||Volume 25, Number 5, March 2013
By Susan Lambert
In our year of provincial action, March is the month we highlight the role of non-enrolling learning specialist teachers. We’ve lost over 750 of these teachers since 2002. These teachers, from teacher-librarians to counsellors to learning support teachers and teachers of students with special learning needs, provide critical support to classroom teachers. The decimation of their presence in schools has contributed to the immensely increased workload of teachers remaining in the system.
We need 6,800 teachers
I was shocked to learn last month that according to Stats Canada’s latest report we, in BC are now 6,800 teachers short of the national average student-educator ratio. We knew that Stats Can’s 2009 report had us short 5,800 but to learn that we had dropped 1,000 teachers lower was another blow.
The figure represents the vast discrepancy between public school teachers in BC and our colleagues across the country. It also represents the herculean workload teachers in this province carry. And yet despite this enormous lack of capacity within our system, we still manage to stand our own on international assessments. We are still providing students a high quality learning program. But at what cost? The workload of teachers in BC has become unsustainable. We have such a dedicated workforce determined to give students their best but this effort simply cannot last. There has to be some relief soon.
Learning specialist teachers provide services that both teachers and students rely on. Their presence adds to the quality of instructional programs and allows these programs to be designed to fit individual student needs. Their absence requires classroom and subject teachers to fill in the gaps and this on top of burgeoning class sizes.
Teachers buying preps
Many teachers are trying to relieve this pressure by reducing their assignments. In effect they are buying their own prep time, going part-time work to survive.
Some administrators are trying to relieve this pressure by hiring educational assistants rather than qualified teachers. Much of the LIF funding has gone to this expedient. SEAs provide valuable services to students and teachers rely on these colleagues to implement modified and adapted instructional programs to match student needs. But replacing qualified teachers with SEAs is not the answer. In fact this is a cost-cutting measure that exploits SEAs and undermines the quality of instruction for our most vulnerable students.
Some administrators are trying to relieve the pressure by encouraging students (elementary students as well) to enrol in electronic distributed learning (DL) courses. I find this practice unconscionable. While DL provides students who are unable to attend face-to-face classes a crucial alternative, it is not instruction that can ever replicate the richness of a classroom. DL should never be encouraged as an alternative to regular classroom programs unless a student is simply unable to attend school.
The ministry is trying to relieve the pressure on the system through what they call “decategorization.” While Universal Design theories (UDL) and Response to Intervention practices (RTI) are both positive trends to address the challenges students with special needs face in schools, this policy defines “$18,000” children (low incidence students with special needs) as financial problems to be solved. Uncovering this objective of the ministry’s “decategorization” agenda is of critical concern to teachers because we have been subject to unfunded educational change innovations too often this past decade. We know that programs such as UDL and RTI require funding to support classroom and school conditions that will allow and promote their implementation. They cannot be implemented within the current education funding policies of the province.
Our current provincial government has decided that public education is not a priority. It has made a conscious choice to allocate funding to other priorities instead. Think of the enormous price we are paying for the superfluous hydro power from private “run-of-the-river” power projects. Think of the relentless dense advertising campaign we are subjected to on the radio and TV. Think of the retractable roof on BC Place. These are but a few of the choices our government has made rather than properly funding public education.
We do not live in the third world. We live in a rich province in a rich country. We have what we need in BC to nurture a high quality public education system. We have dedicated, passionate, and highly trained teachers. We have a sound public education system that has never stopped evolving and improving as teachers, as lifelong learners, and researchers continually improve their practice and we have the means to nurture the system, nurture teachers in their work even in this economy. This government could make the choice to restore the capacity we need to truly “personalize” learning, but instead this government has chosen to rob the system of the funding it needs and then blame teachers.
Teacher cuts deliberate
The loss of 750 learning specialist teachers and approximately 3,000 classroom and subject teachers is by design. As disheartening as this sounds to all of us, this loss is a result of intentional government policy. The policy called “Flexibility and Choice” was legislated through Bills 27 and 28 in 2002. It is a political choice of a government that puts private alternatives before public education.
As I write this column, government has made yet another similar choice. It has decided to fund adult education for private schools. This, while adult education in the public system suffers from chronic underfunding and neglect.
In March, we are highlighting the need for learning specialist teachers. In May we must highlight the need for a government that values the critical role public education plays in building a robust civil and democratic society.
Susan Lambert, BCTF president