Toronto adult day school teachers didn't know if they were returning to work until one business day before school started

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Three adult day school teachers from different schools in Toronto say they've largely been overlooked by both the board and the province when it came to their school reopening plans. 

Adult day school teachers did not know whether or not they had jobs waiting for them until Friday, September 11, when they finally received their timetables, which also serve as their offers of employment.

Adult day school teachers are casual workers, and are only offered employment if there are enough students to fill their classes. The teachers say poor planning by the board resulted in the student registration period being cut in half from two weeks to one, and being delayed until the first week of September at some schools. 

The Toronto District School Board did not respond to questions from rabble.ca.

Additionally, not having their timetables until one business day before greeting students again means teachers were in the dark about what they were teaching and which students they would have. Teachers say the delay meant they were left with very little time to plan their courses with the added pressure of taking on a new blended-learning model.

This approach, in which students learn in class part time and at home part time in an effort to reduce class sizes, will require more prep and planning than usual, the teachers said. Adult day school teachers are only paid for the time they spend teaching in class, and are not paid for any planning or prep work. 

Each of the three adult day school teachers wished to remain anonymous because of their precarious employment status. They also did not want the names of the schools they work at to be reported, because there are only five adult day schools in Toronto, and they felt their comments could be traced back to them too easily.

Leading up to the reopening of adult day schools, the teachers said the information they were receiving kept changing by the week.

"It feels like you're in a blender, and you can't get out. It's been absolutely chaotic," said one adult day school teacher.

This adult day school English teacher said she had been after the board for answers since July about how registration for adult students would be done safely and at a distance. Registration is typically done during the third week of August, and lasts for two weeks. This year, it was originally scheduled to begin on August 17, but for some of the schools, it didn't start until the first week of September.

This shortened window for registration caused concern for a second teacher, who said she worried there wouldn't be enough students enrolled for the more junior teachers to have jobs.

"We [were] all on tenterhooks just waiting to see if we get a timetable," she said in an interview.

The teacher who had been asking the board about the registration process said teachers were initially told that returning students would be offered the option for online registration.

Later, when returning students were trying to register online, she said they were reaching out to her for help because the online registration was actually nothing more than an online contact form.

This is just one way that adult day school teachers feel they and their students have been left at a disadvantage in the reopening plan.

Each of the three teachers questioned the purpose of taking a blended learning approach, when online education had seemingly worked well for them and for the students for one entire "quadmester," from April through June. Initially, an online learning option was not being offered to adult students at all.

"We basically had to petition to get one," said the first teacher. 

When a third teacher emailed the board to suggest adult students be kept exclusively online until it was safer to return, the response he received (seen by rabble.ca) did not address his specific concerns; namely, that adult students are already in demographics that have been proven to be at higher risk in Toronto, as they are precariously employed and often racialized.

That teacher ultimately decided to not accept his offer of employment for the first quadmester because of his concerns about safety and the blended learning model.

The adult day school blended learning schedule means that students will only actually be in classrooms once every six business days. Each class runs through a six-day cycle, with two groups of 15 students each taking turns being in the classroom for 4.5 hours one morning during that cycle. While one group of 15 students is in the classroom, the other half of the class is spending 4.5 hours doing independent learning at home.

Filling that 4.5 hours of independent learning is where the added prep work for teachers comes into play -- work they will not be compensated for. 

Adult high school teachers are paid hourly, and only for the hours they spend teaching. Permanent high school teachers are paid for a certain amount of prep time each week, as outlined in their collective agreements. But prep time for these teachers is entirely unpaid.

In a survey of 80 adult high school teachers from each of the five schools in Toronto, taken at a union-organized meeting, 51 per cent of teachers said the blended teaching model is "hell." Forty-nine per cent responded it was "fine," and no teachers indicated it was "awesome."

Twenty-six per cent of the respondents in that survey also indicated they had requested to teach exclusively online because they required medical accommodation. 

The teachers said the uncertainty they were being put through over the past few months, combined with condensed registration and confusion over online options, could mean that some students decide not to return to school this year altogether.

"All of this trickles down to the students. Anything that makes our jobs unstable, threatens the stability of their ability to get an education. The fact that we have been left out in the cold also means that our students aren't receiving the same equity as other students in the province," said one teacher. 

According to data from the Toronto District School Board collected in 2015, 91 per cent of adult students were racialized; 63 per cent were not native English speakers; 84 per cent were first generation immigrants or refugees; and 44 per cent were newcomers who had been in Canada for less than five years. Seventy-seven per cent of the students were considered low income. 

Each of the three teachers said they felt the demographics of their students impacted the lack of attention and resources paid to their schools during the pandemic, but indicated that a lack of funding was indeed a chronic issue for Toronto's adult schools, beginning with the Mike Harris era in Ontario. 

During Harris' cuts to education in the 1990s, many boards across the province closed their adult day school programs altogether.

"These are people that can't vote yet. These are people that our government clearly doesn't care about. In their head: 'why am I wasting money on these people?'" asked the first teacher, adding that she has seen this attitude expressed in subtle ways often throughout her years teaching adults.

Chelsea Nash is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2020. To contact her with story leads, email chelsea[at]rabble.ca.

Image: Green Chameleon/Unsplash

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