Feature Story Sunday June 24, 2012
Crisis in the Classroom
Chilliwack teachers rally against Bill 22
Teachers rally against Bill 22 last Wednesday in Chilliwack at Vedder and Luckakuck.
hey don't give out the strap any longer, but teachers themselves are being strapped with funding shortfalls and that causes all kinds of problems in their classrooms.
Most Chilliwack teachers were busy writing report cards on Wednesday, but a handful still managed to assemble at Luckakuck Way and Vedder Road for a rally against the BC Government's Bill 22.
The protest was one of several taking place across the province.
There are many issues that teachers want dealt with, but the two primary ones are class composition and size.
Composition being how many special needs students per class, and size as in how many kids.
In September 2011, union job action included teachers pulling recess supervision, admin meeting attendance and teachers stopped doing report cards. In March, teachers walked off the job for three days.
Dianna Forrest, Cheam Elementary School kindergarten teacher, says ten years ago, the government stripped their contract down, and at the same time began to reduce funding to the point now where there's a crisis in the classrooms due to overcrowding.
"I've worked before and I've worked after and it's a whole different picture now, kids with special needs not getting the support they need," Forrest told the Voice.
Forrest says she has a slightly smaller class this year but sees classroom overcrowding as a huge issue that her peers are struggling with daily.
She says a few years ago the government raised the number of kids per kindergarten class to 22.
In the past, class size levels were determined by how many special needs kids teachers had to deal with, but that too has been stripped out of the contract which expired in June 2011.
"They used to give us one less per class for each child that was on an Individualized Education Program (IEP), kids with special needs, and then now that allowance is not there anymore so they can have up to seven kids on IEP in their classroom and no reduction in class size."
When that happens, teachers are stretched thin trying to bobble the needs of all the kids, not just ones with special needs.
"It's very hard to manage when you have kids with behaviour problems and physical problems and learning problems, trying to meet all those needs," she said. "Bill 22 means they can have class sizes as big as they want, never mind the special needs kids in there even."
"I can go and watch her and when you have one or two children in there that are being disruptive, all the attention is focused on those kids to manage them and that's why they have Educational Assistants that are there to work with them individually," said her husband Miles, who used to work in the technology department in School District 33.
Forrest says that there are portable classrooms at her school that are crammed with 30 kids in each.
"You can hardly move in there," she said.
She says they "took hits" for many years in order to get smaller class sizes and special needs students.
"We gave off pay raises for very minimal pay raises so that we could get those things into our contract, and they just took them all out -- all our years of making sacrifices."
According to Forrest, they actually won back the right to have what was stripped away by Supreme Court decision and backed by the United Nations.
"They (the government) don't have any respect for the Supreme Court of Canada and the United Nations, and here we are again, they're doing the same thing ten years later."
Al Hubner is an Excutive Member at Large with the Chilliwack Teacher's Association and a teacher with Fraser Valley Distance Education School on Prairie Central. He says times are difficult, even for an online teacher.
"Right now we have a lot of teachers overworked with their report cards, and I've got teachers who are at the school right now who are, especially at elementary, who are trying to get all the report cards done by the deadline."
Hubner says that his isn't the only union under attack by the BC Liberal Government.
"They are looking at all public unions, looking at benefits packages, looking at their pensions, looking at a variety of different things."
As to what's going to happen, it's anyone's guess says Hubner.
“I think we're still wondering what's going to happen with the mediation that's supposedly going on right now at this time with Jago who was appointed by the government," he says adding that he didn't know "how you can have a mediator appointed by the government when there's two different sides."
"There maybe legislation coming in August, which has been hinted at by the government to legislate our contact, so we'll have to wait and see."
Hubner says the government has been tinkering with funding to his school, which serves mainly adult students who study for high school diplomas online using computers.
"Two years ago the government brought it in so adults can come back and take courses and even with that, they've changed the funding. They constantly change the funding where I'm at."
According to Hubner, adult students are only going to be funded for certain courses.
"We are looking at other funding changes that are going to strap the system even more in different ways."
He echoes Forrest's sentiments regarding class size and issues around special needs kids.
"There are some situations where you don't have a desk for a student to sit in, or if you have class sizes where you have so many special needs, that it disrupts the classroom to the point where that its hard to help the students that really need the help."
Hubner doesn't blame schools, or the district board, because they are working on limited budgets.
Even as an online teacher, there are pitfalls in the system.
"You have certain, as they call, non-enrolling types of assignments or teaching positions, where there is no class size at all," he says. "We've had some class sizes, even at our school, even though they're online, the way they're setup, they're anywhere from 300-400 students that a teacher has to oversee, and the way its setup is not the best."
For more information, visit www.www.chilliwackteachers.com
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