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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 6, April 2005

Effects of cuts on home economics

by Jenny Garrels

Thirty excited Grade 8 students stream into the foods room ready for a lab. Their teacher is busy at the front of the room getting supplies ready, making sure everything needed for the lab is in place as she knows that once they begin there will not be time for anything else. The students will be doing another flour-based lab, which is not popular with them, but flour is cheap and the budget will not allow for much in the way of fresh fruit and vegetables or high-quality protein items. The teacher has just rushed in from the textiles room, where she spent the lunch break helping students with their projects. The school fashion show is only two weeks away, and the pressure is on to finish projects. She notices that the teaching assistant who usually accompanies the four designated students with special needs in the foods class is absent. She must be away from school, which means no replacement, so the foods students sit in their seats eager to begin, but have to wait until the work groups are reorganized to accommodate the change in staff. Once the lesson is under way, the teacher moves around the room checking on progress, dodging backpacks and coats; there is barely room to move in some units. Perhaps it is a good thing the inadequate budget limits labs using fruits and vegetables—that would mean the crowded students would be using knives! It used to be that the teacher could take the time to mark as she went and stop to give one-on-one assistance. These days, there is time for trouble-shooting only.

The inadequate budget means that equipment is not repaired or replaced, so resources are scarce, and she now spends much of her time shunting equipment from one unit to another. As the students leave the room at the end of the class, she walks around picking up stray laundry items and forgotten binders; the room had been so crowded, it was not apparent that the items had been forgotten. Thirty students in a room designed and equipped for 24 takes its toll on the condition of the room and the teacher.

Does this sound like fiction? It is the reality played out in home economics rooms across B.C. Larger class sizes, more students with special needs, less support, and shrinking budgets are the ingredients in a recipe for trouble for home economics. Teachers know the conditions are a safety hazard for themselves and their students, and they go home exhausted, still having to face marking, prep work, report cards and, in many cases, grocery shopping. Home economics teachers love their jobs, and they are doing the best they can, but it is taking a heavy toll. Many of us can’t believe how difficult our jobs have become. After 10 or 20 years of teaching, it should be getting easier, not impossible!

Jenny Garrels is president of the Teachers of Home Economics Specialist Association.

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