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JONESIE: Supporting education isn't the same as supporting teachers

September 15, 2014 - 10:56 AM

If it appeared something was amiss with the column found in this place on Monday Sept. 15, you were right.

An early draft was published in place of the finished work and not discovered until Monday evening and by then, dozens of comments were already published. The unfinished piece appeared antagonistic, cynical and insincere. That was not my intention and after consideration, was removed early Sept. 16. I apologize for the error. I have lost credibility on this subject and shall not make matters worse by publishing again.

I cede this platform to Kathleen Cherry, a teacher from Kitimat, B.C. who wrote me an email worth sharing.

Dear Mr. Jones,

I feel the need to clarify the issues you mentioned in your piece regarding the current labour dispute between the BCTF and the province of B.C.

I am both a parent and district counsellor so this issue is very personal to me on a number of levels. In your article, you noted that you felt a curiosity about those individuals who support the teachers’ cause without having what you describe as ‘a vested interest’ and describe this conflict as union versus employer (in this case the government).

However, I believe that this conflict is not the typical union fight over wages which is exactly why it is so contentious and difficult to settle. It has a much broader, ‘big picture scope’ which is why so many people have waded into the fray, thus rousing your curiosity.

Let me say, first and foremost, that I am not on strike for money or benefits. I am not saying that this is the case for all teachers. I can only speak for myself. I live in a smaller community, my house is paid off, I have more than 10 years seniority and a Masters degree. Any increase I get will likely be taken off the top in taxes and basically the stress is not worth it. Indeed, we will all have to work for a heck of a long time before we earn back that which we have lost.

My reason for going on strike is for ‘education’ (honest). I have watched our public system being decimated and I want to use whatever tool I can to stop its descent. No, I do not know the price tag and I do not advocate unlimited spending. But I do believe that our children are worth an increased investment and that the provincial government is not prioritizing public education. And public education is important – it is an attempt at equalization – and gives those raised in poverty at least the hope of achieving their goals.

And talking about price tags , we may never know the price of failing to properly support our children but there will be one. It may be hard to prove or quantify but it will be evident in the future inhabitants of prisons, reform schools and poverty.

You mentioned that we do not know what this increased investment will ‘buy’ and that there was little empirical data to support improved outcomes for reduction in class size and composition. In this you are only partially correct. While not conclusive, there is undeniable evidence that small class size does have a positive impact on students both academically and in pro-social behaviors. I have attached an article I wrote with references attached.

In addition to this, I would like to explain why I personally feel that smaller class sizes are important.

As school counselor, I have the mandate of helping children with behaviors cope in a regular classroom. These behaviors can be both severe and/ or moderate, according to the designation and I maintain that having a smaller class is vital to the success of these children and the learning environment of peers.

For example, these children often require a quiet place; a bean bag or tent. This is difficult to arrange in a bulging class where floor space is at a premium. Even harder if one is also attempting to accommodate other children with needs. One must remember, a teacher doesn’t have only one child with high needs in a class of ‘typical’ peers. It is more likely that there is quorum of at risk children. Many of these will not have any extra support.

As well, ‘at risk’ students often require ‘preferential seating’ – for example close to the teacher. However, if you have too many students with behavioural challenges clumping them ‘close to the teacher’ causes its own problems as you can imagine.

Children with autism, fetal alcohol syndrome and other designations often have sensory issues. We do everything possible to mitigate this. I have personally bought numerous tennis balls. (One cuts them open and they quieten the movement of chairs and desks.) There is also a hum from most electric light sockets – I haven’t heard it myself – but it is best practice to avoid seating these individuals close to electric plugs.

As you can well imagine a busy, bustling classroom is bound to be more stressful and have more distractions than a smaller, quieter room.

In addition, it is entirely possible that the behaviors of one will aggravate or trigger another. And anyone trained in violent incident prevention knows that it is important to catch and distract the individual as soon as possible. The first signs of tension or frustration can often be easy to miss. A teacher will have an easier time noting the signs if he or she has fewer children to monitor.

Having smaller class sizes allows us to provide greater physical space. It also means there are more classes at a specific grade level, thereby allowing us to distribute special needs students in a configuration which will work for them and their peers. 

And then there are those classes with lab equipment and cooking centers. I do not work at the secondary level but both my daughters attend. My eldest has been in a biology class with 34, making lab work difficult. My youngest hardly touched a stove in cooking.

Finally, I’d like to touch on your last paragraph. You mention that ‘we may need fewer teachers for fewer students but more assistance for special needs kids’.  I presume you are discussing teacher assistants and, believe me, these professionals are fantastic. They have some of the hardest jobs in the system and I cannot speak too highly about them. However, that does not negative the need for more teachers.

A class with 30 children, plus three low incidence students and SSAs is not as healthy as a smaller class. Moreover, we need the resource and special education teachers who design the child’s education program, write the I.E.P.s, complete the designations and do in school testing.  

More support means more teacher assistants but, in my view, it also means more teachers.

Therefore, to answer your question, why do those without a vested interest support the teachers? They do so because they value education. They do so because educators are collectively stating that our public education program is suffering and needs support.  They do so because this cry comes not only from teachers but from parents, students, teacher assistants, librarians, trustees.It comes not just from rurual or urban areas or due to isolated issues. Those who value education are speaking loudly and with a collective voice.

And when I consider the years of research, training and experience represented by that voice, I think we’d better listen. 


— Marshall Jones is the editor of

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