Class composition: it's worse than you think, writes teacher

"I’ve watched my students stress over lessons that they don’t understand because they don’t speak English.  It’s not fair," writes teacher Ashley D. MacKenzie.

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bc government school photo

And, as a further shock to my expectations, we don’t have the resources to give each child what they need to reach their potential.  Take it from Special Ed teacher Patricia O'Sullivan:

“I want to offer them the best education, and so do my Educational Assistants.  But right now, resources aren’t available unless it comes out of my own pocket, which it did.  I spent over $300… [on] workbooks and DVDs that the school just does not have,” she said on the picket line this week.

But special needs students are just one of the components that go into today’s complex class composition.

Many students don’t speak English

English Language Learner students are part of our classes too.  And they’re not just immigrants and refugees.  In Vancouver-area schools I’ve taught at, they’re also Canadian born kids from immigrant homes where English isn’t spoken. While in previous years they benefited from intensive English language instruction by qualified specialist teachers prior to inclusion in mainstream classrooms, that’s no longer the case.

I’ve watched students stress over lessons that they don’t understand. And it’s not fair.

The number of available classes for English Language Learners have been reduced along with their specialist teachers. Students are being placed into mainstream classes before they have the language skills to handle them because there’s nowhere else for them to go.

So, each day, I try to include new English speakers who aren’t always sure what’s going on. And with that I balance the needs of my students with learning disabilities. Then I try to keep kids from acting out, so I can actually teach. And yes, I’m sure your teachers did that too, but I’m talking kids with behavioural disorders - not the class clowns of days gone by.

And sometimes in this organizational craziness, the typical students fade into the background. Because with students whose needs are overt and pressing, sometimes the needs of the average learner aren’t seen.

“Typical” students suffer in the complexity

The more time a teacher spends controlling for exceptional students, the less time he or she has for typical students – the average learner. And, sometimes, students slip through the cracks in the system.

This is why teachers are on strike. Because our classes shouldn’t be like this. They don’t need to be like this. But, right now, they are.

Without any limits on class size or composition, we have classes unlike many adults have ever seen - classes that, four years ago before I began teaching, that I thought were exaggerations.

These classes are the reality of B.C.’s public education system – they’re what the Learning Improvement Fund budget provides in an inclusive education environment. You know, the same fund that BCPSEA is trying to enshrine under article E.80 in current contract negotiations - the impasse that’s keeping teachers on strike. It’s the clause that we refuse to agree to.

Because under the guise of being fair to everyone, without funding for support and specialist teachers, these classes aren’t fair to anyone.

Ashley D. MacKenzie is a teacher and education blogger in the Lower Mainland.  She blogs about life in the classroom and world travel at:  Twitter: @AshDMacKenzie

Ashley D. MacKenzie blogger

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