New leader of teachers group promises to focus on mental health
New Brunswick school system forces students in need of psychologists to wait too long, George Daley says
Mental health support for students, including bringing more psychologists into the school system, is a priority for the incoming president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association.
It's back to school next week and George Daley, a teacher and vice-principal at Bathurst High School, has already been doing his homework.
During his two-year mandate, Daley says, he wants to put a major focus on the mental health of students and improving teacher morale.
"They go hand in hand," he said in an interview.
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Daley, who succeeds Guy Arseneault in the president's post, said New Brunswick needs a comprehensive mental health program aimed at the mental fitness of all students while also increasing the availability of psychologists in the school system.
Psychological intervention will help students both in and outside the classroom, he said.
'The demands on a teacher to prepare material for every child in the class at their level is what becomes overwhelming at times.' - George Daley, new president of NBTA
"We have students with needs that go beyond the classroom teacher, they go beyond the guidance counsellor," he said.
"That's where the psychologist comes in."
Daley called the shortage of psychologists "substantial," with only one or two psychologists in some of the larger districts in the province.
This puts students on a waiting list that could take several years, he said.
A plan is needed now to "recruit, train and retain psychologists in New Brunswick schools," Daley said. "The needs of our schools have outgrown the means of our system."
Learning for everyone
Daley said issues related to classroom composition remain a priority for the association.
Earlier this year, teachers ratified a five-year agreement with the Liberal government that tries to address the issue.
The deal calls for adding 250 teachers to classrooms that face challenges related to the range of intellectual and physical abilities found in schools today.
"We still have lots of work to go forward with," Daley said.
"The demands on a teacher to prepare material for every child in the class at their level is what becomes overwhelming at times."
In the past 10 years, Daley said, the school system has put more emphasis on teaching every student as opposed to a class as a whole.
"That's a vastly different model," he said. "It takes a lot of resources and it takes a lot of time and we're trying to catch up … to meet that particular demand."
The new teachers will help support classroom teachers and work with students, particularly in classrooms with "composition challenges," a description used in the news release announcing the contract.
"Students need to feel safe in their classrooms first and then you can start the learning process," Daley said
As part of the agreement, there will also be school-based research into increasing the hours of instruction for some students in kindergarten through Grade 2.
Seventeen schools will begin participating in the three-year research project in September 2018 to increase instructional time for those students by one hour a day.
The additional hour, along with more resources, will be used to help students reach targets for literacy, numeracy, physical education, art and music.
The new collective agreement will apply to nearly 8,000 teachers, including supply teachers, vice-principals and principals. The previous collective agreement expired Feb. 29, 2016.
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