British Columbia

B.C. teachers' strike: former teacher quit over special needs stress

After 14 years, Willow Reichelt walked away from teaching because she could no longer properly support the special needs kids in her class

Willow Reichelt says she did not have the resources her class required

Willow Reichelt quit teaching after 14 years.

A former teacher in Chilliwack says she quit her job after 14 years because she didn't have the resources to help the special needs children in her classroom.

Willow Reichelt spent more than a decade as a teacher in B.C., before quitting her job in 2013.

"I got to the point in teaching where it was taking my whole life," she told CBC News.  "It does, honestly. If people think teachers work the hours of a school day, they are crazy."

The last class Reichelt taught, eight out of the 30 students were designated with special needs. Despite that, there was only one teaching assistant assigned to help, for just one and-a-half hours a day.

"It was sort of okay. We tried our best," she said. "But there were lots of disruptions. The kid who was later diagnosed with Tourette [syndrome] would spin like a dervish up to the front of a class while I'd be trying to teach, or sit in his desk and jump up and down and make loud noises. Then I did have a couple of kids [with] severe behaviour. It was pretty nuts."

With two special needs children of her own—one autistic, the other giftedReichelt continues to advocate for them, while working part-time.

How many is too many?

She believes there should be hard caps on how many special needs children are placed in a class.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender doesn't agree.

"There's such a variety of different special needs, that each class is unique. That is why the government doesn't determine hard caps."

About ten percent of students in B.C. have special needs. Of the almost 60 thousand students with special needs designations in schools last year, only 25 thousand qualified for extra funding.

"I think what's stressful is there's less support and resources available for teachers," said Faith Bodnar, executive director of Inclusion BC.

Bodnar says while special needs designations have expanded, funding hasn't gone up.

"We're better at identifying the unique learning needs of children with special needs than we were 15 years ago," she notes. "[But] with that comes the fact that investment in our school system hasn't kept pace with diversity in the school system. "

With files from Bal Brach


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