The pandemic, say, Peel teachers, has shone the light on long-standing problems in school education. Now they want candidates for provincial seats to speak up about these issues.
Brie-Ann Telford has seen the acuteness of these problems at first hand.
The educational assistant says staffing shortages and workplace violence are the main challenges right now.
The autism spectrum disorder and developmental delays classroom she works in at Dolphin Senior Public School in Mississauga has six students who all have high support needs.
There is one teacher and four educational assistants assigned to the classroom and when she needs to take a day off, Telford says more often than not there isn’t a replacement meaning there’s one less person to support the students and keep them safe.
Telford says with COVID-19 and masks, frustration and anger are more prominent among the students.
She says the compensation cap increases under Bill 124 do not make the job worth it, given the workload and complexity of the role. She has a second job to make ends meet and has no free time to recuperate.
“A lot of us right now are just feeling like we’re not very valued,” she said.
Elementary teacher Naomi Graham has 25 students in her Grade 6/7 split class at SouthFields Village Public School in Caledon. She says there aren’t enough resources for each student during experiments or space in the classroom and small group or one-on-one time is limited.
Under Ontario’s Education Act, there is a class size limit for Grades 1 to 3, something Graham wants for all elementary grades.
High school science and drama teacher Allyson Bradley is also dealing with large class sizes and insufficient resources. She spends lunch hours helping her students at Chinguacousy Secondary School in Brampton catch up on work and offering extra help.
She says COVID-19 staffing shortages is making things worse.
“There’s no supply teachers. We have people getting sick left, right and centre. That’s really the animal that’s being dealt with right now. That’s the problem with education. It’s been so eroded over time that we can’t fix one disaster because we’ve got 27 other disasters,” said Bradley.
Systemic discrimination and inequity among racialized students have also been major concerns within the Peel District School Board (PDSB).
Through programming, guest speakers and books purchased, teacher librarian Jonelle St. Aubyn wants to ensure the diverse student population at Louise Arbour Secondary School in Brampton is reflected and they see themselves as storytellers.
She says diversity shouldn’t be marked only during heritage months. She says funding and clear, accountable standards and targets are needed.
“Unless you’re going to actively put dollars behind this whether it be purchasing new textbooks that are more inclusive, providing programming for kids, opportunities that are more inclusive, this is never going to happen,” said St. Aubyn.
Graham says incorporating diverse histories and Black ways of knowing through multiple subjects, like French and language arts and not just social studies, allows for the material not to be taught as a one-off.
Bradley says there are no curriculum guidelines on how to be more culturally responsive. She points to The Arts curriculum last revised in 2010 which mostly suggests Western texts.
In February, the province announced a partnership with the African Canadian National Coalition against Hate, Oppression and Racism (ANCHOR) to develop resources “to assist educators in teaching about Black experiences and contributions to Canada.”
The province’s Learning Recovery Action Plan includes investments for school boards to provide more school-based tutoring; an increase in Special Education Grant funding and “time-limited additional staffing supports” to go toward hiring more staff including teachers, early childhood educators and educational assistants.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Peel’s educators have been vocal about the education system’s shortcomings. In the run-up to the election they have also indicated, in their conversations with us, they want to see how candidates clearly and concretely plan to make changes that will improve the day-to-day learning environment.
Source: Ross Arrowsmith