A Red Deer teacher spends thousands of dollars out of her own pocket to buy books for her classroom.
Another teacher in Central Alberta is frustrated that her students are “suffering in silence” because they are not getting the attention they need.
The comments are part of Alarm Bells Ringing: Voices from Schools, a report on an online survey conducted by Public Interest Alberta in November and December.
Public Interest executive director Bill Moore-Kilgannon said the survey depicts the grim realities for teachers, staff and students in Alberta classrooms.
“Clearly for far too many children, they are in classrooms where they are not getting the supports that are necessary to show their full potential,” said Moore-Kilgannon.
There were 434 responses from teachers, parents and educational staff across the province, including those in Red Deer, Ponoka, Blackfalds and other Central Alberta communities.
“It’s shocking to know in this wealthy province we have so many of those classroom scenarios that are just not conductive for good education,” said Moore-Kilgannon.
“Was it surprising? No, because we have been hearing it time and time again over the years.”
Moore-Kilgannon said the problems are being driven by a growing population and the fact that the province has not retained the teaching staff to keep up with the increased numbers in classrooms.
A few years ago, special needs funding was changed and a more inclusive delivery approach to education was introduced in Alberta.
“Now we’re seeing that global funding is resulting in special needs assistants running from class to class as if the children they just left are now all of a sudden going to behave perfectly while they are out of the room,” said Moore-Kilgannon. “Clearly we need to be looking at these classroom conditions and trying to improve the situation. I am strong supporter of inclusion for children with special needs but not to the detriment of other children.”
Most of the concerns expressed in the survey were about “growing class size, increasingly diverse and complex classroom composition, and a lack of resources to address the varied needs of children in those classes.”
Eighty per cent of the respondents said there is not enough support staff in the classrooms.
A Grade 10/11 teacher in Red Deer commented on the challenges with booking support staff for the day.
“They are likely already booked and we have to wait another day,” said the teacher. “I have never gotten help from education assistants for students who have behavioral IPPs as they are often assigned elsewhere. We actually had a decrease in education assistants last year when our student body increased by almost 200 students.”
A Chinook’s Edge Grade 3 teacher wrote about the challenges in dealing with the impact of children with behavioural needs.
“The three very loud, disruptive, frustrated kids reading, writing, spelling at an early Grade 1 level tend to monopolize my attention,” said the teacher. “The five quieter kids reading, writing and spelling at a Grade 1 level tend to ‘suffer’ in silence and I get to them when I can. The other 18 kids don’t get enough of my attention. It’s not fair.”
In another case, a Grade 3 teacher in Red Deer wrote that no one person can do it and people should stop blaming teachers.
“I have spent thousands of dollars of my own money trying to make my classroom experiences a rich learning environment. So the challenges are time, money and having to do so much of it on my own in isolation.”
Moore-Kilgannon said his organization is deeply concerned that there may be thousands of teacher jobs on the line next year, in light of the dropping oil prices and an anticipated five per cent cut to education funding in the provincial budget.
“If they follow through on these massive cuts, these type of classroom conditions are going to multiply dramatically,” he said.
Parents also wrote about the lack of support for teachers.
In response to a question on the issue of impact of large classes, combined with complexity and high needs, one Blackfalds parent said the “teacher has too many children that have unique needs beyond the special needs children.
“Supports for these children are not funded the same way as children with special needs, requiring schools to pull resources for that pool to deal with it when the funds are for the special needs child,” the parent said. “Everyone suffers.”
A Lacombe parent whose son is non verbal and has severe global developmental delay said the teacher has so little help that some days she cannot eat lunch.
Go to www.pialberta.org view the survey results.
Public Interest Alberta is a non-profit, non-partisan, provincewide organization focused on education and advocacy on public interest issues.