What Is Really Happening In Your Child's Classes
This is a true story, and I am only changing identifying details to protect the privacy of all involved. It’s a random Wednesday in a grade 3 class and the teacher, new to the field on her second day on her first LTO, has asked the class to write a paragraph about what they’ve learned in their social study unit. Bobby is reading and writing at a grade 1.5 level, which is amazing considering he started at a JK level.
He usually gets some support from the class EA but she is trying to de-escalate two students that have started pushing and shoving some desks. The teacher is sitting at the blue table already working with three students who are also struggling. Bobby doesn’t want to go to the blue table because he knows he’s much farther behind even those sitting with the teacher, and he’s embarrassed. The rest of the class is either working or disengaged. There is a lot of chatter throughout the room. Bobby is paralyzed – he isn’t able to do the work, but he doesn’t feel like he can ask for help either. Meanwhile, the two boys are still screaming at each other while the EA is trying to get them out of the class.
Finally, Bobby summons the courage to go to the blue table. He’s done nothing so far and takes his blank sheet up to the teacher. The two boys that are fighting taunt him as he comes to the table. “What are you doing, Booobbby?” He puts his head down.
“Ms. Stevens, I don’t know how to spell.” She sees the blank page and, forgetting the specifics of Bobby’s IEP, tells the class to calm down and get to work.
“Bobby, I need you to try before coming here.”
“But I don’t know how.”
“I can’t help you until you help yourself,” she tells him, frazzled, as her classroom has become chaotic.
Bobby comes home in tears, feeling frustrated and alone. He feels even more isolated from his peers. He shuts down during tutoring and it takes 25 minutes to get him to even try.
Class sizes have been one of the key topics in this province. However, in teaching, not everything is up for debate. There are things we know that work definitively and there are things we know that undermine a child’s progress. I’ve been watching the political fight between the four teachers’ unions and the province, overwhelmingly feeling like we’re debating if the earth is flat.
We aren’t really fighting over class sizes. Class sizes are the same size when you were a child if you were born prior to the new Millennium. We’re fighting about safe classrooms.
It isn’t the bodies in the room that are the problem. Thirty kids with the ability to focus, follow instructions and perform at grade level could be doable. The issue is that, since classrooms have become inclusive, your child’s classrooms have children with diverse needs that could not possibly be met by just one teacher.
In an average grade 6, thirty-kid classroom (statistically speaking and depending on the area), there will be at least two ELL children struggling to grasp the language and (frustratingly) unable to complete the work at the level they are used to; at least six children diagnosed or waiting to be diagnosed with a learning disability, making it difficult for them to complete the work without assistance; and for almost certain, at least one child with such behavioural issues that they require a full time EA to sit with them. Except that EA is now gone and that child, because of the lack of support, is making it difficult for even the best-behaved children to focus and complete their work. We are expecting one adult to deal with all of those problems. Even the best behaviour management strategies cannot compensate for a child that does not have the skillset to stay on task and avoid conflict.
I want these children to remain in the classroom (if safe for everyone), including the struggling student themselves. Yet, they require support and help to feel like they are actually a part of that class. Years of feeling separated cause even large schisms in the student’s learning.
I don’t know if you’ve walked down the hallways of any school in this province during class time lately. It’s noisy – noisier than ever before. The anecdote I share above is becoming the rule and not the exception. Children with sensory issues are burning out before the day is even done. Here is the fact that should haunt you: there are children in that building that are scared of being seriously hurt by their peers. Teachers are meant to teach, but now, because of a lack of support services (educational assistants, child and youth workers, Special Education Resource Teachers, more classrooms designed for behavioural children and fully staffed resource rooms), they have become referees. And they are losing.
As an educator, I am afraid of the road we are travelling. As violence increases and support declines, this province is a ticking time bomb for some tragic consequences. It isn’t about class sizes; it is about safe classes. The province isn’t offering a safe learning environment.
Teachers need more support, and yet, (not just by this government) it seems to get chipped away year after year.
It isn’t about class sizes; it is about the school’s ability to hire and provide resources for the students that need them.