By Danika Cottingham (she/her) and Nicole Hamilton (she/her), online learning teachers, Courtenay
From the Government of BC website, on the new online learning model:1
Regardless of whether they’re in the classroom or learning remotely, all students will:
Have equitable and consistent access to curriculum
Have opportunities to form personal connections with educators
Use flexible timetable and course options to meet their needs
Learn in a way that best meets their personal learning needs
Most people can agree that the above is not just an ideal, but that it should be the norm in educational practice today. Now, imagine being a teacher working in a classroom where the above is expected, but where there are no limits on class size and composition, so the realities of your job are reduced to pure survival and attempting to do your best, all while knowing it isn’t enough. Suppose that, on any given day as you arrive at your school, you are tasked with welcoming another new student to your class, and another, and another. That is a reality for online teachers around the province.
Our collective agreement currently has no language for the online learning (OL) environment, and the consequences of this are evident: unrealistic and unsustainable workload for teachers and an educational experience that is not as personalized as it should be for learners.
Last year, the average secondary OL teacher was responsible for over 670 students in a 10-month period—that’s the size of some entire schools!
As online teachers, we know OL has been an important part of public education in BC for decades, and we have served students and families who either by circumstance or by choice are completing school requirements online. Online learning has gained momentum in recent years, because of a growing demand for quality alternative education opportunities for BC students. Additionally, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, enrollment in online learning has reached an all-time high. Some families are just now learning about this option, while others have developed trust in a system they previously saw as inferior to classroom education.
Consider the following:
Limitless class sizes create unsustainable workloads for OL teachers
OL teachers endeavour to create meaningful learning experiences for each of our students; we know that building relationships is at the heart of student success. Every teacher will tell you that this is challenging and rewarding work, but for OL teachers, the task is made even more difficult because of the high number of ever-changing students we are responsible for. Our class roster is ever-changing because of the continuous enrollment and asynchronous delivery model we function within.
We strive to connect with every student and provide individualized attention so all students can thrive and learn, but there are not enough hours in the day to connect with hundreds of students—many OL secondary teachers have over 260 students at any given time in the year.
The absence of class-size language creates a dangerous dynamic in BC’s public school system
As students switch from in-person to online learning, the availability of face-to-face FTE is affected.
With no limits on class sizes, students can be added to already-existing OL teacher workloads with no additional staffing time funded, as is currently the case in many districts.
OL teachers need your support
Unionism is founded upon principles of solidarity, with fair and equitable treatment for all members. As we enter a new round of bargaining, we ask our colleagues to stand in solidarity to achieve what is ultimately in our collective best interest: limits for class size and composition in all classrooms, and for all teachers, so that all BC students have equitable opportunities to access the individualized and quality learning environments they need and deserve.
Stay tuned for part two of our online learning series:
“The not-so-secret life of an online secondary teacher”
Online learning (OL) was previously referred to as distributed learning (DL).