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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 5, March 2007

Victim of the new Bill 33

When asked to facilitate a workshop at the Public Education Conference, this teacher declined with the following explanation:

This semester I am a "victim" of the new Bill 33 and other ongoing management policies of the current provincial, board, and local administrations.

I am a senior math and biology teacher with eight years of full-time university and bags of post-grad course work in my field (Biological Oceanography/ Forestry). This semester, I have been assigned to teach four courses—three maths and a science. I have three Grade 9 classes and a Grade 11 Applied Math (nearly half the class are repeaters). This batch of Grade 9s has caused massive ripples throughout the system as they have moved through grade school, middle school, and now have arrived in secondary school. The number of kids with severe learning disabilities is in the uppermost tail of the normal distribution; ditto the number of kids needing moderate to severe behaviour support. They left a wake of stress leaves and exhaustion at their last school. We are trying to cope.

My Science 9 class has 30 kids; five or six are designated special needs and no teacher aide. These special needs range from Tourette’s + OCD + ADHD + LD (one kid!), moderate/severe behaviour with LD, and other interesting combinations of learning difficulties, medical conditions, and behaviour quirks. I cannot take them into the lab. Over half did not pass the safety quiz, after three days of class work and a big, multifaceted safety assignment! They don’t know enough math to do W = F x d problems, and not one can rearrange the formula to F = W/d. We are squashed into 51.5 square meters, with 12 two-student tables, 6 single desks, chairs, computer desk, other equipment, and a teacher table. No room for my desk. I cannot walk around the room without moving kids out of the way every few seconds. If we have an emergency, I have informed the "powers that be" that there will be injuries and delay getting kids out of there. I am constantly tripping over books, bags, feet, and chair legs. If they are out of their seats, each person has about 0.5 sq. meter of space. There is none left for walkways or anything else. The labs are even worse. They seat 24, but there is no way to walk between benches when the kids are seated, and they are working back to back (definitely a no no in a lab). Our Science 9 and 10 programs have dwindled down to an absolute minimum of lab work, so kids learn about science, but don’t do very much science at all. We are so far over the fire occupancy regulations it isn’t funny. But school children are no longer protected by the fire occupancy regulations, since schools were excepted by the Campbell government three or four years ago.

My "consultation" consisted of the VP telling me I have five kids with special needs in that class. I signed the form, objected, and attached comments. Bill 33 gave the system permission to "integrate" any number of kids into the general class framework with NO additional support. Keep reading.

My Essentials of Math 9 class has 12 students with profound, officially-designated special needs and another 8 who do have special needs but haven’t been designated officially. There is a TA assigned to an autistic child, and when she can leave him for a few minutes she helps the other kids. I found myself a peer tutor who can be in the class for one or two blocks a week. The students are very rude to the TA, and barely co-operative, no matter what the consequences. There have been two fights already. Nearly every day I must escort someone to the office or to the behaviour room (where there is often no one to hand the student over to). I have been using two self-paced programs in tandem to help the kids master fraction operations, and several students have made good progress. It is a struggle and a nightmare every day. The quieter kids who want to learn are working in a terrible learning environment, with minimal support from me. I spend most of my time putting out half a dozen ‘fires’ at a time. My class constantly disturbs the classes either side of my room. This situation is educationally indefensible. I have registered my objections by form and by letter. No one has had the courtesy to answer my letters.

As I write, it is the end of September and the administration seems to think this is all just okey dokey.

I have conferred with the district numeracy co-ordinator, who is very helpful and has some money for resources. I am using one of the downloadable resources she suggested, and have researched several others. This takes a lot of time, and the resources will be weeks in transit, even if we order them right away. We require manipulatives and other supplies, too. I don’t know where they will come from. I have done quite a bit of testing and evaluation with the EMath9s—these students are all functioning below Grade 5 in mathematics. They hate and fear math. They hate school. They have nothing to lose and quite a few are chronically angry, obsessive, foul-mouthed, motor-mouthed, disrespectful, passive-aggressive, hyperactive, unco-operative. Several of them absolutely refuse to do any work unless someone supervises them one-on-one, putting up with significant abuse into the bargain. Their former teachers tell me that this is consistent with their experience. I cannot imagine what my principal was thinking as he created this class and handed them to me, but I have my suspicions.

Our school seems to have abandoned the inclusion principle. There is hardly any integration support, anyway.

Did I mention that there is NO prep time in my schedule? Or that on Wednesdays I have this class for two 52-minute blocks, back to back? Wednesdays are just brutal. By the way, come January, I will not have had any prep time at all for a year.

We were told that the superintendent and some other board office people were going to visit "soon," to observe the "situation" at our school. They haven’t shown up and I feel confident they will see just exactly what they want to see and/or what the principal wants them to see. One can always blame the teachers and suggest more "supervisory evaluations" to make us accountable. I am not the only teacher at our school struggling with the terrible effects of Bill 33.

So thanks for the invite, but I deeply regret that I won’t have either the time or the energy to facilitate any workshops this semester. After January, I will have some relatively "ordinary" math classes, three of them, and a prep block every day. What management genius thought up that arrangement? We’ve known for years that students learn and perform better on a linear schedule. But are these policy decisions ever really about good education?

Katie Pirquet teaches at Edward Milne Community School, Sooke.

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