By Goat Staff

We were pulled aside by a retired teacher this week. She said she loved the editorial in our last issue, but said: “But you didn’t go far enough – you need to go all the way.”

Her complaints were mostly about practices in our country’s elementary schools. She said one year she had a child who had missed a lot of the year. Both she and the parent wanted her to repeat that year. Despite being a bright child, this student would have been better off to have mastered the basics of reading, writing and math before moving on. No luck. While students can be kept back, this is discouraged in favour of personal learning plans.

Take a look at the literacy statistics in this province. According to the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network, 42% of Canadian adults between the ages of 16 and 65 have low literacy skills. They use the UNESCO definition of literacy which is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society. According to statistics on the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network website, Investment in literacy programming has a 241% return on investment (though no details are given how they arrived at this figure). Literacy comes in many forms – reading and writing just one. There’s also financial literacy, health literacy, social literacy and others that allow us to make good decisions in life.

So returning to this idea of pushing kids through elementary school with the hope they’ll eventually catch up – are we helping these children to tread water outside of school walls? Yet, what can we do if they never get the schooling they need, no matter the grade?

The government is hell-bent on keeping school funding to a certain level. That’s great, but only one side of the story. Once these children leave school, then what? The ones who can’t keep a job, have trouble doing basic math and reading? What happens then?

While we try to save taxpayers money now, we are adding an inevitable bill to taxpayers of tomorrow: one of EI payments, welfare, perhaps crime-related, perhaps due to an economy that’s stunted by children not getting a basic education.

Yes, some children struggle to get a basic education in BC. The retired teacher who pulled me aside told me stories
of her time in the classroom in different parts of Canada – how one child was on the floor biting her ankles; another would have epileptic seizures; another had dyslexia. What about all the mid-range learners and gifted children? In the past, they used to put children with special needs in special schools, whereas now they are included in regular classrooms. There are many benefits to this – but only if these students are given the resources they need to learn – especially so that everyone else can learn too.

As this retired teacher told me, you can’t teach the whole class to write, if some children don’t know how to hold a pencil. It’s frustrating for the ones who can’t hold the pencil, and boring for the ones who already know how to write their name.

The retired teacher pointed out that you can’t teach three or four different learning plans at the same time. You can write all the individual learning plans you wish, but who will implement them? An educational assistant is not a teacher, this woman told me, and she doesn’t have time to teach the teacher’s aide how to teach the children. The children can’t be segregated – so you end up with no one learning well.

It’s truly bizarre how we have strict rules for licensed daycares about ratios of children to supervisors – but these same rules do not apply to teachers. This is a matter of education as well as safety.

I wonder, much like in the locker room, if there is a sort of ‘macho’ mentality that goes along with teaching. ‘Sucking it up’ is surely part of the game. Putting in the hours is expected among peers. Complaints fall on deaf ears. Peers may be sympathetic, but everyone will agree – that’s just reality.

Unfortunately that attitude is harmful to all teachers. It burns teachers out when they feel putting in the extra isn’t even recognized.

Teachers are so important in the lives of children. Teachers must take care of all kinds of special issues of their students – medical emergencies or conditions, behavioural issues – and can be the bell ringer in cases of neglect and abuse. But teachers cannot be everything.

Teachers are not nurses, or psychologists, or experts in every special need, or social workers or life coaches, though they often try to be. Teachers are there to guide our children’s learning according to what we as a country and province deem is important. Teachers will always have to bushwhack through the weeds in order to teach, but these distractions must be kept to a minimum – otherwise the taxpayers will pay for it in much bigger ways down the road.