Misinformation and negotiating

Misinformation and negotiating

The misinformation/crafted truths that are swirling around the labour negotiations related to education in Ontario is mind boggling and feels like a case study for how life has become in the World According to Trump.

Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education in Ontario, has nothing on Trump for tweets that make no sense, but only because Leece presents his misinformation in a more palatable, less ranting way.

Here’s a fascinating tweet from today: Standing with parents to keep the focus on their children, not union compensation (December 10, 2019)

Two issues: parents have overwhelmingly shown, in public consultations, that they are not happy with cuts that the government has proposed, including increasing class sizes and insisting on e-learning courses. Lecce is the person who keeps bringing focus to ‘union compensation’ as a diversion to discussing two other main issues that OSSTF has insisted be addressed: class size and e-learning. 

And yet, another tweet from Leece today states: We prioritize investments in class, not compensation. If you are increasing class sizes and insisting students take e-learning courses, you are not investing in classrooms. Plain and simple.

Pro-government followers would point out that the government has addressed class size and e-learning. The government proudly thump their chests and say that they have changed their class size cap demands from 28 to 25.

Since class sizes were at 22 prior to these negotiations, it is misinformation to act as if this was a win for unions or ultimately students.

And e-learning – there were no mandatory e-learning courses prior so again, not a ‘win’ for anyone.

And certainly not for students.

Although some aspect of these two issues relate to job security for teachers, unions are fighting for the issues because they actually do believe in fighting for what’s right for students and all education workers.

Teachers (the people in the classrooms) know that smaller classes mean a better chance to provide the appropriate learning environment for all students and the wide range of learning levels present within the class.

Students also do better and have deeper learning when they are in classrooms with other students and with a teacher at hand. The biggest issues that I see regarding e-learning are that it is an expectation that discriminates against students who do not have access to a computer and/or the internet and it discriminates against students with learning differences.

Given Lecce’s constant focus on compensation, I am curious how he feels that he can claim this is the biggest issue when his government has passed a Bill that holds compensation to 1% per year (unless you are in the government itself in which case you can get a 14% increase to your salary and a further 20% rental housing compensation increase because rental prices have risen – but apparently only for government employees???).

Many people on Twitter have picked up on Lecce’s compensation focus and are singing the same song. When people bring up salaries, the usual negative comments are made – teachers have summers off, they only work a few hours a day, yada yada. Teachers do receive compensation for their work – it is hard work, it is the work that impacts the future of any society. Teachers are in front of their students for a five or so hours a day, and no teacher only works for those hours each day. Teachers do prep work, supervision, planning with other staff, connecting with families and services for their students – and they work from home. Teachers have to provide materials for their classrooms because not enough funding is available for all the consumables and materials needed. I do not know any teacher who does not have a significant classroom library and learning materials collection. And yes, teachers do not work in the summer (unless they are teaching summer school or upgrading). But they are not paid for the summer. They are paid for the months they work; their salaries are spread out over twelve months.

Then there are the other education workers – secretaries, Early Childhood Educators, custodians, special education teaching assistants. I cannot speak to all those roles, but as a teaching assistant, my salary never netted me much more than $30,000 a year. I did not have sufficient sick days for being injured and I did not get paid for summer, Christmas or March break. As a group, we cannot spread our salaries over twelve months because there is not enough of it. So, teaching assistants are, unlike teachers, entitled to apply for Employment Insurance benefits and like any laid off person collecting those benefits, we are required to look for other work during the summer months. Few people can secure other work because few people want to hire someone with our skills for only 8 weeks.

Every educator I know is in the field because of students. They stand with students, actually in the presence of students, every day. They know, from their work, from their experience, what works best for students. They are the experts. They are capable.

And yes, they would like to be compensated for that work, at a level that is at the very least in line with the increase to the cost of living; otherwise, the government is asking education workers to effectively take a pay cut.

So, sure, Minister Lecce, focus on compensation. That’s not the whole story by a long, long shot, but if people are going to behave like sheep and follow you into that hole of misinformation, there’s little chance I will be able to convince them that there are bigger issues on the table.

Cause you know me, I’m simply an educator.

What are your values?

What are your values?

To the government of Ontario,

What do you value in education?

If recent actions are any indication, it is not students, nor educators.

Ah, yes, the bottom line.

The other day, the Minister of Education went on the CBC and when asked if he thought people in education were taking sick days when they were not sick, he refused to answer simply yes or no. Instead, he stated that the reasons for high absenteeism needs to be investigated.

No need to investigate, Sherlock. I can tell you the reason.

If your government values consistency in the delivery of support to students in the classroom, you will rejig the ineffective, destructive funding model to schools. You will make money available and targeted for hiring (rehiring) staff including Educational/Teaching Assistants, teachers, Early Childhood Educators, speech and language, psychologists, and other specialists.

People are absent from work because they are sick, injured or mentally exhausted, not due to nefarious actions. Staff are being asked to accommodate and support a record number of students with a significantly lower number of staff.

And the reasons for absences are available for the government to see. Boards are required to have Absence Management Programs to ensure that staff are not abusing sick days. Within the context of these Programs, information is shared with the employer (the Boards) that means there is no expectation of privacy regarding employee’s mental and physical health.

So, if the government is unaware of why absenteeism is high and what needs to be done to fix it, they need only look at their own policies and the detrimental effects they have on staff and subsequently students.

Students have a right to be accommodate to ensure they can be successful. Reduced staffing numbers means fewer staff to support students and deal with differences in learning and behaviours. This can result in students acting out, lashing out, hurting staff and potentially negatively impacting their own and others abilities to be successful.

If your government feels that the best way to solve this is to reduce the percentage of pay that CUPE employees receive when they are on short term disability (from 90% to 60%), you are saying that you want to penalize employees who are very often hurt ON THE JOB for DOING THEIR JOB for taking days to recover FROM INJURIES RECEIVED ON THE JOB. You are saying to employees that it is now an expectation that they not only get hurt, but take a pay cut for that privilege.

And let’s not forget: whatever CUPE agrees to, you are setting the precedent for the whole education system in Ontario. Because whatever crap deal you serve up at one negotiation table is the only thing on the menus of every other negotiating table going forward.

So, send your Minister of Education back to school – have him show up and do the work for more than a five minute photo op, and he will see that your government has either created or perpetuated the incredibly poor work conditions that cause high absenteeism rates in schools across the province.

(And tell him to bring soap and water because we’re heading into cold and flu season and there’s nothing like 30+ snotty kindergarteners to make an educator sick and tired.)

the long goodbye

the long goodbye

April 1, 2003, I began my career in education with the Peel Board.

My love of public education and being around small humans started sooner than that though.

I began volunteering in 1994 when my oldest began kindergarten. I often brought my youngest into the school library and would help out teachers by preparing activities for classrooms (read: cutting out hundreds of shapes). I ran bake sales and play days with all the other stay at home or flexibly scheduled parents. We did goofy sketches at assemblies and made meals for Teacher Appreciation Days.

I was hooked.

At one time, I planned to become a teacher. In 1985, when hubby was finishing up his degree, I was planning on going back to university and get a degree and then go to teacher’s college. Times were tough for new teachers (relatively speaking), but I viewed it as a stable profession. Hubby was supportive, but some of the extended family was not. As I was known to do, I caved to the pressure to not commit to a career.

I began having babies a few years later. I was/am/always will be hooked on that choice.

Maybe my love of all things education began even earlier – in high school, when I attended a Catholic high school as a non-Catholic student. I was exempt from religion classes if I did community service. I found a daycare for children with Down syndrome and their siblings to fulfill my requirement. My high school was ‘self teaching’ (hey, late 1970s, your flexible education ideas are calling!) so I could spend as much time on any subject as I needed. We didn’t have classes, no one took attendance. (Not surprisingly, many people took 5 or more years to complete the three required years of high school in this model.)

I began spending all my time at the day care – and only going to school one or two days a week. I graduated 5 months early so I could spend even more time at the daycare.

I was hooked.

So, yes. I may have been hired by the Peel Board on a snowy April day in 2003, but the seeds were planted back in the late 70s.

Education today is not anything like it was in the 70s and does not even remotely resemble my first permanent role with the Board in 2003.

I began working one on one with a student who had physical and cognitive impairments. We had oodles of time to do his physiotherapy and occupational therapy exercises. We worked hard to overcome his anxiety about doing work (which manifested itself in such stress he threw up. Every day. Usually on me.) and by the end of the year, he did participate more.

I thought it was a tough year. But it was nothing like my last full time year, 2014.

That year I was working with multiple students in multiple classrooms. The province and the Board had moved to deeming Teaching Assistants as necessary only for personal safety and personal care. There was no more supporting students with curriculum expectations – we were the front line between success and failure within a very narrow scope.

Today, Teaching Assistants work with at least 3 students. Those three students are very high needs – that why a TA would ‘only’ have 3 at a time. If the students have been deemed to have lesser needs, that ratio goes up. One TA to 4, 5, 6 or more students.

It’s not the same world at all.

In 2014, I returned to university. My long goodbye to working in schools began.

I occasionally went into the schools to do supply work until I returned full time in 2016. After years of being hit, pinched, spat on, punched, and ducking various projectiles, alongside lifting students for toileting, I began to think my body wasn’t up for the task. I took a role at the Board main site. In an office. By myself.

By the early spring, I decided to ‘retire’. I needed to accept that I wasn’t going back in the classroom. Those years away had made it feel like too daunting a task to return. Alongside that, I had begun working on a research project at McMaster. The possibility of doing my masters hung in the air.

The long goodbye got serious – there was a retirement dinner and notification that I was too young to start drawing on my pension.

In early 2018, after floundering around for a few months, I took a short term job at my union’s office. After that, I stayed on the supply TA list, with a minimum requirement of one day of supplying a year.

I didn’t fulfill that requirement this past school year. I worked full time at the university and was advised that I shouldn’t risk my bum knee in a special education setting or classroom. I made a half hearted attempt to get an exemption from my one day a year requirement.

Yesterday, I opened an email that said, You have been terminated.

The long goodbye is over. I think I’m okay with that.

Not 100% sure, but yeah. Probably.

The opportunity to volunteer at my local school still exists. And as long as the chance to occasionally hang out in the world of education and interact with small humans still exists, all is good in the world.

It is about the students

It is about the students

Déjà vu all over again – the government and the education sector, butting up against one another and the government whipping anger with a media frenzy (and way too many standing ovations). People working in education will be made out as money grabbing and our elected representatives will not only feed that negativity and misinformation, but they will do everything possible to come out as good leaders, stating it’s all for the greater economic good.

What a load of propaganda.

I know about fiscal restraint. I worked in special education for 15 years and was at the top of my pay grid and took home less than $35,000 a year. 

Yup. You read that right. 

Right now, RIGHT NOW, there is no talk about more/less money because we are not negotiating yet. 

Right now, RIGHT NOW, the protests are about the cuts, about the threats of cuts, about the pile of damage being created by decisions being made by the government. 

The government started on the wrong foot by cutting out curriculum development which would have increased Indigenous content – curriculum changes set out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

The debacle that is, was, and continues to be funding for children with autism is part of the protests. 

Increasing class sizes, having students take e-learning courses – and don’t even get me started about the health curriculum. 

The government says teachers are promoting dissention with students and using classroom bulletin boards as places of anti-government information sharing. 

If the term ‘fake news’ was not so overused, I’d use it here. 

There are so many issues to protest, but RIGHT NOW, salaries is not one of them. 

When it comes to fiscal restraint, the Ford government has not actually been practicing what they preach. 

Buck a beer? License plate redos? “Open for business” signage? Stickers to agitate against carbon tax?

And then there are the salaries of friends and associates in jobs that either didn’t previously exist or were at lower salaries previously: $348,000 to a health care advisor; $140,000 for a formerly part-time position as EQAO chair; $350,000 for a trade representative. And then there are folks who are in senior positions after being part of the Ford team in various capacities: Ontario Energy Board appointee, $197,000 and chair of Public Accountants Council for $166,666.

These inflated “dollars for supporters of Ford” would make an incredible difference in the lives of students in Ontario. Money that would allow for more speech and language support, autism intervenors (cause given new policies and money shuffling, we are definitely going to need more specialists), and specialized equipment within schools.

What about the senior students, those with learning needs who do not have the depth of programs they need to prepare them for the world beyond the education system? Their programs have been cut and their support diminished because special education has been underfunded for years. And years. And years, first by the Liberals, now by the current government.

Another way in which this government is failing is that they keep announcing funding as if it’s new – slapping a ‘new and improved’ label on already existing, lower than needed, funding. And people are being fooled into believing it, because they want to believe their vote for this government was the right one. 

Wrong. 

Special education students are capable and want to contribute in whatever way they can to society – but they need the foundations to do that and they need those programs to last through the end of their final year of school (and beyond).

I worked in special needs and behaviour from 2003 until 2018. I value the work of all the members of our education system, but special needs is what I know and therefore the reality of that work is what I can best speak to. Special education means working with the most vulnerable members of the system and of society – children with physical, intellectual and mental health issues. We are the people who, along with the teaching teams, deliver education to students who need more – perhaps it’s personal care, or curriculum support or behaviour management. Everyday, members of that employee group are faced with unimaginable stress and incredible types of successes.

Let me focus on the stress aspects: We feed students who cannot do it themselves. We change diapers, clothing and sanitary pads, often lifting students the size of grown men and women. We can be kicked, pinched, punched, scratched, spit on, urinated on, have feces or furniture or pretty much anything thrown at us. I have worn protective gear to minimize the chances of injury, which makes it harder to move around. In addition to this physical abuse, we also can be subjected to verbal abuse. Personally, I have had all of these things happen to me, including being hit so hard in the face that I fell to the ground. I have visited the emergency department of my local hospital on more than one occasion for myself, in addition to accompanying students with seizures and other medical conditions.

When you pull money out of the system, more of these tasks are put onto fewer workers. People think their child will have one on one support. 

Those days are long gone. Student supports are prioritized by categories such as safety and personal care, not by educational needs. 

The more money pulled out of the system, the less time front line workers and teachers have to teach students the skills which allow them to be successful, to not have levels of frustration that can cause them to act out in aggressive and violent ways – skills that allow ALL students to be included in schools and their communities in meaningful ways.

And that violence? It is experienced by all students and staff who are present when it occurs.

Appropriate funding needs to be in place in order to make school a place where students can learn and grow; it should not be about warehousing children and youth with special needs.

That is my greatest fear when I think about their future. 

And guess what? When I was dealing with out of control students, or otherwise doing my job, you know who was standing right next to me? The teaching staff. Early childhood educators. Other teaching assistants. My principal. All are at risk every day and they need to know that their government is behind them.

When the government make claims in the media that it’s about the money, they are right.

There is a component about being compensated for the work we do and for the injuries we sustain doing that work. 

That is not the issue RIGHT NOW. 

The bigger, RIGHT NOW issue is that people (students, staff, parents, Boards) are angry about the government not properly funding the education system.

I want to tell this government, as I tried to tell the last one, walk a mile in the shoes of those teachers and education workers you talk about in such negative ways. You would love aspects of your job. You would be exhausted and inspired.

And you would be devastated that your government undermines you both on a personal and on a professional level.

You would be more than devastated to see amazing students not get the chance to succeed because your government felt it was important to support personally motivated projects over supporting students. 

No matter how you spin it, this is the reality: the government has chosen other priorities in front of the future of Ontario. That future includes the children and the people who are educating and shaping them every single day.

For education workers, teachers, administrators, communities and families, RIGHT NOW AND ALWAYS  

IT IS ABOUT THE STUDENTS. 

 

 

Undermining resiliency

Undermining resiliency

Every day, it’s something new and, most often, detrimental coming from the Ontario Education Minister. It’s hard to keep up with what’s happening in education in Ontario, but to date, I cannot think of anything that’s been done in the true interests of students. I understand that education is a heavy draw on the financial makeup of a province. That being said, it does not even make good business sense to make cuts which will end up crippling the system. This is a poor business model and an even worse social program model. (I cannot even touch the issues around funding for autism programs. It will have absolutely devastating effects on children and families.)

The Education Minister yesterday, on a CBC morning program, stated that making high school classrooms bigger would make students more resilient.

High school classrooms – all classrooms – are not the place to download the mental health skill development for resiliency while also making significant cuts in both supports and funding.

What parents, teachers, industry specialists or university educators specifically said, increase teacher to student ratios so students are better prepared for university and the world? Is it like the ‘sex ed’ consultations where in reality a small number of people were opposed to concepts like consent, but the Government said the majority wanted it out?

Maybe people who believe in 1960s education models – where kids come to school, learn by rote and had significantly fewer pressures, distractions, and expectations than today’s students – also believe that schools should be solving all the woes of the world while providing exemplary education using limited resources. (That was a time when teachers gave the strap regularly – hopefully that’s not part of the next announcement.)

Again, I encourage the Minister (and anyone else making these decisions) to spend time in a classroom. Work in it. Spend a week, a month, a year.

Teachers do everything they can to create environments which nurture independence and build resiliency in students.  Classrooms are currently dealing with huge differentials: in learning abilities and disabilities; mental health strengths and areas for development; family dynamics; economic variability and instability; and a host of other impactful factors.

Ask any school social worker, teacher or counsellor and there are a significant amount of circumstances which can thwart the growth of resiliency. As parents, we are instrumental in the growth of resiliency and we also need to accept that being a helicopter/snowplow parent (guilty) is counterproductive to this concept.

The Government has a responsiblity in the mental health of all citizens. They need to lead, not chase after savings in the budget without fully understanding the trickle down impacts. They need to stop speaking off the cuff and making statements that are unfounded or based on facts. When children are surrounded by a 24 hour news cycle in which the elected leaders are not leading with any conviction or substance, this negatively impacts resiliency.

We all play a part in building environments to set up student success and the place where students spend the bulk of their waking hours – schools – should be supported and funded. The decision to increase classroom sizes will have the opposite effect to building resiliency and coping skills. And, if history is any indication, the blame will be also be downloaded onto teachers and schools.

Time to get LOUD

Time to get LOUD

June 7, 2018 is the date for Ontario’s provincial election.

It is time for front line education workers to be heard. We have a lot to contribute to the conversation and we should be recognized for our contributions to the education of the most vulnerable individuals in the education system:

  • Students with mental health issues/concerns/diagnosis
  • First time students (kindergarten, new to the Boards)
  • Students with physical/cognitive disabilities, identified and non-identified
  • Students whose life circumstances place them in a precarious status for learning
  • Students who lash out and harm/injure/permanently disable their educators

That last point is critical – violence in schools has been bubbling to the top of media feeds since last fall. There’s been a lot of finger pointing – bad parenting, bad children, bad educational assistants/teachers, bad programs (specifically integrated classrooms).

I disagree with those in the media and public playing the blame game.

Parents, especially those of children with individualized learning or life skill needs, are by and large doing the best they can.

Students who act out in a violent manner are frequently doing so in response to being in an environment that does not meet their needs.

EAs and teachers are swamped with requirements of the curriculum and the immediacy of the needs of their students. They work incredibly hard within a system that is not conducive to special education success.

Integrated classrooms are in the sights of people looking to deflect blame but the undercurrent is that the educators and special needs students within the programs are the real cause.

The deflection of focus onto these various actors in the education sector takes away from an important issue for this election – inadequate funding for programs and supports that are supposed to meet the education and social development needs of students with individualized learning requirements.

The Ontario government has imposed negotiating frameworks which have made the public believe educators only care about their salaries.

Money is how society values people. So, yes, educators want to be adequately compensated for their work. We will never stop fighting for that.

This election though is not a negotiation. The focus will be about speaking up for students and their learning conditions – which happen to be educators’ working conditions.

Students deserve the supports they need to be successful meeting their unique goals:

  • enough front line staff to support their learning
  • staff with enough time to observe each student with individual needs in a variety of environments
  • physical resources and staff with enough time to take those observations forward to create programs that work for each student and each environment they move through in the day.

Right now, educators are spread so thin – educational assistants with 3, 4, or 5 students who are in multiple classes – meaning they cannot consistently provide the breadth and depth of support students need.

There are many teachers with multiple special education students without any other resource people within their classroom to support and enrich the environment.

Schools have limited access to social workers, speech and language or other specialists.

It is time to get LOUD, to demand that any politician looking to be elected talk to people on the front lines. It is time to demand that those politicians take up the cause of students who are paying too steep a price for insufficient resources in education.

It is time to get LOUD about the consequences for educators – the violence and the injuries – which are a symptom of the current model for special education systems and the lack of adequate funding.

My vote will only be given to someone who takes the time to learn about the realities of life in special education from the people doing the work every day.

Be heard.

The real bottom line – students

The real bottom line – students

I recently re-tweeted a news article about how the Premier of our province, Kathleen Wynne, criticized Tim Horton’s franchisees for taking away benefits from employees as a cost cutting measure to meet the new minimum wage requirements; she called the owners ‘bullies’. I pointed out that Kathleen Wynne’s government has systematically cut benefits from education and other workers in the province over the last several years. My question was: who is the bully in that situation?

As could be expected, I received a couple of comments telling me that as a public servant, I was overpaid, didn’t know what life is like in the “real world” and had been coddled. I responded with examples of how I didn’t feel I was coddled (being injured, etc.) – and then I stopped.

First of all, getting into a war of words on Twitter is as useful as a bathing suit in a snowstorm, and secondly, I feel the discussions about education funding always devolves into the blame game: education workers, teachers and others are accused of being greedy.

Here’s the only thing that should matter to everyone when it comes to education (and my personal bottom line): the best interests of students.

When you take money out of the system, students are negatively impacted.

Governments and uninformed people in the public continually circle the issues around education funding back to it being about salaries and benefits. Yes, those are important. Society bases people’s value on income; people need decent wages to live and to contribute to the economy; and, people deserve to be compensated fairly for their contributions.

Good educators are ones who see the importance of a balanced set of priorities. Educators have taken pay cuts in one form or another – usually small or no increases in salaries along with benefit cuts.

And still, the students suffer. The governments are saving money on salaries, as they said they needed to. And yet, the cuts continue.

Fewer supports, high student to teacher and educational assistant ratios, closing schools and/or classrooms (meaning fewer places for students with specialized needs to receive appropriate care), less professional development opportunities, fewer mental and physical health care specialists – all of these directly impact students.

Yes; I got ticked that the Premier took away my benefits.

But, let’s be clear: my biggest priorities, and that of all good educators, are our students and their learning conditions. The fact that those are also our working conditions should not make the picture muddy.

The difficulties educators and students are facing ARE the real world and constitute the real learning enviroment for thousands of students everyday.

The trouble with trouble

The trouble with trouble

On New Year’s Eve, during a quiet dinner with friends, the topic of workplace injuries came up. One of our guests asked if I’d ever been hurt at work. As I listed the injuries and their causes, the guest was shocked.

“Kids did that to you?”

“No,” I answered. “The system did that to me and to them.”

That’s the trouble with trouble – the wrong people often get blamed.

In April, 2015, I wrote a post about the realities of working in special education. The post was in response to the Ontario provincial government’s tactics of vilifying education workers by implying we were only after money. Given that there was not – and still is not – enough money in the system to properly support education workers hurt while doing their jobs, I was angry at being portrayed as ‘only in it for the money’. Literally thousands of people connected and could relate to the content of the post. And yet, here we are in 2018, and nothing good has changed for education workers. In fact, things are worse and less safe than ever.

The special education system in Ontario, and across the country, is in trouble. In the fall, there was a large number of stories coming out about teachers and educational assistants being injured. These stories prompted the CBC’s Cross Country Checkup to dedicate a show to hearing stories from across the country of educators facing violence on the job. Although the show asked the question “Are teachers facing too much violence in schools?”, there was an outpouring of responses from educational assistants.

Stories about violence in the classroom have been featured for the last several years across the country:

  • an Ottawa teacher attacked by a student;
  • educational assistants in Nova Scotia supporting teachers demands for better work conditions to reduce injuries;
  • New Brunswick reports about the violence facing educational assistants in that province;
  • a teacher shortage in BC – brought on by years of labour disputes largely centred on funding – has created a crisis for special education students receiving support; and the list goes on.

Funding in all sectors of education across all provinces is lacking foresight; the educational system is being run on a business model that does not account for the workers or the clients (the students).

Someone recently asked me, what is the solution?

I don’t know enough about education systems or political systems or funding models to say.

I do know this: you cannot fix the system unless you talk to the people who are working in it and find out what they know and experience. The benefits of doing that are two fold: those workers who are front line and spend their days with the most vulnerable students in the system will be listened to, some of them for the first time in their careers; and, secondly, the people responsible for making changes will be working with actual data and information rather than what they THINK is wrong with the system.

Yes, that takes time. What does not take time is to reinstate some of the fundamental needs in the system, more resources:

  • frontline workers (educational assistants, special education teachers and specialists) – paid fairly and appropriately for the work they do;
  • other specialized resources, like mental health workers, psychologists, speech and language therapists, occupational and physical therapists;
  • spaces that meet the needs of students – alternative learning environments that can meet the sensory needs of students;
  • and, adequate and appropriate sick leave that allows education workers to properly heal mentally and physically from injuries sustained on the job.

The trouble with trouble in education is that it is not going to get better without a major effort on the part of governments – the public and media need to demand accountability for the erosions of funding. Without that, the outcomes for students and education workers will be more (and more and more) of the violence occurring daily in schools across the country.

Lack of funding = lack of safety in schools

Lack of funding = lack of safety in schools

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 a 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.

And, it is a situation that for many staff and students is a daily reality and not ‘new’ news. It is a system wide problem.

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 pre-planning 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”.

Agreed.

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.

We need a hero

We need a hero

Volunteering during a Halloween walk with students from the local school reminded me what a community of excited learners looks like: happy and engaged.

I asked one of the students why he chose Superman as his costume. “He’s a hero. He helps people.”

Special education students and educators need a hero.

Or at the very least a champion for the cause.

Although special education has been in the news lately, the media has a short attention span and seems to prefer the sensationalized aspects.

Yes, Educational Assistants and other spec ed educators get hurt doing their jobs. That’s the day-to-day reality.

Yes, parents have a right to address their concerns and advocate for their children. They deserve the platform to speak out.

These issues are not new nor are they the only important aspects that media should be investigating.

Those are the consequences not the antecedent.

We need a media outlet to care enough to look past the outcomes of a neglected system and look for the root causes.

We need a politician who cares about some of the most vulnerable members of society, students with special needs.

We need a public who demands more from the government than misguided economic belt-tightening and a whole lot less finger-pointing.

We need a hero.