by Paula Turner
On November 19, 2017, CBC Radio’s Cross Country Check Up discussed Violence in Schools.
There have been several media reports on this topic including an Ottawa teacher, Tony Lamonica, speaking out about his experience of violence on the job. Lamonica’s experience was horrendous and life changing. Violence is not something any person should have to deal with at their place of work.
As I listened to the CBC call in program, I was deeply troubled and I doubt I was alone. The show shed significant light on the consequences of insufficient funding in education. The calls and discussion focused on the issues facing educators, parents, students, and communities when it comes to aggression in schools.
It also highlighted the range of understandings about what constitutes aggression, what should be done about it, which students should/should not be held accountable, and what are the responsibilities of educators, Boards and the government when it comes to solutions.
It is a hot mess.
Many Educational Assistants have had multiple trips to Emergency rooms in a year; many have to go on sick leave; many have lasting injuries. I have had three trips to the Emergency Room and two other times when I probably should have gone.
I do not hold the students who harmed me responsible for my injuries. I have worked with students identified with special needs wherein aggressive behaviours are one way in which they cope when they have not yet learned the skills to self regulate, or they are unable to learn those skills. In order to teach those skills to a student, I need time to observe what triggers students and try different techniques to help them acquire those skills. That time is rarely available in the system as it is currently funded.
I am not naive: some students, like some people, have control of their behaviours and still harm others. That is one category of alarming behaviour within education systems across the country.
I am looking at this through the lens of special education and I worry that some people are lumping all students into one profile: a purposefully violent person.
Other types of violent incidents are happening on a daily basis for many educators and no one incident can be considered to be representative of the wide range of violence within any one system, or across a province, or certainly across the country.
One caller to the CBC show, Bonnie Dineen, was an Educational Assistant with 20 years of experience. She discussed the issue of not having enough information prior to walking into a classroom.
There is no funding for preplanning meetings for teaching teams. The time needed to get to know the student, their needs and the appropriate supports is not funded in the current model.
A guest on the show, Shelley Hymel, a UBC Education faculty professor, stressed the importance of training and supports that meet the changing needs of students and staff. Hymel stated, “My feeling is that we’re running on an economic model as opposed to a child-focused model”.
This is also, sadly, not news. Education systems have been financially gutted over the past decades to pay for priorities (or errors) of the government. The result is that there are not enough experts or resources or trained professionals to deal with the needs (educational, social, emotional and physical) of students.
There are not enough hands on deck for the number of students with exceptional learning deficits and needs.
The lack of funding means there is a lack of safety in our schools; this has created the crisis for students, educators, families and communities.
We need to listen to people on the front lines and we need to give them the support to effectively do their job and be educators who can support student success, whatever success looks like for individual students. There is no one size fits all model for appropriate supports or ‘success’.
Society and governments owe it to students to create the system where professionals have the time and resources to listen and observe students and create education plans that work for their abilities and needs – not rush from one crisis to another, putting out fires without ever having time to discover the source.
Right now there is insufficient funding in education coupled with outcome expectations which are not meeting the needs of students.
We need to sufficiently fund education systems so that educators can go to work and be safe.