating a cut to force us into accepting another collective agreement with zero per cent increases for another few years.
What bothers me the most is that there is so much waste going on in government — endless communications departments that serve no real purpose, layers of administration and executives, and as we've seen, excessive spending by "the suits" in major departments like health as well as MLAs. But it's far easier to go after the low-hanging fruit like teachers, because the government knows that the public holds us in contempt every time funding comes up. We get paid too much, we get summers off, blah blah blah. Far easier to stick it to "those lazy teachers and nurses" than have the courage to go after REAL areas of overspending. 

What is your plan moving forward?

My plan is to stay the course. I love my job, I love my co-workers, and quite frankly, even with a five per cent cut, I will still be making what I consider to be a good salary. Much better than when I was in the media . In a few years, I may explore ways to stay involved outside the classroom, especially if conditions in the classrooms worsen. What scares me the most is the prospect of a strike, which will be bad for all sides, in my opinion.

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Creative Commons Licensed Photo courtesy of Christopher Sessums/Flickr

Read this Calgary Journal special report for an in-depth comparison between Jim Prentice's response to the current drop in oil prices and Don Getty's response in the 1980s.