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Letter: Teachers are hopeful about real change

NLTA president Dean Ingram.
NLTA president Dean Ingram. — Submitted photo

One year ago, 30 teachers from across the province were featured on the CBC television production, “Inside the Classroom.” For many, it was the first opportunity to hear from teachers what students are experiencing in an under-resourced system in which large class sizes and students with multiple learning and behavioural difficulties are included in the same classrooms with limited or no supports.

Recently, the CBC reconnected with four of these teachers and reported that the issues have not gone away nor has the necessary action been taken to provide appropriate learning conditions. It was interesting, though, that the teachers spoke of a hope, not present last year, that perhaps those with the authority to make public policy decisions are finally beginning to listen.

Last July, Premier Dwight Ball released the report of the Premier’s Task Force on Improving Educational Outcomes. While teachers were dismayed to see no reference to issues of class size and composition, the task force understood what teachers have been saying — inclusive education is failing students and “additional resources are warranted” (page 13). These findings and the recommendation that a new Student Support Services Policy be developed have given teachers renewed hope for the students they see falling through the cracks.
This identification of concerns with our education system is not new. In 2007, government released the report of the Individual Support Services Plans (ISSP) & Pathways Commission and the report of the Teacher Allocation Commission.

As always, the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association (NLTA) provided fact-based and experience-driven submissions to the commissioners. The release of these reports established a plan for change and, in 2008, to much fanfare, the government announced a model for allocating teachers and providing supports for students based on need. One might argue that 2008 was the high water mark, a recognition of the importance of class size and adequate resources that came one year prior to the introduction of the Inclusive Education Initiative. A significant aspect of the new allocation model was a cabinet directive that a review be undertaken in three years. Unfortunately, the prospect of real, positive change 10 years ago was far greater than the change ultimately realized. Shortcomings were quickly evident, and the three-year review never happened. Had this review been conducted, many shortcomings in our education system today would have been identified and — I’d like to think — addressed, possibly avoiding a decade of inadequate resourcing and failed initiatives. In 2016, the auditor general noted the absence of this review.

Concerns with our education system prompted the NLTA to partner with MUN and the provincial Federation of School Councils to investigate, through public consultations, the status of public education. The resulting report, Better Together: The Final Report of the Panel on the Status of Public Education in Newfoundland and Labrador 2015-16, by Dr. Bruce Sheppard, former director of education, Avalon East School District and Dr. Kirk Anderson, dean of education, outlined the issues being raised by teachers, parents and community leaders.

The recent findings of the Premier’s Task Force confirm that our most important resource, our province’s future, our children, have not been getting the quality of education they need and deserve.

I’ve been asked, “Are things better now?” My answer is, unfortunately, no. We have not seen any tangible action to address consistently documented concerns. In light of this, a natural question might be, “Why am I hopeful?”

I am because I see the prospect of change; because I see an acknowledgement of the challenges our system is facing. The inaction and ineffective approaches of the past are at the root of today’s problems, but I have hope because I see teachers and administrators being included in the discussion around how best to apply the recommendations of the Premier’s Task Force to address deficiencies. I am cautiously optimistic that this consultation will lead to tangible, meaningful change — something not realized from past reports.

So yes, I have hope. The reality of the past is evidence of the many missed opportunities to invest in our kids and the future of our province. It is time for real change.

Dean Ingram, president
Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association

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