Challenges for Educators

– Geneviève Royer –

First, the numbers. When we talk about education workers in schools, we mean the nearly 99,000 teachers working with 1,370,000 students in elementary, secondary and adult general education and vocational training. Our colleagues are educators, speech therapists, psychologists, psychoeducators and support staff. As for nurses and social workers, they are in our schools as per agreements with local community clinics.

For teachers, almost without exception, Legault's governance has been synonymous with the concentration of power in the hands of the executive (remember Bill 40 which, among other things, abolished school boards) and an increase in arbitrariness in setting teachers' working conditions, from one school to another, and even among teachers. This is intensified by what is called the annualization of the task. 

In a nutshell, it used to be that our workload was divided into hours per week -- so many hours for teaching, so many minutes for an extracurricular activity, so many minutes for preparing lessons, etc. In the last negotiations, it seems that in order to get the salary increases we got, we had to agree to change our job from hours per week to hours per school year. We don't know all the consequences of this, but already we can see that annualization increases the number of periods when we must be available for the different committees set up by management.

So there is an anticipated increase in tasks. How do we turn this to our advantage? It means a lot of discussion among ourselves is required so that we don't fall victim to each administrator's interpretation of the annualization of work. For experienced teachers, it also means paying attention to our younger colleagues who often don't dare to question management's decisions for fear of being targeted.

Another element that creates insecurity is the integration -- which we call brutal -- of students with special needs. There are those we know well: dyslexic students who need more time and support to master a concept, disorganized students who also need time and space to vent their anger and frustrations, students with motor disabilities who require specialized equipment to complete a task, or students with language impairment who struggle to understand and perform a task if they don't have an intervener by their side to take the time it takes (I have a student who takes, on average, one minute to answer a simple question because the words don't come to him). They are among 30 or so other students and their needs cannot be met.

The pressure on the teachers is enormous, as they are told that they must explain the task differently, according to the so-called needs. Under the Legault government, it is the teacher who is blamed if he or she does not adopt "evidence-based" learning methods. It is the teacher who must change, not the conditions that would allow him or her to do what is needed.

Teachers and their colleagues are also in a situation where previous arrangements for transmitting information, the structure of student support, role of counsellors, etc. are being destroyed. The challenge before us is to create new arrangements that serve our social responsibilities, and thus, the needs of our students.

For example, a few days before the start of the school year, we learned that a group of students from a special needs school would be transferred to our school. They are non-verbal autistic children with intellectual disabilities. Because the special needs school was overflowing, the School Service Centre sent this group to our school, without taking any responsibility for the conditions and the necessary training that the people working with these young people must have.

In short, by mid-September, following two difficult episodes with two of these youth, we were down three injured staff members, two of whom have since been put on extended leave. We have countered the pressure of silence among our peers, who may fear being blamed, by collectively educating ourselves about the needs of these students, and the type of materials they require so we are in a position to ask management to provide it, along with adequate training for the staff around them.

For us, decreases in teacher/student ratios and the addition of direct services are the starting point for humanizing the education system. Because this requires massive investments, which challenge the orientation of the economy towards private interests, these demands are more than denied, they are not even part of the public discussion. The government simply does not allow it.

Also, especially since the pandemic, school workers are noticing how their workplaces are increasingly dealing with the consequences of the anti-social offensive in all sectors of society. Our students and their families are living with generalized insecurity, financial precariousness, and lack of health and social service resources. We live with them every day, and in fact, schools are increasingly becoming the place where families turn for warm clothing, lunch for their children, support for their children's anxiety, or help for themselves as parents to fill out forms or to help ease the tension between them and their children.

What this means is that teachers and their colleagues, by pooling their experience and knowledge, are able to provide solutions to the vast majority of problems in education and this also contributes to the well-being of the whole community. The obstacle is that teachers are not in the equation of the decision-making in education and that is what needs to change. Teachers and their colleagues in the education sector have no choice but to work together every day to find solutions to the many problems they face. They need the support of the entire community to ensure that this discussion is in the public arena when it comes to education.

Geneviève Royer is a director of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec and the PMLQ candidate in Pointe-aux-Trembles. She has been a remedial teacher for nearly 30 years and is a union representative for her school.

This article was published in
Volume 52 Number 24 - October 3, 2022

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