I stand with the teachers

Dara Squires newsroom@thewesternstar.com
Published on June 25, 2014

I still remember “that boy” from primary school. He struggled, even in kindergarten it was obvious.

I remember he was at least a couple of years older than us. And I recall an incident in Grade 1 or 2 where a frustrated teacher made some pointed remarks about his ability to learn and I cried because I felt he was being bullied by the teacher.

After Grade 4 he fades away. He was no longer in my class but a year behind.

By that time it was obvious that he was being passed merely to avoid the socially awkward and potentially dangerous situation of having a much older child in with younger ones. There were wisps of hair on his upper lip the last time I saw him.

I’m not sure what happened, exactly — whether he merely moved to another school or whether that year was his last in the standard educational system. I do remember, even as a child, knowing that giving him a separate workbook and passing him along with his class meant he wasn’t learning a thing.

Of course, that was in the days before educational assistants were de riguer in many classrooms. It was before individualized learning plans, special needs assessments and accessible classrooms.

All of those things are positive moves.

Back then, even in our little underfunded school dotted with temporary classrooms there was a library, a full-time librarian, French teachers, a gym teacher, a music teacher, cafeteria workers, lunchtime supervisors, and a class full of learning resources.

Schools now have lost many of those things.

Back then, you could fail a child.

There were special classrooms for students who just couldn’t handle the regular curriculum, and the most technology our teachers had to handle was the photocopying machine (there were secretaries for that anyway). Back then, the one child with severe learning problems stood out in a school full of children.

Back then, teachers were respected — by children and their parents. I don’t think it would have ever crossed my parents’ minds to argue with a teacher about my grades.

The scene in schools is very different these days. The positive move of allowing all children the opportunity to learn has come with a number of negative moves as well.

In British Columbia, the teacher strike is in response to those negatives.

A quarter of B.C. classrooms  have four or more special needs students — and that doesn’t even count the students who aren’t native English speakers.

Almost 60 per cent of classes have at least one child with special needs — again ignoring the language issue.

Yet, in a province with almost 70,000 classrooms, there are only 20,000 educational assistants. That’s a huge leap in numbers of assistants, but I bet most parents of special needs students will tell you that splitting one assistant between three or four kids creates more problems than solutions.

Classrooms are often composed of clusters of kids so that assistants can be assigned to a classroom rather than to an individual student.

Top that off with the fact that teachers are expected to use a vast array of more technical learning resources and usually have to spend their own money for the “simple” things like posters and pencils for the classroom, are expected to create and maintain classroom websites and send parents reminder emails.

They also face situations where they are teaching across the curriculum because there is no French or music teacher, plus acting as the librarian for their classroom and are faced with all the issues that come with mixed classrooms socially ... so we have a lot of stress on teachers.

And if we think the situation looks much different in schools across Canada, we should think again.

As I spoke with my eldest son’s teacher yesterday about getting some of his special needs attended to — needs that have flown under the radar because there are so many more challenging children in his classrooms — I heard the stories of a veteran teacher who has seen more than you can imagine.

We send our children off to school each day and we worry and fret about their day and how class size and mixed up classrooms will affect their learning and social adjustment.

Teachers have 20 or 30 kids walk through the door each day that they also worry and fret about.

They teach. We know they do, because our children learn.

But what we often don’t see is how they referee, plan, prepare, purchase, observe, guide, care for and generally provide for not just our child, but a classroom full.

Frankly, you can’t put a price on what they do. And you can’t put a price on what we should spend on education in Canada. Decline in student numbers means many schools have even less funding than my little portable classroom did years ago. But student composition and the composition of learning materials has changed.

Education itself has changed — and I’m not talking about the “new” math. What has not changed is the fact that most teachers who go into and stay in the profession are there because they honestly want to help children.

They want to help your child. The least we can do is honour them by standing with them when they ask for help to do that.


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