You got this!

Dear Students,

I’m sorry. I don’t know why it’s not okay for you to hang out with 30 of your friends at a house party, but it is okay for you to be in a classroom with 30 students you don’t know. I’ve tried all summer to get an answer to this question for you and have not succeeded.

I also don’t know why you have been organized into cohorts that are supposed to stay separated, but it’s okay for you to hang out with friends from other cohorts at lunch. As long as you stay one meter apart. Or that may be two meters. I really don’t know because I also get confused when I listen to all the announcements.

I’m also sorry that, while you’re attending school this year, you can’t visit or be with your grandparents or your cousins or your best friend or the person you’re dating. I’m especially sorry that you have to switch out the people you care about from your bubble and replace them with your peers at school. I know you’d rather be with the people you are closest to, but this is the new reality.

You know how we’ve often talked about things that don’t make sense but that we have to do anyway? This is one of those times.  The rule is that you can’t have house parties, so don’t. Don’t start the year getting into trouble with public health officials.

That would not be a good way to start your final year of high school.

I can imagine that when you started kindergarten in 2008, graduating during a pandemic was not anywhere on your radar. But here we are.

What I do know is that you’re going to be okay.

In each of your families, there are stories of relatives who have survived challenging times. You are the descendants of people who survived armed conflict, genocide, displacement, slavery, apartheid, hunger, and other struggles that may still be ongoing.

Remember when you interviewed older relatives for the Intergenerational Project? Remember how surprised you were to learn how difficult and challenging your relatives’ lives had once been?

Now, life’s lottery has dealt you a pandemic.

In addition to other difficulties you may be going through, have gone through, or will go through this year, you’ll be ending your school career during a pandemic.

But just as your relatives survived and thrived, so will you.

You got this.

Two Students: September 2020, by Susan Chung

For the past 4 years in high school, you’ve been riding the turmoils that being a teenager brings. Heartbreak. Lost friendships. Knowing so much about some things and not enough about others. But you kept on learning. You kept figuring things out.

Graduating during a pandemic is another thing you’ll figure out.

School is going to look different. Not everything that you had at school in March is going to be back in September. You won’t be able to hang out anywhere you want with whomever. But you’ll still be able to connect with friends through Snapchat and Tik Tok and InstaGram and … probably a new app you’ve already been using that I don’t know about!

Depending on how many students are in the classroom, you may not be able to do any group work at all. This is a big adjustment for me as well – you know how much I love group projects! The main reason I do is because I know that you learn so much more when you’re talking to each other instead of listening passively to a lecture from me.

The good news is that we’ll still be having brain breaks! We have to organize a system to ensure all the racquets and bats and balls and frisbees for brain breaks stay clean, but we’re going to be outside a lot. Make sure you’re ready to go outside, no matter the weather!

Really, you’re going to be okay.

During your lifetime, a lot of news has been dreadful. When you were born, in 2003, the US invaded Iraq. In 2002, Canadian troops were deployed to Afghanistan. You grew up knowing what ‘terrorism’ is. You know how destructive a tsunami can be. You have watched the devastation wrought by hurricanes and wildfires and earthquakes. But you have also watched how people came together and worked tirelessly to save lives, to fix what was broken, to make a difference.

You too have helped whenever there was a need to raise money and awareness so that a wrong could be made right. I am constantly amazed at your dedication to being the change you want to see in the world. You have joined with teens globally to participate in climate strikes and to protest racism and injustice. You are not okay with the status quo – you want a better world. And I know you’re going to make sure it happens!

This is why I know you’re going to be okay.

Remember all those Core Competencies Self-assessments you’ve been completing since Grade 8? Remember how you had to show how you had been communicating effectively and how you’d used your critical and creative thinking skills? Guess what? Those are the same skills your relatives and ancestors used to get through all the harshness that came their way.

Think about all your strengths that you wrote about in your reflections on your Personal and Social competency. You’ve already demonstrated that you can not only take care of yourself, but you can also overcome all kinds of obstacles and challenges.

You absolutely have got this!

As your teacher, I promise that I’ll do all that I can to help you navigate through this most unusual graduation year. One of the skills we’ll be spending time on is what I call “dung detection,” but what is more formally called Digital Literacy, so that you can figure out the signal from the noise all over the internet. It’s a skill that you’re already using as you try to make sense of all the mixed messages coming to you about the climate crisis, and the virus.

Digital Literacy may look like a different set of skills than those that your relatives needed in order to survive during other times. But at its core, it’s still about learning how to succeed in the world by knowing how to sift through a ton of information for what’s useful and relevant to you.

I promise to make sure that your time in my classroom is spent developing skills you’ll need not only for this year but for many years to come.  And I’ll make sure that while we’re learning, we’re also doing the things that keep us feeling good and being well.

We got this.

100%.

Sincerely,
Foster

Clearing the Misinformation

At every Covid-19 update for the past few weeks, there is a statement made about how critical it is for students to be back at school. The subtext of these statements is  “…but teachers are not being co-operative”.

Teachers fully understand the importance of school for children and teens and we want to teach students in classrooms, face-to-face. What we don’t want is to risk our lives in order to do our jobs.

I’ve not heard of any teacher dying from a flu they caught at school. No teacher has died from being around students who have measles or mumps.
Covid-19 is not in the same category as the flu as we’ve been told for months so please don’t tell us something different now.

The reason education assistants, teachers, vice-principals, and principals have concerns about the Restart plan is because we are the adults who actually spend time with children in schools. We know what students and schools are like. We are not pontificating about the importance of schools from an air-conditioned office while relying on memories of school from decades ago.

Image by Susan Chung

We adapted to Emergency Remote Teaching in the spring. We need time to prepare for Blended Learning in the fall. We have not said that we are against a combination of online and face-to-face learning. We have said we don’t want to double our workload.

It’s infuriating to have to listen to lectures on the importance of school for students’ mental health when every teacher knows about dozens of students who have suffered because of a lack of psychologists and counsellors in schools for decades.

It’s infuriating to hear about schools being important for students’ health as long as Adopt-A-School has to exist to provide for schools what governments fail to.

It’s infuriating to continue to be ignored when we voice our concerns based on our professional experience and knowledge. We’re treated as though we are idiots when many of us have Master’s degrees and decades of experience in classrooms.

We are being gaslit at a time when our skills should be utilized in order to create the safest situation for students.

The least effective way to ensure students’ social and emotional health is to create distress in their teachers by ignoring our valid concerns. We know what we are talking about.

Stop gaslighting us.

Gaslighting teachers

For weeks now teachers have been receiving newsletters from the Ministry of Education that tell us in one way or another how important schools are for students. After the first few I started to get a visceral reaction whenever I saw one in my Inbox.  I couldn’t quite articulate why until the latest newsletter stated:  

Global research tells us that school closures disrupt the learning process and long-term outcomes of students. The adverse effects can go beyond learning loss and include implications like food insecurity or loss of access to health services that can be potentially harmful for students. As educators, you play a significant role that reaches beyond the classroom in children’s lives …

This one was the last straw.

To explain the impact of these newsletters, we need  a second definition for the term ‘gaslighting’.

The original meaning refers to emotional abuse where the victim is made to question their sense of reality.

What the Ministry of Education is doing is more like political gaslighting.

It’s as though teachers have not struggled for decades to get the attention of governments about the needs of students in schools.

As though we did not forgo salary increases in order to ensure there was class size and composition language in our contracts so that students would get the supports they needed.

As though we did not spend 14 years in a legal battle with the government to regain the class size and composition language that was stripped from us.

As though we have not decried the uselessness and emotional cost of the Foundational Skills Assessments that the BCNDP promised, while in Opposition, to end.

As though our hearts don’t break every day we are told there are no Education Assistants for our students who desperately need them.

As though we don’t keep food in our classrooms for our hungry students.

As though we have not been spending hundreds of dollars each  year on classroom supplies.

As though teachers have not held fundraising campaigns to provide what students need.

As though we don’t know that the shortage of counsellors leads to more suffering for our students.

As though we don’t know about the years of waiting for our students to see a School Psychologist.

As though we did not have to mount media campaign after media campaign for the past 20 years pointing out the needs of students in schools.

As if we have not been begging for years for our students to be funded at least to the Canadian average.

And now it’s someone’s job at the Ministry of Education to create newsletters telling us how important schools are for students?

We’ve been saying this for decades!

The Ministry of Education needs to stop politically gaslighting teachers and instead prioritize funding in schools.

If  public schools in B.C. are important for:

  • the economy
  • the mental health of children
  • the social-emotional needs of children
  • the education of children

why are they funded like this: 

Funding 2

Instead of publishing newsletters about the importance of schools, fund public education as though students’ well-being truly matters.

And stop gaslighting us.

On the Reopening of BC Schools

As a teacher, I would feel less anxious about schools reopening next week [edit: in September] if the Public Health Office expressed confidence in a return to in-school instruction after they had conducted random checks of a sample of schools in a range of socio-economic areas to see first-hand the facilities that public schools in British Columbia actually have.

Restaurants are regularly inspected to ensure that meal preparation is hygienic and safe; all businesses frequented by the public know that their facilities have to be in safety compliance or their reputation will suffer and they will lose clients.  Public schools in B.C. seem to exist in a different category when it comes to health and safety. 

It’s only recently that there has been progress toward seismic safety but ongoing problems with mice infestation and the lack of drinkable water in many schools seems to be an inconvenient truth that we should all just learn to live with.

For almost two decades under the BC Liberals, there was little money for failing and inadequate infrastructure. It’s understandable that the current  BC NDP government cannot reverse the damage of  decades of neglect within a short time. 

That neglect was at best tolerable during the Before times. But then Covid-19 came along and shed blinding sunlight into the darkest of health and safety corners within the public education system in B.C.

https://fixbced.tumblr.com/

Like many people in B.C. I’ve been riveted to regular Covid-19 updates by Dr. Henry. I admire her calm demeanor and steadfast handling of an unprecedented crisis.  I have been especially impressed by the way she responds when concerns are raised about the number of people lining up to board a ferry or the number of people enjoying the sun at a local beach.

She refuses to fan any frustration that some may feel at the apparent violation of her orders. Instead she expresses confidence, backed by data, that people are in fact following her orders. 

Dr. Henry is reasonable and expects people to be as well. She has instructed the Ministry of Education to ensure that schools are safe for students’ return. I’m sure she expects that the Ministry of Education will be reasonable in its execution of her orders.

The problem is that teachers have vivid memories of the Ministry of Education being anything but reasonable.  Whether it was when they demanded concessions to our collective agreement in recent bargaining or when they ignored pleas for more funding for students with special needs, being unreasonable has been the Ministry’s default setting for quite a while.

For years teachers have said that it’s not reasonable to expect students to learn in hot and stuffy portable classrooms; that it’s not reasonable to expect teachers to spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms. 

And teachers know that it’s not reasonable for the Ministry of Education to expect that after decades of cuts to budgets that there will be enough money in each school district to ensure that all Dr. Henry’s protocols are followed.   

Covid-19’s presence has led to the opening of the government’s purse in ways unseen since the Great Depression with many programs available to support various sectors of society during this challenging time.

So where’s the money for schools? 

In fulfilling Dr. Henry’s orders, how does one ensure thorough hand hygiene when taps have to be held down to get a 4-second spurt of cold water? 

https://fixbced.tumblr.com/

How will overworked, skeletal custodial staff manage with the much longer list of cleaning tasks when they barely had enough time for cleaning classrooms during the Before times? 

In BC we can expect that any hospital in the province has standardized facilities to protect the health of patients and staff. No such standardization exists in BC schools.

Whereas one school may have a mice infestation and warnings posted at drinking fountains not to drink the water,  another school may have ergonomically designed classrooms with beautiful bathrooms in wide hallways, lots of natural light everywhere, and easy access to outdoor classrooms.

Teachers all across the province know that, in some schools, it will be easy to follow all the guidelines for a safe return to school but in too many schools it will not be. 

When all schools have lead-free drinkable water, when all school washrooms have taps that don’t have to be held down in order to work, when all schools have fully-functioning ventilation systems, then we can be confident in there being reduced opportunities for viruses to spread when we return to schools.

That would take money though. And the education budget, as a percentage of our GDP, has been kept low by both major political parties when they’re in power.

In the Before times, the impacts of regular reductions to education budgets have been borne by students who have fallen through the cracks in the system.

In this time of a pandemic, the impacts of neglected infrastructure could spread well beyond classroom walls. 

And that is not reasonable at all. 

Seasons Greetings

Dear John,

In the spirit of the season of peace and goodwill, let’s talk about being friends again, shall we?

But first you’ve got to reconfigure BCPSEA.

Their actions as your bargaining agent with teachers do not reflect progressive values about public education. 

I would have expected a BC Liberal government to demand concessions at the start of bargaining, not you.

I would have expected a BC Liberal government to continue Foundation Skills Assessments, certainly not you, after the many years you agreed with teachers about the FSA’s inefficacy. 

It’s the style of the Fraser Institute to promote ideas like the prevalence model of funding, turning students’ learning needs into probability statistics.

The last thing I expected was all this from a BCNDP ministry of education. 

john-horgan-29-april-2017
Surrey teachers meet with Horgan during 2017 election. Credit: Julia MacRae

And then there’s the matter of our Supreme Court of Canada win.

For 14 years you stood by our side as an ally in our legal fight against the stripping of our Constitutional rights. 

Fourteen years!

And then, when teachers won, instead of acknowledging that struggle, you claimed the court-ordered hiring of 4,000 new teachers as your government’s idea.

That hurt. 

A lot.

It hurt so much that for the longest time we did not want to even look at our win from your point of view: your new government was saddled with the bill for the actions of all BC Liberal governments since 2002. You had to spend a billion dollars to clean up the mess that you did not make.

I now acknowledge that, and the spending on seismic upgrades, the opening of new schools.  Smaller class sizes and more schools are good BCNDP achievements for public education in our province.

But, can we talk about being the lowest paid teachers west of Quebec?

Can we talk about recruitment and retention with a bargaining agent that shares our values of public education being a sacred trust, of public education being the heartbeat of every community, of public education being about all of our futures?

These are values we believed you shared with us, the teachers in public schools in BC. They do not seem to be the values shared by the current configuration of BCPSEA.

So, in this time of season turning, of endings and of new beginnings, let’s be friends again … after you’ve realigned BCPSEA with BCNDP values.

With best wishes for the season,

Lizanne

Building a Better BC? Really?

In the classrooms at my school, students who get a $60,000 car for their 16th birthday sit next to students who walk an hour each day to and from school because bus-fare is an unaffordable expense. Students who go home to their own bedrooms equipped with the latest technologies, collaborate on projects with students who don’t have a bed to call their own. And students who struggle to read a sentence in the third language they’ve had to learn grasp desperately for meaning when their fluent peers speak. 

The conceit of public schools is that our classrooms will somehow be the levelling space of these stark socio-economic differences through the provision of an equitable education.

Teachers who spend an average of $1600 on classroom supplies each year do so in the hope that the right resources will magically bridge the chasm between what is funded and what is needed. 

Stories of families who have had to sell their homes in order to pay for learning supports for their children are heart-wrenching. Now just imagine what happens to those children whose families have no such assets, whose parents are simultaneously battling the legacies of colonialism and poverty.

Because public schools are often the only places where marginalized people can access support, insisting on classroom composition language in teachers’ collective agreement should not be seen as a luxury the government cannot afford.  Especially not a government boasting about billions of dollars in surplus

Graphic created by Raegan Sawka

It’s astounding that a government that launched a Poverty Reduction strategy to great fanfare continues to ignore calls for more funding for public schools, the very places where the 20% of children who live in poverty in BC get their only meal most days. 

This BCNDP government has also made announcements to boost spending on mental health services even while the concessions it’s demanding from teachers would mean a decrease in the number of counsellors available for students in many schools. 

It makes no sense. 

In their latest survey of donors to their party, the BCNDP promise that they want to “build a better province”. 

How is funding students at $1866 below the Canadian national average going to do that? 

John Horgan’s plan to ‘build a better B.C’ clearly does not have public school students in mind.   

The Game of Shells

As a party in power, there must be at least 50 ways you can make billions of dollars disappear from where they’re supposed to be: delivering services to people. You could go the brutish route of Doug Ford in Ontario and slash billions from public health and education services.

Or could do it the Christy Clark way, smilingly, while she introduced legislation that would effectively remove four billion dollars from education funding over 15 years.  

This latter strategy is a rather legally cumbersome way to disappear education funding though. It took the BC Liberals a lot of maneuvering through the legislature and the courts over a long period. And in the end, the Supreme Court called foul.   

Besides, mimicking the BC Liberals shenanigans could not be your first choice because you campaigned on a platform to fully support public education, not to undermine a collective agreement with teachers. Definitely would not look good.

You’re in a tricky situation because you spent 15 years in Opposition, criticizing the short shrift that teachers and students in public schools were getting from the previous government. Over and over again you promised that you would do better, provide more funding, and fully support students with special needs.

But the accountants have declared that keeping your promises would cost about a billion dollars more than you have currently allocated for students’ education. That’s a lot of money. You have other priorities.

Back in 2001, when you last formed government, education funding comprised 20% of your budget.  But things have changed.

You know that in 2019 there are fewer households in BC with children and that education issues are not a top priority for most voters who are more concerned with housing and the economy.

But you can’t  just blatantly state that there’s not enough money for education.

Your base would be enraged. They voted you in on your public service platform and they want to see results.

To be fair, you have increased funding by 12.4% for Level 1 Special Needs. That’s good news for 570 students. Level 2 funding (affecting 22,352 students) was increased by 4.1% and Level 3 Special Needs funding was increased by 4.6% for 8,390 students.

But for most students in the public education system, there was a funding increase of 0.6% or $45, keeping BC students shortchanged by $1,866 below the national average.

Screen Shot 2019-04-22 at 9.03.21 AM
Extracted from BCTF https://bit.ly/2W2pn6i

You are well aware that there are thousands more students who need learning support. They’re the ones who fell through the cracks over the 15 years when a lack of school psychologists meant that waits for a diagnosis averaged 3 years. A lifetime in a child’s development.

You know that your meagre funding increases do not even begin to address the impact of inflation on costs.  

But $5.7 billion is such a big number. It sure looks like it should be enough.

You hope that parents don’t notice that the money allocated for education is actually only  11% of your total 2019/20 budget. They might begin asking questions about why you don’t invest more in students.

This would be an awkward question to answer.  You know for your political image that you need to make it look as though you are increasing funding, even though you have no intention of doing so.

So, you announce that a group of experts will review the funding model. Thanks to the Supreme Court win, most parents are well aware that the model was drastically changed in 2002 and so they will have some familiarity with what was lost.

And, through the work of  parent advocacy groups, many parents will also know that what was restored still left too many gaps for too many students.

You do not include a single teacher on the funding review panel.

shell game
Shell game with cups gif animation by Laurène Bolgio https://bit.ly/2XBzzTD

It would be inconvenient for teachers to be represented there where they could remind everyone of how, throughout your tenure as the Official Opposition, you consistently agreed with teachers when they called for significant increases in funding .  

You could do without teachers raising a ruckus when they discover your plan to implement a funding model that will essentially turn students into statistics.

You know that many parents may not have the time to study the details of the new funding model. You know that some may feel intimidated by convoluted statistics and you know that you will need a slick way to get the public to think that prevalence funding is the way to go.

You hope against hope that parents don’t read about the suffering of students with special needs wherever prevalence funding has been implemented.

You know that terms like “accountability” and “equity” are popular with the public.

You don’t want any of your supporters to remember that “accountability” is exactly the reason Christy Clark gave for stripping teachers of their contract, leading to the loss of 2500 teachers within the system.

So long before you begin bargaining with teachers on a new collective agreement you start a stealth marketing campaign, ensuring that there is a widespread belief amongst the public that the current collective agreement with teachers is the reason that students are falling through the cracks and not getting the services and supports they need.

The message is spread that the newly-restored class size and composition language in the collective agreement is too restrictive, that it hamstrings school districts in their provision of services to students.

The Funding Model Review Report, in support of this message,  has more than one misrepresentation of the collective agreement.

You do not publicly correct that.

You would like parents to believe that if only teachers were more innovative, and more flexible, all students could have their learning needs met.  You want parents to believe that it’s not the lack of funding for supports that’s the problem: it’s teachers’ lack of flexibility, creativity and empathy.

You would prefer that the public not know that teachers gave up salary increases from 1988 until 1994 in exchange for the establishment of minimal supports for students.

You would prefer the public not to know that the concepts of inclusion and integration are not new to teachers. That their commitment to inclusion goes far beyond any government policy.

You’d rather the public believe in the prevalence model even though it abdicates your government’s responsibility for delivering the public service of education to all students in public schools, regardless of learning difficulties.

You don’t want the public to ask questions about who collects the data that the prevalence model demands.  You don’t want the public to ask about what parameters will be used to interpret the data.

Prevalence Model
Extracted from FMRR https://bit.ly/2LreypN

You don’t want the public to know that “trends” in public education are hardly ever captured by statistics.  If they were, thousands of parents would not be clamouring for more schools to be opened in areas where “statistical trends” decades ago predicted that no schools would be needed.

You don’t want the public to know that the map is not the territory, that no amount of statistics gathering can replace what teachers know is happening in their classrooms to students whose names they know.

But teachers can let the public know.

There are at least 50 ways to show parents what’s actually happening with education funding.

Just as in a shell game, those who watch carefully know under which cup the object is.

We’ll show parents where the billions disappeared.

Watch.

Who should we trust to ensure that schools are safe, inclusive spaces?

In a recent article, candidate for Burnaby school board Laura-Lynn Tyler Thomson is quoted as saying  that she was scared and cried every day when she attended a school in the Arctic where, as “the only white, blonde girl”, she “stood out like a sore thumb”.

When most of the dolls on the toy store shelf look like you, when entire rows of magazine covers have faces that look like you, when people who look like you have occupied multiple positions of power and influence for centuries, it takes a convoluted cognitive sequence to see yourself as a victim of the descendants of people who were starved to death and treaty-tricked out of the land you live on.  

It’s not really convoluted though. It’s just regular racism but with a particularly Canadian nicety:  implied, not stated.

Given what Tyler Thomson has said about her experiences in the Arctic, what can the 3% of Burnaby’s student population who identify as Aboriginal expect from her if she was elected trustee? Probably not any acknowledgement of the role of education in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

Students who identify as trans or queer are supposed to expect that she will “love them to pieces” even while she denies their right to be educated about what all humans have in common: a sexual orientation, a gender identity.

https://bc.sogieducation.org/sogi2/

As a teacher I’m curious about what Tyler Thomson means by us not being trained “to help students dealing with gender identity”. 

Does she mean that teachers should ignore the 2016 directive from the B.C. Ministry of Education that  “all B.C. school districts and independent schools are required to include specific references to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in their anti-bullying policies”?

Does she mean that teachers are not trained to create safe learning environments for all students?

Does she mean that teachers should ignore the fact that “lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are seven times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide” ?

How exactly does one teach “manners, reading, writing and arithmetic” to students who are feeling unsafe?

How does one reduce bullying without educating students about human rights?

There is nothing ideological about teaching students that all humans have a sexual orientation and a gender identity just as there is nothing ideological about teaching students that all humans have a brain and a heart.

Some brains are different, some hearts are different. Sometimes one’s biological identity matches with one’s gender identity. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Why would anyone not want youth to know this?

Why would anyone, let alone a school trustee, want to deny students access to information that would reduce discrimination and increase safety, respect and acceptance in schools?

What purpose is served by keeping students ignorant of what it means to be a human with a sexual orientation and a gender identity?

Voters in the October municipal election should ponder these questions when they make their choices for school board trustees.

Schools should be safe places for all students.

All students.

No child should feel scared at school.

Not students who are the descendants of the First Peoples to occupy this land.

Not students who are blonde or brown or bisexual.

If you don’t believe that, you should not be running to be a school trustee.

That’s not what I remember

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.  

http://fixbced.tumblr.com/

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.

Still hoping,

Teaching BC