Dear Premier Wynne,
I am an elementary school teacher. I have been since 1981. I love this profession, and I love my kids. I've always had a passion for working with young, high needs children, the behavioural ones in particular. For that reason, I have switched from teaching in a regular junior classroom to teaching in a learning and life skills class.
Why? It's because children are our future. They are without doubt our most precious resource. I'm glad that as an elementary school teacher I've been able to make an important difference, in many types of young children’s lives.
As you know, today is once again "Wynne Wednesday". So, I'm writing to share with you some of the "little" realities of my own classroom in your incredibly underfunded education system. I hope you can appreciate the difference between the needs of an elementary classroom and that of a secondary one. Then return to the negotiating table to meet ETFO with an open mind.
My special needs, elementary class has increased 2.5 times from the size it was last year. However the support staff needed for these most vulnerable, young children remains exactly the same, even though they are among the most neediest in the medical, emotional, social, behavioural, and academic sense. Closing classes and combining students without providing the necessary support staff only badly serves to harm them further!
Last "Wynne Wednesday", provides a typical example. A student whom requires extensive physiotherapy twice daily, only received half a session of therapy because of the crises faced by the other students in my class. One needed to be stopped from running out onto the road during our recess break after he got upset on the bus this morning. I also needed to sit and hold onto another child after he slapped me and had eight seizures in a row. Oh, and please note: he doesn’t qualify for one on one support! Then, on top of all that, another of my behavioral needs children got so upset because he couldn’t play with his favourite toy during break time, that he too ran out of the room crying and screaming.
It goes on! At recess, two of my students didn’t like being separated. They called my support staff some of the most vilest, profane names that you could possibly imagine. Another very quiet but anxious boy was biting himself because two of my autistic students were rocking and keening during story time. Imagine trying to communicate with three little, non-verbal children who don't know how to express their anxieties and upsets! This is a just a regular part of my elementary school day!
Sound rough? Actually, last Wednesday was rather calm, so I was able to able to do some academic teaching. However there still wasn't enough time to work with all of my students. Too many urgent "little" issues just kept popping up. Unfortunately, as a result there were two students whom I was only able to say hello to.
This is not the environment that any young child should have to face on a daily basis! Our schools should be a safe, secure, and happy place to go each and every day! They shouldn't be a place filled with confusion and uncertainty because there aren’t enough adults to provide them with the proper care and programming they so desperately need!
I seriously urge your government to return to the negotiating table ready and willing to reach a fair agreement that respects the needs of all our many, different, young elementary students. Proper funding of the system is essential for every one of them whom walks through our doors! They are the future of this great province, something you seem to be forgetting nowadays.
Yours in education,
I like Wendy's guest blogs a lot because she expresses so much heart and soul while providing a very grass roots view of what it is like to be out in the real Ontario teaching world these days. However, as we know, there are at least 76,000 more such stories that our ETFO professionals could also tell, as they try to educate the youngest, littlest and often most vulnerable of the students whom it is their special vocation to help as teachers.
Education is inclusive in Ontario; everybody has a right to an education .... or do they? Without the proper working conditions and supports, signed and sealed in a proper contract, that is all at risk. Let nobody fool themselves, or try to fool others. As Wendy's letter shows, it simply just can't be.
We are all ETFO teachers, like Wendy and her public elementary colleagues, when it comes to wanting to be able to do our jobs well for even the "littlest", most vulnerable or forgotten of students whom we teach over the course of our careers. When the odds of failure are so high, especially when a student is just starting out in life, well .... one especially hopes that the Premier is really, truly listening.
A "cookie cutter" approach to meeting our ETFO elementary colleagues challenges isn't a possible solution at all! For shame, Premier Wynne! This is not the Kathleen that we all knew and loved so well as teachers when we once fought the good fight together during the Harris Years! Please reconsider your stand! Let's see some real negotiations start to happen! Ontario just has too much to lose, unless we can get this right, especially for the youngest and most unfortunate among us, as Wendy's open letter to you amply shows!
In teacher solidarity!