||Volume 22, Number 7, May/June 2010
Could this be your story?
By Kathryn Askew
Ben had been teaching primary children for 17 years. He was a quiet person, not given to animated conversation in the staffroom at lunch, nor one to participate in group professional growth activities after school, and rarely one to speak out at staff meetings. He was, however, well-liked by his students who enjoyed his gentle sense of humour and his co-operative gym games and the way he recognized their hidden talents. He had collected many kind notes from parents who appreciated the extra time and attention he gave their children. His colleagues counted on him in many ways.
At the end of a year of declining enrolment when it became apparent that his school would be down-sized and that a promising and very popular younger teacher would be bumped, Ben volunteered to transfer to a different school, with a different principal, a different set of parents, and was placed in a significantly different grade area, with a completely different curriculum, in a portable.
He spent the summer reading and researching new topics in science and social studies and browsing through new novels. He attended a summer institute in math. He walked through the neighbourhood and explored school resources. He just managed to squeeze 30 battered desks into his classroom before the children showed up on the first day. And then he met his students.
Of 31 children, 5 were in Grade 6 and 26 in Grade 7. Eight were girls. Christine had a moderate intellectual disability and was assigned a full-time educational assistant who often took the child out of the classroom to an activity room. Gregor was on the Autism spectrum and generated one hour per day of educational assistant time. Hamid and Rachel had moderate to severe behavioural issues. Quinn and Quenilla had been identified as having learning disabilities. Each of these students had individual education plans and fell under Bill 33 guidelines. In addition, there were seven children reading and spelling well below grade level, one child who attended a gifted students’ pull-out program, three children who had recently entered an English program from French immersion schools and three children who just didn’t seem to be “in tune” with school at all.
By the end of the first reporting period in mid-November Ben was exhausted and extremely worried. Parents seemed hostile; the principal unsympathetic; staff members dismissive. How Ben regretted opening his mouth and volunteering to change schools—and grade levels! His entire life seemed to be one long race to an uncertain finish line.
One Thursday, out on recess supervision in the rain, Ben was approached by the staff rep who learned that it was Ben’s first year teaching intermediate students and that, although Ben had tried to speak with other teachers he knew, he was truly puzzled about how to plan curriculum units to meet all the outcomes for both grades as directed by the principal.
“What do you think would make things better for you, Ben?” the staff rep asked.
“I wish I knew,” replied Ben. “If I knew what to do, I’d do it! I don’t know where to start. I used to think I was good at teaching, but this year I can’t seem to do anything right.”
“I was at a staff rep training session last week,” said the staff rep. “They told us about a BCTF program called Peer Support Services where the union sends another teacher to work with you to find out what isn’t going well, and then helps you figure out what to do. Does that sound like it might be useful?”
“It wouldn’t hurt,” responded Ben as the bell rang. “How do I get involved in that?”
“You just contact our local president and she’ll help you get started. You both fill in a form requesting support and the BCTF connects you with someone in the same teaching area. I’ll bring you the phone number at lunch.”
“Thanks,” said Ben as they returned to the school building. Life already looked a little brighter.
Kathryn Askew is a retired Comox teacher.