The current B.C. public school dispute is only the latest example, though admittedly the worst, of decades of the undervaluing and underfunding of B.C. public schools and teachers.
Those who aren’t in schools can’t be expected to grasp the level of carnage in our schools over the past twenty years. But instead of listening to hysterical pundits on C.K.N.W. or the Fraser institute, take it from someone who worked in, organized and operated schools for 35 years.
B.C.’s public schools are skeletons of their former selves and we are passing the crisis point.
Were our kids going to school, they would be going to schools that are generally deteriorating, under staffed, under supplied and continuously under siege.
The grass isn’t cut, the weeds aren’t pulled, and summer painting is rare. Renovations, upgrades, and new equipment have long been put on hold, cafeterias are cut back or cut out, textbooks are unaffordable, photocopying is rationed, and teacher’s are falling further behind with each salary cut.
Teaching staffs have shrunk. Counselling, Librarian, and learning centre staffs are too lean to serve kids.
There is a profound lack of supplies, impossible staffing levels, paltry maintenance budgets, skeletal student services, no district curriculum coordinators, few psycho ed testers , no technology geeks. There are fewer Vice Principals, almost none in elementary schools, from where most were cut long ago.
Money from the government’s “Learning Imrovement Fund” (L.I.F.) is touted as an answer to class size and composition woes but money that trickles through the centralized process to local districts goes straight into hiring back one or two of the staff laid off after the previous year’s cuts.
And now, education funding is frozen for 2013 –2015. This funding freeze will result in 300 million more in cuts for each of the next three school years.
Schools are already cut to the bone and Principals, teachers, support staff and students have been profoundly affected.
As the load gets heavier, teachers begin to teach defensively, concerned with just making it through the week. When they teach this way, they feel guilty and angry at having to do so.
The more kids and special needs students they have, the more formulaic, the less interactive learning has to become.
Teachers are forced to focus on activities that keep kids busy and compliant. They don’t have the time, resources or class size to offer the kind of engaging learning activities they would prefer to offer. More seat work, worksheets, and tests – multiple choice (easy to mark) Less project learning, group work, individualized instruction, and cooperative learning.
Teachers hate going there, but they are increasingly forced to make adjustments to their teaching and are too often forced to replace engaging and fun with busy and quiet.
Extra curricular activities are leaner, intramurals more rare. There are fewer bands and spring musicals and field trips. The things that make schools meaningful for kids are difficult to sponsor as teaching loads burgeon and disrespect for the profession increases relentlessly.
But the biggest difficulty in public education is that many of us, including our government, no longer consider teaching a profession. Rather they think of it as a job, like working in an office but with better holidays and benefits.
In fact, teaching is a profession, not a job. It requires significant training and regular re-training, sophisticated skills and strategies, and hard work. A good teacher is an incalculably valuable professional. Those who think teaching is cushy – “ six hours a day, eight months a year, great salary… “, are monumentally mistaken.
Those who think a journeyman cabinetmaker could teach woodwork more effectively than a teacher or that a professional trumpet player could teach band better than can a teacher, are mistaken. Teaching is so much more than having knowledge to impart. As a matter of fact, subject knowledge is one of the least important requirements of being a good teacher. When interviewing for a teaching position, the most important boxes to tick are people skills, not subject proficiency.
Those who attack teaching and teachers by comparing their employment situations to other jobs, invariably ignore the most difficult things teachers deal with in their professional life – that their profession is their life, not a job.
Teachers face thousands of personal interactions and stimuli every day, each crucial to the student, parent, or colleague. They must be “on” at all times, in school, the supermarket, and in the community. Teachers never leave work at work; it’s always on their mind, a constant stream of consciousness and rumination about today and tomorrow’s lessons and that kid who is really hurting.
The first few years of teaching are quite a shock to young teachers. Teaching is so much more difficult than they thought or heard described on Twitter – and they really don’t make much money.
But that’s what teachers signed up for, and after six or seven years, most teachers are at the top of their game, immeasurably more effective than when they began – because there is so much to learn about how to be a good teacher than the surface analyses spouted by internet trolls.
So teachers eagerly accept the challenges of the profession, in exchange for making a difference, for job security and public respect.
But over the past twenty years, teachers and public schools have seen their profession slowly but inexorably strangled, underfunded and disrespected.
Teachers and public education have had to repeatedly pay the freight for government austerity and budget balancing.
Teachers have lost about 20% of salary to inflation since provincial bargaining was legislated by the Harcourt government in 1994.That NDP government ended the strategy of “whipsawing”; holding up the contracts of other teacher’s groups as immutable settlement templates.
Ironically, whipsawing is the main bargaining strategy now used against teachers, Still, in 1994 ,the government proclaimed whipsawing an unfair labour practice and legislated province wide teacher bargaining. That’s when the enmity between provincial governments and teachers really began.
Provincial governments have many more and different priorities than did local school boards who respected and supported their local teachers. Local governments still respect their firefighters and police and there are few labour disputes with civic workers. Firefighters and police have thrived in bargaining with appreciative local governments.
Conversely, teachers have not done well bargaining provincially, having to compete for funding with other provincial priorities. There are few votes to be gained by putting money into public education and it’s never enough anyway.
Unfortunately there are votes (and campaign money), in increasing funding for private schools.
Private school attendance was at 12% in 2013, up from 4% scant years ago, and government funding for private schools has increased 45% compared with 16% for public schools.
And public schools, principals and teachers have been so repeatedly creative in doing more with fewer resources year after year, that successive provincial governments felt fine about continuing to draw money from the education well to fund other priorities, like tax cuts, infrastructure, and stadia roofs.
In 1973, a beginning teacher made about $5,000 more than a beginning firefighter, policeman, or nurse. Now, firefighters, policemen, and nurses make ten to twenty thousand more than teachers –ten thousand or so more to start, twenty thousand or so more at maximum after a shorter increment scale and less education/training (nurses after 4 yrs. experience- $ 91 thousand, teachers after 11 yrs. and a Masters degree, $78 thousand.)
Disclaimer; firefighters, police, and nurses deserve every penny they make – they perform valuable public services. But firefighters and police still have the luxury of negotiating contracts with appreciative and respectful local governments, rather than with provincial governments who need to skim money from public services to pay for tax cuts.
And let’s face it, It’s difficult for provincial Education Ministers to feel too warm and fuzzy about teachers because they don’t see them through a local lens – they’re a line item expense not an investment.
Teachers used to be in the middle class. Now they’re in the working class. Yet surprisingly, teachers are so easily bullied they don’t even seem to mind the relegation. But they do mind not having the resources to do their jobs well. That’s why teachers are feeling angry and beaten up.
Teachers choose the profession out of passion. They willingly trade any chance of getting rich for a worthwhile, secure profession, a chance to contribute something meaningful to people and the community.
But now, few chemistry whizzes, computer aces, or shrewd mathematicians are going into education anymore –why would they?
Teacher surpluses have been institutionalized by relentless education cuts and a continuing University cash grab, and many prospective teachers have shoulder shrugged into what is fast becoming a job not a profession..
Public education is a complex activity – too complex to be dismissed with inapt comparisons with what other workers do, earn, or deserve.This is not to say that other occupations are not complex, there are just too many variables and priorities to compare.
Tenure and benefits haven’t been taken away yet, but teachers and public schools have been the silent whipping boys of austerity minded governments in every other way for many years.
The current education dispute is about the chronic underfunding of public education over the past twenty years. It’s about salary too, but more than that it’s about respectful treatment, something public schools and educators have not felt from provincial governments for too long.
Public education is the most successful collective initiative of western democracies. Canadian public schools are the melting pot of our multicultural mosaic.
Our public schools are hurting, and we’re not only not defending them, many of us are throwing gas on the fire.
If the B.C. public isn’t willing to take a macro look at whether we want a properly funded, vibrant public education system, we’ll keep degrading public schools and teachers as we march down the American road toward destroying a world class public school system.
You give me hope!! Well said! I so appreciated reading this!! Now let’s get it out in mainstream media!!
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Reblogged this on Aim High Salmon Arm and commented:
Good chronology and overview of Public Education (and teachers) seen as an “expense” rather than an investment. Check it out and please pass it on.
You nailed it, thank you!
Thanks for writing this, Jim. I think it is a comprehensive and accurate reflection of the changes I have seen in our schools and classrooms, and clearly points out the root causes of many of the problems faced in our public schools today.
Hi Jim, Great read here. I have sent along to my staff, but I’ve also sent along to Simi Sara at CKNW suggesting it may be of interest to her listeners as Kevin Akin’s letter was last week. You never know… Mike
The most frustrating thing about this dispute to me is how low people who know little about schools are willing to descend. The disrespect is monumental.
Chin up, this too shall pass, I suppose.
Thank you Jim from a (still there) Pinecone….you sum up what it’s like today very well
Hi Colleen – great memories of you and the cone…
Thanks Jim, I concur with Mike, what a great read! One of the best summaries and analyses of recent BC teacher history/reality I’ve read. In fact, it brought tears to my eye, as I recall the optimism and grand visions I had as a beginning teacher, versus now, after 22 years, all too often I feel forced to default to “make-do” teaching due to current classroom size, composition, and budget realities (plus I need to see my family from time to time.) Teaching and working with kids is a calling, and the best teachers know this; others don’t last. But after chronic, relentless public and govt. whippings, I’m about done. It’s tough being an unfair target.
Thank you, Jim, for your frank and well expressed statements. I have posted this and so has our daughter in Ontario (one of your former students). She and my husband have left being BC teachers and have found other work in which they excel. They contributed greatly to their schools including giving Professional Development. Their choice is a loss to education. I am writing to the Premier and to the Minister of Education. Our voices must be heard and heeded. Cathy Goss, New Westminster firstname.lastname@example.org
Great article…informative and to the point. I agree with how hard it is to do the job effectively without the tools or resources and realize the teachers that stay have made a personal commitment and those that leave to go on to other vocations never really made the commitment or gave up. The level of disrespect leveled at teachers today is deplorable and needs to stop. People need to wake up and support our education system or our children will be left without the sound base they need to be able to be constructive, contributing people of the future.
Thank you for outlining what has happened to public education in the past 20 years. I retired in 1997 after working in the public school system for 35 years as an elementary classroom teacher, special ed. teacher, teacher librarian, vice principal and principal. I saw the beginning of the results of the under funding in my last few years. What has happened is a tragedy for our families and their children as well as for the dedicated educators. I feel afraid for my great grandson who will enter this system in 3 years. Marilyn Jones
A very good article! One point though, nurses DO negotiate their contract provincially, not locally.
Yes, I know nurses bargain provincially. I wanted to include nurses in the salary comparison because they have done better than teachers.I specifically mentioned only firefighters and police in looking at the advantages of local bargaining, but you’re right, the confusion remains there in my rant – sorry.
Thank you for writing down the thoughts I’ve been having for a while now. I started teaching in 1998 and every year for ten years, I thought, “it can’t get worse,” but it did. Then I began to expect it to get worse and I thought, “This is going to turn around,” but it has not. Now I am thinking, “will I make it to retirement?” I’m, not sure that I can. In my school we have students who kick, bite and scratch teachers. Teachers have to evacuate classes when a student begins attacking other students or creates so much noise, the anxiety of students becomes extreme. I am in survival mode and always on the look-out for dangers to my students. My biggest priority now, as a teacher, is to help control the anxiety among my students. On the picket line, we reminisce about the days when we had a librarian and planned reading adventures, when we had a music program and were excited to plan a winter concert, when a counsellor could get to most of the students who were recommended, when the number of IEP’s were manageable so we could focus on creative and engaging lessons for the class . . . . But, at this point I am worried that, in my career, I will never see these things again.
……….after rreading this academic rant, I am left with the impression that it is suggesting that all the ills and turmoil of education in the province are centralized, even fossilized, in the schools. Yet, the ills and turmoil are also to be found in homes and with families, in other work places, in corporations, in community/volunteer organizations, thus, in general, throughout the social fabric of the world. Your rant seems to have blinkers and focuses solely on only one part of the “education and learning” of students — which is in the schooling system. True, the historical perspective outlined is probably quite accurate; but there is so much more going on in society that your rant seems to omit and avoid that effects schools and education. I think that a wider perspective, especially from an educational consultant, of how students at whatever age and wherever they may be living needs to be integrally included in the debate, discussion, and decisions of how teaching of life skills and knowledge is accomplished.
I have no idea what you are trying to say in this post, other than that you appear to believe that a “rant” is the expression of ideas you disagree with
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I couldn’t agree more Mr.Spence.
There are all kinds of things that affect children that take place outside of the walls of schools and they should be examined as carefully as the ills of the public education. That said, our public schools provide a crucial part in the education of our children. Sure,our kids learn and grow in homes,on soccer fields,in unsupervised play,and in the community, but schools are where they spend their childhood days and schools need the resources to make the profound contribution they make in the lives of our children.
The problem is that most people see their kids going to and from school with little discussion about what happens there. Most think their kids learn some stuff about Egypt and different kinds of clouds, that that is what’s important about school – it’s not. School is where our children learn to interact with the world, with other people, with groups, with adults other than their parents – the importance of public schools cannot be minimized.
My rant (and you’re right,it is a rant) is narrowly focussed on public education, because that is what’s being so acutely attacked at the moment -the current running sore of our world here in B.C.There are many other injustices that need to be fought, but this one is fundamental – we can’t undersell it.
I suspect your reservation(s) might be about the language and tone of the rant.If it’s too academic I apologize, that’s how I talk.If you find it a bit evangelistic, I plead guilty.I am apoplectic about the injustice and shortsightedness shown by so many towards our public schools and I am thus a bit virulent at times – I apologize.
Too many who gleefully jump into the fray in this particular dispute don’t know schools.Few people even know what schools do ,what they should do, and what they should try to do.
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Thank you, Jim. As a recently retired teacher, this article rang so true that it brought tears to my eyes. One of the first divisive things that was done was separating administrators from teachers. I remember the days fondly when we were still all on the same side of the fence. We sure need people like you who from retirement can speak the truth! Thank you again!
Kerry Weisner, Duncan
Thank you Kerry – aren’t you nice.Yes,I’m afraid to say that the separation of teachers and administration by Bill Vanderzalm marked the beginning of treating teachers like workers not professionals.My blog was bit of a rant, I know, but if it resonated with some I’m glad.
Have a good retirement – thanks for your years of service to our country’s children… now why don’t we say that more often to lifelong teachers?
I think we should have pink ribbons to stick on our bumpers saying ” I support our public school teachers”
could hardly read this without throwing up. This is exactly why I don’t support the coddled and self aggrandizement that the bctf demonstrates continuously. Teachers continually belittle the working public that pays their salary and looks down their noses at them. Totally disgusting.
Well done reading this with an open mind. Glad to see people are still willing to seek out other opinions. You must be very proud of yourself
I’m sorry you were offended to such a visceral degree.The statement you quoted as so objectionable was improperly written if it gave you the impression that I don’t respect other workers.If you read any of my blogs I think you’ll find quite the opposite to be true. I support all workers in their struggle for recognition and higher salaries.
Is there anything factual you object to in my rant? Are there some figures or historical points I got wrong? If so, I would be interested in correcting them.
I don’t understand where your anger towards teachers comes from – there are a lot of people who feel as you do. They describe teachers using expressions like coddled,sense of entitlement, and now you use the word “self- aggrandized.”
Can you put into words any factual justification for your hatred of teachers,any numbers or even an emotional justification?
I am dead serious when i say I’m interested in finding out what teachers have done to offend some people so deeply.
Thanks for your article. I am a teacher and just wanted to let you know I really appreciate you taking the time and effort to share your perspective.
One thing I think the teachers should do is ,get off the composition issues. Teachers ‘stop enabling the parents’ don’t speak up for our kids’.
I hear people say “parents aren’t educated on the issues” well then teach that. When you go back to work, work the best you can in the conditions you have. Fill out your report cards to the parents and will judge how well things are going.
If we think we are getting the education we think our kids deserve or not is the parents job.
If you do your work within the normal confines of your job and my child’s marks drop like a rock because you don’t have time for proper individual help, review or whatever that’s fine. Let your work load reflex on my child and everyone’s children’s grade average. One report card period is all it will take to deliver that message, about the same time you have walked the picket line over the last decade.
Force me the parent to come into the class room to see for myself what’s going on. Within that first report card term if every parent got a taste of the reality of the classroom you wouldn’t need to negotiate class composition every parent in your class would be banging on doors. One parent per student will bring the composition issue forward to the government more powerfully than anything you will ever achieve through your work action, trust me, and trust the parents.
Ok you guys class composition, here my thought to date. Not so sure we are even approaching this as open as it should be. Shouldn’t my child’s kids educational needs be meet first? What’s the best learning environment for every learner? Anyone ever talk about reassessing the integration of special needs into the mainstream as it has unfolded to date? Shouldn’t some special need student’s integration plans be reviewed? Maybe this plan isn’t working for every student intergraded? Don’t the considerations of some integration plans consider the stability of the other students in a class and there right to an educational environment that they too can function in? Not all kids should be intergraded into a class room? Is there enough assistants for every students individual learning style? Just some issues I ponder. Teachers, if we all get a plan and the governments isn’t on side, parents will walk the picket lines and not in front of the school. Will the teachers please stop enabling the parents and feeding into the systemic problem. Just stop it. Teachers don’t forget who has to pay for the changes you want, should you get me on your side? Go fight for your wages you are under paid, that’s what your union should be working on.
I ‘m glad to hear someone suggest that parents step up and demand the education their kids deserve.
Until now they haven’t. B.C.C.P.A.C.’s stated position on behalf of BC parents is not supportive of teachers at all.True, many parents have skewered the organization for not speaking for them, but their official position remains critical of teachers not the government.
Many, maybe even most parents take the “we don’t want to listen to either side, just fix it” stance, which is not very helpful
And it’s not just parents.Very few school principals,trustees,and opposition politicians have been openly supportive of increased funding for our public schools and fair treatment for our teachers.
With all due respect, teachers have been doing what you suggest for twenty years, that is, doing the best they can with what they’ve got. That’s why we’re in the predicament of having deteriorating schools -they do a good job of working with less and less.By the way,teachers are still waiting for most parents to notice and object to the effects of continuous education cuts.
As far as integration of special needs students is concerned, inclusion in regular classes with regular kids with appropriate support is pretty well accepted as the best way to go for both special needs and regular students.The problem is that we forgot about the “appropriate support” part of the equation.
It’s a bit like when we closed Riverview in favour of dealing with the mentally ill using more local and inclusive treatment models. We closed Riverview, which was the right thing to do, but we forgot about the creating more inclusive and local treatment models part. Too many challenged people were poorly served and ended up on the streets of Vancouver.
As far as the “don’t forget who pays your salary” argument is concerned ,I’m tired of it.We’re not teacher’s bosses because we pay taxes any more than I’m the boss of the local butcher shop guy because my patronage helps pay his income. Sure ,I have a right to suggest he brings in a cut of meat,and to complain if something I get there is past due or full of mad cow disease, but I know nothing about running a butcher shop and I trust him to do his job for me without pretending I know more about butcher shops than he does.
By the way teachers are taxpayers too, and consumers.Don’t forget that they pay our salaries through their consumption of whatever product or service we’re involved with producing,so we’d better watch out.It’s a weak,snide argument isn’t it?
Now, if the people of B.C. decide the province doesn’t need public schools anymore, then fine, that’s our right as citizens -we are the clients in that sense; but saying teachers deserve 6yrs of salary cuts because we’re their bosses is not a legitimate argument.
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment – I hope you’ll support public education in this time of stress.
You brought tears to my eyes. I’m a teacher of 20 years and felt everything you said in my heart. I’ve watched our school deteriorate before my eyes over the last 20 years and it is in danger of collapsing completely. I so wish to bring back the “glory days”. When will it end?… will it get better?…or just shrivel and die?
Thank you for an insightful understanding
of the education system
I didn’t know the naked facts.
Yes the macro long term view
at first appears doomed.
However, grey power, the baby boomers can and will make a difference.
We must individually and collectively
keep the dialogue flowing between
teachers, teaching, education and
I am not a teacher but I am a nursing assistant. However comparing the
quality of my education system to
the quality of the system now is
As a family we experienced the
beginning of provincial cut backs
to our children’s education 15 yrs
From then to now I’ve observed
constant government undermining
of education and public respect for teacher, support workers and the system as a whole.
The impending question is what can I,
we do ,to create change?
I have a passion for learning.
Unfortunately my post secondary education came to a screeching
hault while I was pursuing my
BSW and fine arts degrees during our 23 yr. marriage. Divorce city temporarily changed my education journey to that of monetary survival. After supporting the
integrity of “family” emotionally, financially and spirituality I will retire
in two more years at 67 years young.
Twenty three years of my life as a
Nursing Assistant has seen a constant
Provincial and federal undermining
of both of our health care and education systems.
Again I ask of you what can we do
individually and collectively?
Different governments in power during the past decades with the same old
prepolitical promises unfilled.
Universal education is our democratic
not capitalistic right.
A thought crosses my mind we need
to band together from sea to sea to sea for power and change.
Both governments as a whole
need us fighting amongst and
A vision for the present and carried forth to the future must be considered
A flexible, positive visionary group
must be formed.
What we are doing now is not
I am eager and willing to join or
start such a grassroots organization.
to the future must be
Thanks for your heartfelt sentiments.I think all we can do is what we’re doing – talk to everyone we can about the importance of public education. I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to someone at a party rant about teachers and how greedy they are. No more. I will not allow that kind of thing to stand any more.
I will continue to work to support public education in person and on line.
Thank-you for having a voice and taking a stand on our behalf.
When I am on the picket-line I am at work. I consider it my responsibility to elicit a response from every car that drives by and speak to every parent, pedestrian, or passer-by.
We must educate not just our students, but our province.
We must stand strong and fight for public education in our province. This is a pivotal time.
It’s now or never.
After 33 years in this profession, yes, profession I can’t sit quietly on the picket-line.
People don’t understand the issues and it is imperative we inform them.
Thank-you for doing your part so eloquently.
I wish more of our administrators would speak up.
Teachers are so ill suited to having to fight. That’s why they became teachers, because they want everyone to get along and play nice.
I am so proud of the teachers of BC – the government thought teacher solidarity would collapse on Sept. 4th ,but there you are, whether it’s
working or not, committed to fight these attacks on public education. No one else is required to lose money every day for their moral stand.
There are many factors. But the union should never and there reps should never have let it get out of hand like it is now. But when teachers get 3 months holidays a year I suppose they let their guards down a little.
Thanks for your input.
Just for my information, do you think the government should have let it get out of hand like this? Do you think a 6yr salary cut, 3 yr freeze on education funding, no new money for class size and composition, a lockout, and a 10% salary penalty during a legal strike are the actions of people who don’t want it to get out of hand like this?
Very condescending to say teachers are no longer in the middle class but are moving to working class. Who decides which class people are in? Teachers cannot be compared to firemen and policemen who put their lives on the line every day and should be paid accordingly.
Not condescending at all to say teachers are now in the working class – it’s just an observation – it’s not official in any way. It’s an opinion based on numbers I have given you which show the erosion of teacher’s purchasing power,and their apparent demotion from the ranks of professional to that of worker.
It’s never a valuable exercise to compare who works harder, who requires university training and who doesn’t and who has a more significant effect on our society.
I will never criticize firefighters and policemen – they deserve every cent they are paid as they offer a valuable public service.
But do you actually think teachers don’t ever deserve a raise or that their contribution isn’t at least as important?
Teachers save a lot of lives too, which seems to be your criterion for who should be paid what, never mind six years of university, an extended practicum, and 5 or six years just get into the profession.
You have a burr up your saddle about teachers, I get that. But what is that makes people lose all sense of logic,attention to fact and figure when they talk about teachers? I don’t get it.
You’ve got a government that has treated our teachers and public education system un- constitutionally as judged in the BC Supreme Court twice and you express no concern about that, you jump straight to irrational teacher bashing.
I really don’t get it.
No teacher bashing from me, I just like to see the whole picture painted and not just the part that suits you. I have friends and relatives in the profession and they’re incredibly good at what they do. I also know many retired educational professionals who happen to be among the best well off retirees with excellent pensions.
Why has the cost of education continued to climb even though enrolment has declined. There are more tax dollars, in total and by percentage, that go towards education now than say 30-40 years ago. Have you looked at the cost of salaries and benefits now as a percentage of the whole vs the cost of administration and capital over the last 40 years ? It might surprise you that more is going to salaries than before. So the challenge becomes how to balance the tax dollars available to provide excellent education services.
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