I am a Richmond resident who teaches Grade 7 in Surrey at an elementary, inner city school. I have been in my current position for 10 years. When I began working here, our school district still had separate support teachers for ESL, Resource Room and Learning Assistance.
Students in my class received learning support from these three departments on a daily basis and individual student needs were generally well met.
When the system changed to a Learning Support Team (LST) model, my class received daily support from an LST teacher. That teacher and I decided how to best use that time to meet the needs of students who were not working at grade level.
Within that LST model, a single teacher was assigned to each class. It did not guarantee that a particular specialist would be matched with the best fit for an individual student's needs. For example, the ESL teacher was now a member of the LST.
If that teacher was matched to my class and I determined that most of the students with specific learning in my class needed help with math, an ESL specialist would then be using his/her time to teach math, rather than to help individual children with acquiring English language skills. Nonetheless, as a staff we tried our best to make it work within the new system.
Today, I have 24 students in my class, 11 girls and 13 boys. Of these 24 students, eight of them have special designations. I do not have a special education assistant (SPA) assigned to any of these students.
One boy has a mild intellectual disability. He came to my class this past September from a different school district. He cannot read and he writes at a Grade 2 level. As an athletic and socially well-connected boy, he is reluctant to even pick up a pencil for fear of judgment by his peers.
Another boy, also new to our school this year, has chronic health issues relating to oxygen deprivation at birth. He has a variety of physical, academic and social difficulties. One of my girls has an ESL designation. We no longer have designated ESL teachers within our system. She tries her best, but clearly she often does not have an effective grasp of the English language to perform at grade level. Two more girls and three more boys have designations for learning disabilities, two for both math and literacy and the others for literacy.
The boy who cannot read gets help from an SEA on Tuesdays and Thursdays for 30 minutes and LST support on Mondays and Fridays for 35 minutes. Five of the students get LST support for math for 45 minutes each day. What about literacy support? That is up to me.
I am an experienced teacher with a Masters in Educational Practice. I have developed a host of strategies for differentiating instruction and assignments to match my students' needs. But one person can only do so much.
Everyone is losing out. I am exhausted at the end of each day and the students are not getting what they need to succeed. The students who need more help are not getting enough and, in turn, by spreading myself too thin, the students who could be challenged to delve deeper do not get my full attention.
How can I challenge one group of students, scribe for the student who cannot read and write and help the ESL student understand the instructions?
And what about those five students who are not reading and writing at grade level? When am I going to get to them, to target their skills and help them get to where they need to be?
The major problem here is clear. Over the past ten years, conditions to effectively support students' needs have deteriorated to an unacceptable level.
We need smaller class sizes and greater attention to the composition of these classes. Eight out of 24 is 33 per cent. My class is not the exception. It's the reality in inner city Surrey.
The proposed "Educational Plan" by our provincial government does nothing to address what teachers and students really need.
Genevieve Patterson Richmond