Melanie Stokes is a colleague of mine who forwarded me this letter that she submitted to the Vancouver Sun to share here.
As teachers are now in their second week of full job action, it may be important to consider the reasons why this situation is happening now. Over the last thirty years, society has undergone great changes and the role of education has expanded accordingly. The time has come for us to decide if we are able or want to support education with all the expectations of what it must deliver.
Thirty years ago, classes were often larger but were mostly a homogenous group of kids. Schools had clear expectations about discipline and students were streamed according to academic ability. Curriculum was focussed on basic literacy and numeracy skills and going into the work place rather than university was the norm after graduation. Students with special needs were segregated. Schools were not expected to deliver individual education plans; neither were teachers required to meet all the learning needs of all the children in their classes. Teachers taught the whole class as a group and did their best to provide accelerated materials to the bright kids, and get the slower learners caught up. That was pretty much it. No one felt it necessary to feed children breakfast because they were too hungry to learn or had to learn how to deal with autistic, Downs Syndrome, ADD, ADHD, Oppositional Disorder students or large groups of children who spoke no English at all.
Over the last thirty years, education has been given the job of trying to fix all the problems of an increasingly complex society. Teachers took it in their stride, believing that they could, and would be able to make positive changes for the children in their care. They embraced the idea of integration for special needs students and never considered that at some point, the funding to for teacher support would be reduced to the point where classroom management would become almost impossible. They have accepted children in their classes who have no idea how to function in a group setting, how to speak or comprehend English, children from poor, dysfunctional families with no social or financial resouces, refugee children from war torn countries with resulting psychological problems, learners with a myriad of challenges that teachers are expected to address.
Teachers did and still do go about their jobs every day believing they can make a positive impact on the social, emotional, and acedemic growth of the children in their care. Despite the rhetoric of government and union, this fight is about the value of education and what we, as a society deem important. Do we want a return to the “one size fits all” education practice of the past, or do we wish to continue with the education system we have grown to expect? If so, then we should be prepared to pay for it.
Schools of today are successful because of the efforts of those who work within them. If there is no will or not enough money to support educators to do the job we demand of them, then we should go back to the old school system and stop expecting teachers, principals, and support staff to do more and more for our children with unrealistic funding and less and less support.
If a good education for all children is considered important, and it should be, then let’s stop the erosion of services and demand that our government provide the necessary financial support to keep the education we expect for our children.