I love to teach. My first joy is teaching about living the Christian life, but I have to admit that I enjoy teaching other things too. Like math. Currently I teach business math at a college near me, but for several years I have taught at the high school level. Right now all the unions in Ontario have called their teachers and education assistants out on rotating strikes. I totally support them, knowing that nobody would rather be outside on the picket line in this cold weather. They want to be inside helping their students but believe that the government has driven them to this situation.
Facebook is my choice for connecting with friends and associates, and I have deliberately included in my feed both the Liberals and the Conservatives. There are also several who would support NDP or the Green party. I try to encompass all persuasions. Hence there are some interesting posts about the teachers right now. I have too much to say for a short paragraph on Facebook though, so instead I am writing this blog.
I am very concerned at the state of our education system here in Ontario, and I am aware that we are not unusual. The easiest way to demonstrate why I am so concerned is to share some stories.
When I first entered the public system, maybe thirty years ago, I had an incident where a student swore under his breath. He was not swearing at me, or anyone else, he was simply frustrated with the situation. I informed him that swearing was not an acceptable response to his frustrations and sent him to the office. He was suspended for the rest of the day (half a day). Move forward several years, and a teacher friend of mine was sworn at by a seventeen year old student. She sent him to the office. Ten minutes later he returned with a not from the Principal telling her to readmit the student. The student did not apologise to the teacher, and as far as she was aware there were no consequences for his behaviour!
A friend who has her oldest child in elementary school shared her frustrations with me about how often her child’s class had to be moved to the library because one young student was throwing a temper tantrum. Years ago when a child misbehaved, that child was removed. Now the child is left to give full vent to their anger, and all the other children are moved! For sure that child has needs that should be addressed but allowing them to regularly take control of the whole class is not going to help him.
It happens in high school too. Another teacher at a school I was teaching at had an issue with a student and asked him to leave the classroom and report to the office. He refused. The teacher had to call the office and they sent out a team including the Principal, and three other teachers. They then proceeded to surround the student, and spent ten minutes talking to him, trying to persuade him to leave the classroom. During that time the rest of the class had to go out of the room, since the student was initially not co-operating. Once again it is the offending student who has been given the control of the situation.
There are so many more stories I could share of students being able to take the upper hand, because the hands of the administration and the teachers have been tied. Part of the job of the teacher is to persuade their students that they need to comply. Yes you may never use Pythagoras Theorem when you start working but learning to think logically is an important skill. And you may not need to know where Ecuador is located, but it could make you a more interesting person. And why should you have to read books written by great authors – it will only improve your writing skills, and you probably will not be writing much when you leave school. Maybe we should lower the bar of education, because it is too hard to persuade all the students that learning things that they may not actually use later on in their lives is actually beneficial?
But we have already lowered the bar. One retired teacher informed me years ago that at his school when they had external exams, they had not one student who managed to be an Ontario Scholar – achieving an average of over 80% in their six best grade twelve courses. The first year that the school set their own exams they had five students, and it went up from there. Now universities have to look not just at a student’s grade, who has applied for a particular course, but also at what school they came from. Simply put, 95% from one school would mean just 85% at another.
At the opposite end it is even worse. Just recently a friend shared with me how he had a student who had failed to do any work in a course, and consequently he was not going to receive the credit. The Principal called my teacher friend to his office and asked him to pass the student. His reasoning was that he did not want him to need to return next year in order to receive his high school diploma, and the easiest solution was to give him a credit for doing nothing. And sadly this is far from unusual. Many teachers pass students who they know should fail, but the paperwork is oppressive in order to fail a student – and the comeback from administration is even worse. I have known teachers who deliberately pass a blind eye to cheating, because allowing it to occur means they have a higher success rate. There are teachers who have wonderful rapport with students who are interested in what they are teaching, and happily ignore those who choose to focus elsewhere. Then they will find ways to pass those students, because that is what is expected.
The solution to all this? Increase respect for teachers, because that will help them to do their job better. Decrease the class sizes, because then less students will fall between the cracks. Allow students to fail. Then offer them the help they need in order to be successful. And where does the money come from? The first place I can think of is to get rid of EQAO testing. What is the point of finding that a school is not performing well and then offer them nothing to improve?
Right now, though, our provincial government wants to increase class sizes, and force all students to take at least two credits on-line. Ridiculous!