Letters to the Editor

Class composition has major effect on students

Editor: This is an open letter to Premier Christy Clark.

I have been a teacher for 22 years.  During this time, I have seen the public school system deteriorate.

When I was a student teacher in the early 1990s, there was a philosophy about special needs students, how they should not be put on the “special bus” and sent to a segregated “special school.” There were studies that proved that children with special needs would have a greater chance for intellectual, physical, social, and emotional success if they were put into mainstream classes with peers of their own age.  In order to do this, they needed to have enough support.

Since then, this support has been whittled down in various ways.  Some students have a full-time Special Education Assistant (SEA), and some have lost this time so that they only have part-time SEAs.  With the elimination of  class size and composition language in teachers’ contracts, there is no limit to how many special needs children can go into one class.

In addition to this, there is no limit to how many students in total might be in a class, regardless of how many special needs and ESL and learning disabled students might be part of the class.

Over the years, I’ve seen class sizes grow, numbers of special needs students in each class grow, and numbers of learning disabled and ESL students in each class grow.  When teachers speak up and say that this isn’t fair, our government, and in turn our employer, ignores us.

I’ve found that most teachers I’ve worked with are very giving people.  We give everything we have to our students, regardless of how much money we make, or what the class size and composition is.  We care very much about what the parents of our students think.  We understand that there is a blurred line between volunteering and going the extra mile as a really great teacher.

Personally, I’ve been very upset and stressed out about our lack of a contract, poor negotiations, and the rotating strikes that have come out of this. I am so disheartened by the way that the BC Liberals point their fingers accusingly at us, and how we point our fingers accusingly at the government. No one is getting anywhere with this.

It seems to me that what I strongly believe in is in opposition to what you strongly believe in.  For me, students come first.  I have seen, over the years of Liberal government that students do not come first.  You have other priorities. I think maybe you might have some successes in other areas, other than education.

So here we are, with different priorities.  It’s a very bad marriage, with two different fundamental philosophies at the heart of it.  But I just want you to know that I am a soft, caring, generous teacher. I am a single mother, too, and I care about my children’s experiences at school, at home, and out in the community.

I am definitely not an angry teacher who wants an unreasonably high paycheque, despite what the media tries to promote.

I have seen teachers burst into tears at student placement meetings, while trying to fit their students into the following year’s classes. They care so deeply about the well-being of their students, they cry.  And this is normal.  Perhaps as a politician running the business of a province, you wouldn’t relate to this. But you need to acknowledge the hearts of teachers.

Teachers are givers.

But when the government steamrolls my contract and negotiating abilities, I just can’t give like I used to.  And it hurts.  I want to turn myself inside-out for my students, because I care so much, but now I am confused, disillusioned, and flattened.

I’ve had to take a couple of sick days lately, because my stomach hurts and my insides churn with anxiety.  I`m worried about my students, my school, and the future of education in British Columbia.

And so on Monday I was on strike in Langley, to stand up for what I believe in, which is high-quality education. But I am doing this with a heavy heart and complete loss of confidence in our provincial government.

Tracey Clayton,


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