As another school year comes to an end, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect back on the numerous educators I have had the good fortune to meet across the province.
Their stories, while different in so many ways, all have a central theme of passion for their profession and how much of a premium they place on delivering the best possible educational experience for their students in a caring, safe environment. That can be rural or urban; young or old. Increasingly it can also include going above and beyond in trying to help newcomers to Canada not only learn the subjects in the curriculum but also, of equal importance, the nuances that are required to try to find their niche in their new homeland.
So it comes as somewhat bemusing when it seems the whole PreK-12 education sector is under the microscope and subject to rather onerous budget cuts and reviews from outside forces.
For you see, when you do spend a bit of time in schools, you don’t have to be a clairvoyant to fathom the fact that it’s only the yeoman efforts put in by these folks that is often keeping the elastic band from snapping.
These days while the conversation is still very much about class size, it’s arguably even more so about the composition of these classes. Let me tell you what those in the sector know only too well–that the challenges of the increased diversity are very real and require not only time (often one-on-one), but also resources in the form of sufficient numbers of teachers and education assistants as a starting point.
One only has to ponder for a moment the alarming tendency of school lockdowns–often in locales that you would never have suggested. Obviously the tragedy in La Loche, and the painful memories that it has evoked during the recent court proceedings, is going to be at the epicentre.
However, to suggest this couldn’t happen elsewhere is naive, and equally so is the notion that somehow this is the fault of the school system. Talk to any teacher or psychiatrist and doubtlessly they will confirm that, in the vast majority of cases, these incidents can be traced back to factors that are experienced well outside the walls of the school.
Issues such as poverty, abuse and mental health are among the most common triggers and so to expect teachers–regardless of how committed and well-intentioned they are–to somehow be able to effectively intervene is asking too much.
It’s bad enough when education assistants, for example, are deemed to be an expense that can be spared. But you can actually go right back to the turn of the century when the laudable, and surely accomplishable, concept of SchoolPLUS was first brought to the forefront. Much-needed supports such as health, social services and justice were to be more closely aligned with their educational colleagues. It never happened for the most part due to a lack of resources and political will. To further erode what at least has been in place really doesn’t bear thinking about and that’s ultimately not fair for teachers, students or parents. You can’t affix a dollar figure to having safe, secure schools, but committing resources after the fact is of limited effectiveness.