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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 1, September 2005

Ashes in the wind, sand in the riverbed

by Kathi Hughes

Remember when a liberal education incited choice, excitement, discovery, opportunity, creativity, and enthusiasm? Remember when a liberal education ignited passion and fueled the fires of teaching and learning?

Alas, over the past four years, a liberal education has extinguished the passion of both teaching and learning. We finger the sombre ashes of the funeral pyres and yearn for the pre-Liberal flamboyant flames. An oppressive torrent muffles and suffocates. This is how our area of alternative education has been smothered by the Liberal torrents of drowning waters, which gush accountability, increased class size, decreased resources, and curriculum change (with not even a life jacket to help rescue the drowning victims expected to implement the change).

We are the chosen. We are the privileged. We are trained and inspired to teach, accept, mentor, motivate, validate, encourage, and advocate for those youth deemed at-risk and/or beyond-at-risk.

Previously, this definition included those youth who required extra services and resources in order to develop and maximize their potential. Now, this definition refers to almost all youth in the school system.

The current Liberal attitude toward education leaves this legacy for alternative education students and teachers:

  • Increased class size and decreased resources within schools for these students with special needs so that teachers are burned out and learners are enraged and frustrated and, hence, drop-out or fade-away from the system—true graduates of the Liberal system.
  • Teaching self-paced, visual curriculum to a variety of 17 kinesthetic, behaviourally, and emotionally needy learners—many of whom are reading at the Grade 3–4 level—with no classroom support.
  • Inexperienced staff working with the neediest of youth—those of us with experience just can’t do it; our integrity is too great and to save our sanity, we must leave, or hide, or withdraw.
  • Fewer counselors to help the increasingly needy and disenfranchised youth.
  • Fewer appropriate mainstream classes available for including our students.
  • Fewer support staff, such as learning assistance teachers, to help assess youth and provide resource materials.
  • Fewer support staff, such as psychologists and speech-language pathologists, to provide assessment, adjudication, and direct service.
  • Diminished supports such as youth-care workers and teacher assistants so that students no longer receive the help they need within the classroom, the school, and the community.
  • Decreased teacher-librarians, so that services for students who require extra assistance with library skills do not get the help they deserve.
  • Decimation of district supports and resources for these students and teachers.
  • Diminished pride in environment—classrooms can’t be cleaned as custodial services are cut, computers crash, and tech support just doesn’t seem to be a priority.
  • Major changes in curricula demands.
  • New courses without new monies to administer the changes and the courses.
  • Increased need for resources with no money to purchase the resources.
  • A linear system of provincial exams for non-linear students who learn at their own pace, thus penalizing our learners and totally frustrating their already fragile selves.
  • A change in funding and eligibility for our 1701 students.
  • We get to label students "moderate behaviour" and "serious mental illness" but we get no additional funding to provide services.
  • Schizophrenia and Aspergers are no longer considered chronic health issues in the world of the Liberal.
  • A growing reliance on corporate sponsorship for essential items.
  • Increasing competition between schools for meagre resources and a corresponding growth of individual school egocentrism as we struggle to close our doors to protect our own and a decimation of collaboration with other agencies as we all adopt our Liberal attitude of "it’s your problem, not mine."
  • Quality time for teaching and interacting with students—alas, not if we must dutifully complete our accountability forms on crashing computers and dysfunctional printers.

Are our students drowning? Are we drowning? Will there be any ashes for the next non-Liberal government to sift through their fingers? Are we just as blown away and burnt out as "ashes in the wind"? Or are we simply crushed pebbles as sand in the riverbed?

Kathi Hughes teaches at Prince George Secondary School and is a former executive member of the B.C. Alternate Education Association.

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