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I have been both an elementary classroom teacher, and a Resource teacher working to support those children who need extra help to master the critically important basics of reading and writing, those essential skills on which all future school success is based.
Having lived the reality of both a classroom teacher and Resource Room teacher, I can heartily attest to the truth of the challenges so well described by my colleagues who are presently working in those positions:
- appalling underfunding for struggling learners
- horrendously long wait lists for specialist assessments and service
- pathetically inadequate support for special needs students…
But at present I am not writing from the classroom teacher's or the Resource teacher's point of view.
My current role is a district position. Besides working with the children on my caseload, I also work to support classroom teachers and Resource teachers in a number of elementary schools across Vancouver. In doing this job, I have a sort of 'bird's-eye view' of many of the schools I seek to serve, and
I cannot help noticing over and over and over again the symptoms of a very, very broken system.
In almost every school I have contact with, I have seen caring, dedicated teachers and staffs working their hearts out to cover gaping wounds inflicted on their schools by a decade of successively deeper and deeper cuts to education. Were I on staff at any one of these schools, and more intimately acquainted with the workings of that particular school, I am sure I could cite even more damning examples, but here are some of the things I have noticed just as a visitor:
- I have seen several schools where teachers are struggling with persistence and compassion to meet the needs of ministry designated children in their classrooms without the necessary human and material resources to do so, all the while trying desperately to meet the needs of the rest of the students in their class. Many of these classrooms also have a number of as yet undesignated special needs children for whom no help is in sight.
- I know of two schools where the Resource teacher actually takes one child every morning before school starts, or immediately after school, because there is not enough time in the schedule to offer those children the one-to-one extra help they need during regular hours.
- I know of several schools where Resource teachers regularly use their two weekly 40 minute prep periods to work with children rather than using these prep periods to lighten their already heavy out-of-instructional-hours preparation load.
- I know of a school where teachers regularly send their emotionally volatile and behaviorally challenged kids to 'cool down' with the librarian because the amount of SSW time allotted to the school is woefully inadequate to make an effective change in the behaviours of the high numbers of such children in this school. (The librarian has a heart of gold, and a wonderful way with such kids, but also has many other responsibilities. These fall by the wayside to deal with the occurrences of extreme behavior which if left unmanaged, would sabotage classroom learning for the rest of the children).
- I know of another school where the amount of non-enrolling teacher-time allotted to the school was so inadequate that the staff had to choose between using that time to provide extra support to the neediest children, and maintaining the library for children to check out books. The staff chose to use the time to provide extra support to the neediest children. One teacher volunteered to completely run and maintain the library for the entire year out of school time, over and above her regular teaching assignment.
- I know of a number of schools which, back in the pre-Christy Clark era, had ESL specialists, teacher librarians, computer specialists and PE or music specialists. No longer.
- I know of a school that has just received news that the Learning Improvement Fund allotment on which they were counting has been reduced for next year, and so they have had to reduce the amount of time available next fall to support struggling students in their school.
- I know of several schools who do not have enough money to purchase books with which to effectively teach their children to read, and who have had to ask their Parent Advisory Committee for money to buy books. Officially, PAC funds are not allowed to be used for the purchase of books and instructional materials, and are supposed to be used for non-instructional items such as the construction of school playgrounds, or providing enriching extra-curricular experiences and so on, but in many schools where there is no money to purchase books, this official policy is overlooked.
I could go on. And on.
I challenge, no I dare, Christy Clark, or Peter Fassbender, or any politician worth their salt to shadow me, or any of my colleagues during a normal school day. What they would see as they watch children trying to learn in the conditions of our public schools would make them weep (if they have any shred of human compassion and kindness left in them).
I defy Christy Clark, or Peter Fassbender, or any politician worth their salt to try to do my job, or that of any of my colleagues. Faced with the massive challenges we face, dear Christy and Peter would shrivel, and run for the nearest door.
But we are teachers. We weep for the state of public education, thanks to Christy's legacy. But we don't shrivel, and we don't run. We care. We keep struggling.
And we stand up for the kids and the job we love.
Sallie Boschung is an Early Literacy specialist who has worked for many years in both French immersion and English elementary schools in Vancouver. She has also taught teachers-in-training at the university level.
Photo: flickr/Seth Sawyers
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