Nfld. & Labrador

Weak punishments, big classes breed bad habits, teachers say

Teachers from across Newfoundland and Labrador say behaviours in the classroom are getting worse, and they are laying part of the blame on class sizes and the "no zero" policy.

Teachers forced to take late assignments and pass students, panel says

In CBC's education forum, Inside the Classroom, Paul Sheppard (top left) and Gabriel Ryan (bottom left) expressed their concerns over policy decisions that they say affect the ability to teach students. (CBC/Getty Images)

Educators from across Newfoundland and Labrador say they can't fail students or punish them for late work and that's one of the reasons for lazy and inappropriate student behaviours in the classroom.

The teachers, who took part in CBC's education forum, Inside the Classroom, said classroom behaviours are deteriorating, as kids get away with more and more — and teachers are handcuffed with what they can do for punishment.

"When I pass out an assignment and say, 'OK, that's due on Friday,' if I got them all back on Friday, I'd probably drop dead," said Paul Sheppard, a junior high teacher in Avalon West. 

When the students eventually decide to pass in their work, sometimes at the end of a term, Sheppard said he is forced to give them full credit for it.

"If you bring it up, you'll probably be told, 'When they bring it in, correct it, and give them the mark,'" he said.

Questioning graduation rates

Gabriel Ryan, a junior high and high school teacher in Avalon West, said he loves most aspects of the job, except one — the bureaucracy.

During Inside the Classroom, Ryan was critical of changes to the education system he viewed as politicized and removed from the realities of the school system.

Gabriel Ryan, a junior high and high school teacher in Avalon West, says teachers are pressured to push students through. (CBC)

Graduation rates rose nearly 10 per cent between 2003 and 2013, according to government figures, and now sits at 95 per cent.

While the increase is impressive, Ryan questions the validity of the grades that students are achieving.

"We're talking about our graduation rates being higher. I'd like to know if the quality of the graduation rate is as high as it should be," he said. 

Hands are tied

Several teachers described students who pass in blank assignments, ignore homework, and don't make an effort in class.

And yet, Ryan said teachers have their hands tied when it comes to flunking or reprimanding a student.

"We are being asked to make sure kids have marks they need and get pushed through," he said.

Graduation rates have increased to 95 per cent in the province, but some teachers in Newfoundland and Labrador are concerned they are making it too easy. (Mark Felix/The Orange County Register/Associated Press)

As a social studies teacher, he said he worries about the effect it will have on the future for the children in their personal and professional lives.

"I want to know that these children, when they get older, are going to be able to lead, and be leaders in our society and teach their children good things," Ryan said.

Large class sizes are a problem

The more crammed the classroom is, the more behavioural problems exist, said Angela Dawe, a junior high school music and art teacher.

She said her classes routinely hold 30 students or more.

If I had a smaller class size, you could build relationships with students.- Angela Dawe, teacher

With that many students in a class, Dawe said she finds it difficult to form bonds with the kids and build trust.

"If I had a smaller class size, you could build relationships with students," she said. 

"I firmly believe if you can build relationships, you can have a positive influence on that child."

Joe Santos, a high school teacher on the northeast Avalon, said the large class sizes create a void between teachers and students. With less time to give, it's not easy to pick out students who need extra help.

Teacher Joe Santos is concerned his class sizes are making it easier for students to fall through the cracks and have their struggles go unnoticed. (CBC)

Many students won't ask for help when they need it, and with more students to pay attention to, it's harder to notice the ones who are quietly struggling.

"We often refer to the child that falls between the cracks," Santos said. 

"The bigger the class size, the bigger the crack."

About the Author

Ryan Cooke works for CBC out of its bureau in St. John's.

With files from Ramona Dearing