by Paula Turner
According to news reports, education workers are milking the system. Again. Well, that’s what Liz Sandals, Minister of Education, would have you believe.
Before I go on, I need to muse for a moment about how it is that the Minister of Education hates education workers? Of course I want someone to advocate for students. Of course I want someone who is fiscally responsible in the position.
Where is the advocacy for the entire system? If you want what’s best for students, why would you denigrate the people who educate those students, who are front line and also want what’s best for students? Just something to ponder.
So, it’s been reported that teachers and education workers are taking more sick days. I have not seen the stats so I cannot say whether or not that is true. What I will say is this: the education system in Ontario is an accident (and sick day) waiting to happen.
When I began in the system 13 years ago, I was one on one with a student with severe physical and mental disabilities. The teacher in the class and I were able to manage his needs, even though I was half time and she had no support in the classroom for half the day. I had time to work with him, including providing physical therapy exercises and speech therapy exercises (both taught to me by specialist early in the school year) and usually enough time to create activities that the teacher could give to him to work on in the afternoon when he had no additional support.
Fast forward 10-12 years and I was working with up to 6 students, spread throughout the school. It was a little like being a firefighter in a town with an arsonist on the loose – running from here to there and doing what I could in the 20-30 minutes at a time with each student. This meant that the teachers were left with additional students (on top of the classroom size that had already increased due to budget cuts) who had physical and/or intellectual disabilities. Any teacher can tell you that without students with identified differentiated learning needs in their classroom there are already 5 (or more) levels of ability within a classroom. When you add in a few unsupported students, for any amount of time in a day, you are now asking a teaching to differentiate their teaching even further. You have not added time to their day, you have not added resources to their complement of supports – you have taken that away while upping their class sizes.
Physical therapy? Speech therapy? I cannot remember the last time I had time to do any types of exercises with a student except perhaps for a few minutes while I had them on a change table – and if I did, due to budget cuts, there were fewer and fewer specialists to teach me exercises, explain the specifics of the disabilities – and often times I finally met the specialists in April or May – not September when it would have been helpful. Students need to trust you in order to do something that is hard or physically uncomfortable. You cannot gain that trust in 30 minutes chunks every other day or so.
The government brought in full day kindergarten which brought many wonderful students and educators into the schools. It also brought to light the number of students of a very young age who had learning issues. The over-burdened system of identification for disabilities and learning differences did not test children in kindergarten as a regular practice. There simply was not enough money or manpower to do this. And yet, children with needs – some with very high needs – were coming to school all day now. The additional educators in the classroom were not brought in to deal with special needs; they were there due to the higher numbers allowed within the kindergarten rooms. When a student has significant needs, whether physical, intellectual or behavioural, it does not help to have more educators in the room – there needs to be dedicated support for the students with differentiated needs in the classroom.
Throughout the system, educators are being squeezed from all sides. Educators have not lowered their own standards of what they expect of themselves. Educators want to deliver the best education to their students. The Ministry has increased curriculum demands on educators while pulling services. The influx of students with higher needs – including mental health care issues like anxiety, depression – is increasing.
Every educator I know has come to work sick because they did not want their students to have anything less than a successful and productive day. If you put in an absence and no one picks it up, you worry about your students. All day.
You never know MAYBE EDUCATORS REALLY ARE SICKER due to the underfunded system in which they work. If educators are taking more sick days, perhaps the Minister of Education should look at the reasons why. That’s what a responsible person who heads up a responsibly managed enterprise does when there is an increase in sick days. Keep an open mind, Ms. Sandals. Do not go searching for evidence to support your hypothesis.