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Education Today:
What Teachers Have to Say

Iram Khan

e very few months or so it seems as though yet another province's teachers are on the verge of striking or are on strike in Canada. As the years go by, Canadian seem to have less and less patience for teachers and their causes. The media jumps on the problems of where kids go when teachers are on strike and how much they suffer. Why not focus on why the teachers are on such shaky ground?

There is a common view that teaching is a great job especially since teachers get two months off for summer and a minimum of a week off for Christmas. Teachers also get preparatory time during school time. What more could teachers want? Well, teachers are more concerned about the welfare of their students than you may think. In fact that is what most of the strikes have been all about. Wages and benefits get the most attention in the media, but in reality there are dozens of other concerns that teachers are no longer allowing to be swept under the carpet.

I sent out a list of questions to teachers from across Canada and received a variety of responses; however, there was a strong similarity between the concerns that they commented on. Many of these teachers:

Despite these troubling concerns, there was some consensus about the great things about Canada's education system. Many teachers believe that there has been good government support for introducing technology and hands on learning into schools. They also appreciate their wages and their benefits. Many teachers compared their situations to the teachers of the United States, who do not get paid as much or receive as many benefits as Canadian teachers.

Now here are what some teachers had to say in their own words:

teachers are expected to do many of the jobs of parents. We are under appreciated. There isn't enough money for the basics. I have had to spend my own money and use book club coupons on books for my reading programme!!!! Most of the public does not understand the constant daily stress we are under (at the primary level most of the stress comes from unrealistic parent demands), the extra time we put in at home, and the amount of personal money we spend on our jobs. (British Columbia grade 1/2 teacher, with 8 yrs. of teaching experience)

my province has been implementing new curricula like it is going out of style. Most of the new curricula are many thousands of pages in length. Getting a handle on the new curricula in addition to finding the necessary resources is quite a challenge. Add to that the fact that teachers are routinely called upon to act as Social Worker, Psychologist and Counsellor and what you get is teachers having to do more these days. (Saskatchewan kindergarten to grade 8 p.e., French, French immersion, health, social studies, and math teacher with two yrs. of teaching experience)

from what I have read on the internet, educators in Canada are very well paid compared to teachers in the U.S. and elsewhere. That's definitely a real bonus! Teaching in Canada brings to me a sense of great pride when I teach about our country - its vast geographical features, its size, its multicultural populations, and its interesting history. Canada has a lot to be proud of and it brings me great pleasure to teach about our country to the students...

I'd like the Provincial government of Ontario to provide teachers with more moral support instead of slamming us in the media. We ALL wish kids could read better and write better, and every one of us tries daily to "make a difference" in the lives of our students. We don't need to be compared (erroneously, at that) to European countries or Japan. Our lifestyles are different, parental expectations of children are different, and subject emphasis in schools are different. I'd like the government of Ontario to leave this new curriculum in place for at least the next ten years, regardless of the next party that is elected to power. How can we ever find out if anything works effectively unless we implement it long enough to see children go through grades 1 to 8 with the program? (Ontario grade 6 and grade 2 & 4 computer teacher with 14 yrs. teaching experience)

this year I have 2 moms who come in 1/2 day each per week. I have another who comes in for anything special. I have 1 grandpa who joins us for outdoor activities (ie. skating) I have another mom who just started coming in 1 hour/ week specifically to help with reading. I have several who will do things at home. I also have some university students who help a bit. (The gr. 2 teacher has 7 regular helpers)... I have NEVER had this much help in 12 years! Before that (different school I had 0 or 1). (Ontario grade 1 teacher with 12 yrs. teaching experience)

this year I'm lucky to have a small class, the two grade one classes started the year with 30 kids each. The parents fought this and we were reduced to 3 classes of 20. So small class size would be my main issue. We also need to continue litercy programs like the Alberta government introduced last year. We are dealing with more ande more students who are entering the classroom with little or no litercy skills. (Alberta grade 1 teacher with 14 yrs. teaching experience)

what is the worst thing about education in Canada? "- scorn of public and politician who have no idea about the severe demands of the job; - they can never understand unless given a full dose of teaching responsibilities, including the voluminous administrivia constant assessment of students and loads of paperwork designed to cover the behinds of higher ups - has nothing to do with effective teaching." (Ontario grade 4 and kindergarten to grade 8 computer teacher with over 29 years experience)

more money!!!!! We have to cut a teacher again next year. We can't afford any extras. Many classroom items come from my own pocket - there's only a VERY small classroom budget. (Alberta grade 1/2 teacher with four yrs. of teaching experience)

what is the worst thing about education in Canada? "The unwarranted negative image that teachers have, the teacher bashing that is rampant in the media and the political arenas. The numbers of children in the classes makes it hard to reach all the children." (Ontario grade 1 French immersion teacher with 26 yrs. of teaching experience)

what is the best thing about education in Canada? "The new and exciting programs and the innovative ways to include ALL students including behaviorally challenged and learning disabled students."

The governments cut spending and expect more and have instituted the kind of testing that is NOT research-based, nor is it good for the students. Our grade 3 students will be in exams for 3 weeks. This cuts the learning time. We are expected to teach 10 months of materials in 9 months. (Manitoba grade 8 French teacher and principal with 32 yrs. of experience)

children come to school with more problems, etc., and we have to deal with these issues before we can even teach. Also there has been a change in curriculum over time from less "workbook" type activities to more "hands on", this requires more preparation time from the teacher. I think for the most part it is a better system, but can make it difficult for teachers to maintain a top-notch class.

I take my students into the computer lab at least once per week. I also do several email/internet projects throughout the year. I have students use my computer for special programs, etc. I also believe that "technology" includes the vcr, tv, cassette player, overhead machine, etc. I think we have gotten away from technology as a tool and are spending too much time thinking it is something more than that. I am pleased my students understand what email and the internet is and how to use programs on the computer. (Alberta grade 1 teacher with 6 yrs. of teaching experience)

if you, as a teacher, could get whatever you wanted from the government what would you ask for? "Stop changing the curriculum! Money to buy resources. I spend so much of my own money buying books and "stuff". Low class size. Up until this year West Vancouver has had no class size agreement. We have had up to 29 students in grade one." (British Columbia grade 1 teacher with 6 yrs. of teaching experience)

Iram Khan manages the acclaimed teacher resource website CanTeach

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