Class size and composition important to education, says Creston Valley teacher

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To the Editor:

I am a parent of two students, a taxpayer and a teacher with 24 years’ experience, and it is time I wrote and publicly weighed in on the conversation regarding teachers’ contract negotiations with the BC Public School Employers’ Association.

So what is this sticking point of class size and composition? I feel the BC Teachers’ Federation has not done a great job at explaining what this means to the public, especially people who are paying taxes and don’t have school age children of their own. Class size goes hand in hand with composition. Thirty motivated, capable students in an intermediate class can be a great situation. They can focus for a period of time, ask questions and get the help they need. But a class like this rarely happens. Students are arriving at schools with more and more special needs. Do parents, grandparents and the general public even know what the different issues are that are happening in classrooms? Among them are ADHD (attention deficit), OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), FASD (fetal alcohol syndrome disorder), autism, mild intellectual disabilities, moderate intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities. The policy of inclusion of all students in a classroom is an important one, and it is a win-win for all involved IF there is enough support. Otherwise it is just lip service and not a positive experience for anyone.

I have spent entire school days with child care workers, social workers, mental health care professionals and parole officers. I am supposed to be teaching algebra or how to write a five-paragraph essay, not dealing with all of this! My professional development days are increasingly about these issues. We feed students breakfast, healthy snacks and lunches. Most of my own children’s clothes that they have outgrown are given to students. Our job has changed so much over the years — it’s still all about the students, but not what it used to be.

Teachers are getting classes with more challenging students and bigger numbers. I can handle the various learning differences most of the time, but with some students with severe behaviour (documented history of violence or impulse control issues) a class’s learning environment can be destroyed. If this is a high school class, it is one hour and 20 minutes of your day, then the group moves on to a new class, and it isn’t that bad. But if it is an elementary class, these students are together all day daily. You are dealing with this group constantly for a whole year. The Learning Improvement Fund (LIF) is meant to get help for these classes overcrowded with issues. But you have to apply, get rejected, apply (or beg) again, get some help (never enough) but by then it’s November or December.

If one per cent of the 30,000 classes in B.C. are in this situation, that is 300 classes times 30 students: 9,000 students and 300 teachers. Do those 9,000 students not count? Do those 300 teachers deserve a year of hell trying to meet those needs, and beat themselves up each night knowing they couldn’t?

This is what class size and composition are about. I do not blame the students; they were put in that configuration because there was no contract preventing it. LIF money is the government acknowledging some classrooms are unworkable and offering a Band-Aid. Class size and composition language are a prevention.

To those many people who honk, wave or even drop off coffee and donuts, thank you so much. The support is greatly appreciated. To those few who boo (or worse) the picketing teachers and CUPE workers, please pull in and join us in a discussion of the situation.

Allison Kepke