Dear Minister Fleming,
I wish I could also experience the optimism you expressed in your recently published op-ed but I’m burdened by the memory of my dashed hopes over the past school year and also quite distracted by the absence of any acknowledgement of the work of teachers to ensure that our province continues to be a “world leader in education”.
I know that you are quite familiar with the work that teachers do because you had been the education critic since 2013 when you were appointed education minister in July 2017. I was thrilled when that happened because finally there was someone who did not have to be convinced about what teachers and students needed. You had regularly raised our concerns at the Legislature and had made compelling arguments for the needs in our public education system. Your appointment felt like we teachers were finally within sight of the finish line after running an exhausting marathon.
When you said there were urgent priorities we expected you to aggressively move to recruit teachers as soon as you occupied your new office in Victoria. But when the new school year began, recruitment of teachers seemed to have slipped off the urgent list because hundreds of students started the year without teachers. Although 3,700 teachers were eventually hired, there were too many students who had had to wait over 100 days before they had a teacher assigned to them.
On your watch, there were months of lost learning opportunities for students who had been eager to begin learning on the first day of the school year.
That this happened took us by surprise but we hoped that things would get better.
When 2018 was already a few months old and we were still waiting to benefit from our Supreme Court win through the full implementation of the Memorandum of Agreement, we suppressed our frustration. It was like we had won the race but could not claim a trophy because there weren’t enough teachers teaching on-call to relieve those who had been working through their prep time for months.
While we were desperately trying to cover the gaps created by a shortage of teachers, we were also being expected to implement the new curriculum.
Because you’ve listened to us for so many years, you must not have been surprised by one of the key findings of the Curriculum Change Survey: implementation of the new curriculum has been extraordinarily demanding on teachers. As one teacher who participated in the survey said:
I just want to note that I spent hundreds of hours developing content and instructional materials this year. I work part time and spend most of my days off working on school materials.
Surely you see that the continued teacher shortage coupled with a lack of supports for the new curriculum leaves teachers in an untenable situation?
It’s bad enough that we are not provided enough time to learn this massively changed curriculum, but we are also expected to teach the new curriculum with outdated textbooks and without the necessary equipment.
We don’t quite know what to say to students who notice their parents’ name in their social studies or science textbooks.
We are told by principals that we should consult “the Internet” for learning resources.
Particularly distressing is that after so many years of listening to us talk at our meetings about how underfunding was impacting our students, you did not included a single teacher on the Funding Model Review panel.
Not a single teacher.
I had a kind of déjà vu experience when I listened to you recently on the CBC Early Edition interview of 20 August 2018. During that interview, I was dismayed that you dismissed concerns about outdated resources by saying that there may be “some anecdotes” of old textbooks but that most schools have what they need.
I wonder where your information comes from when the Curriculum Change Survey shows that teachers rate their access to necessary instructional materials at a 4 on a scale of 0 – 10.
More and more these days you sound just like our previous four education ministers who often shared their enthusiasm for new technologies without demonstrating any clear understanding of the challenges of the infrastructure of our classrooms or the composition of our student populations. Did you forget all the concerns we expressed about this when you were listening so intently at our meetings?
Last September I was looking forward to you turning your criticisms of the previous government into actions that would dramatically change what our students had had to endure for 16 years.
But then, on your watch, students with special needs have had even less support than they did before you were Minister of Education. It’s unlikely that that awful situation is going to be much different this year given that there are currently over 100 unfilled positions in the same school district, days before the start of a new school year.
Perhaps you can understand why I can’t share your optimism?
It’s because I remember the past year quite differently.
While I try to overcome my disappointment in your Ministry, I will continue to work hard to ensure that my students get the best education possible.
It’s what teachers do.