When teachers talk: Why CBC gathered 30 teachers to take us Inside the Classroom
‘I feel like I’m doing crowd control,’ said one teacher
I'd already spoken at length with over a dozen teachers, by phone, after school, and I thought I'd heard about all of their major frustrations.
I was calling them to prepare for an extraordinary forum: a sizable group of teachers, school counsellors, and principals from across Newfoundland and Labrador, congregating in the CBC television studio in St. John's.
And talk. Just talk.
As simple as that.
Radical, too, because teachers have been silent for a long time, reluctant to speak out in case their comments were met with disciplinary action.
It has happened in the past, although last May on my lunchtime radio phone-in show, CrossTalk, Education Minister Dale Kirby warmly invited teachers to have their say.
"Teachers are integral to any discussion we're having about education in this province," he assured.
As I spoke to teacher after teacher in preparation for the taping, they made statements such as, "Parents don't understand what it's like for us."
Or, "I feel like I'm doing crowd control."
Dedicated but frustrated
They told me repeatedly that they are fully committed to inclusive education, the theory being that students are taught together, unlike the old days when young people with various disabilities were kept away from the rest of the student body.
They also told me repeatedly that inclusive education is not working, that it is impossibly complex for teachers to try to accommodate a vast range of needs.
Those could be anything from students with severe anxiety who require TLC and calming, to students who have difficulty writing and require scribes, to students with significant intellectual disabilities.
Sure, there is often classroom help for teachers, including student assistants and instructional resource teachers, whose responsibility is to help implement inclusive education.
But the message from teachers is thunderous: more resources are needed. Also, that smaller class sizes would make a big difference.
I heard many other concerns, ranging from the foul language some students use in class, or the fact that some of them refuse to do assignments, to whether the math curriculum offers so many different ways to approach the same problems that students are overwhelmed with options.
And so I thought I was going to hear more of the same as I continued to make research calls, chats with teachers that always extended far beyond the 15-minute window I'd requested.
Then I phoned a woman who told me that students had hit and kicked her, even choked her. Not necessarily out of spite — many were students with special needs. But they'd left her bruised and shaken.
Then another teacher told me that she feels like a failure in her junior high class most days because she cannot make education her No. 1 priority.
She told me she feels like a behaviour manager. It's so bad that she and a colleague refer to what they call "#defeated," as if they were sending tweets to each other.
Teachers ready to speak out
We need to talk about what's happening inside the classroom. That was the clear message from the 30 teachers who gave up a Saturday in January.
CBC St. John's worked with the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association to organize the forum.
The association covered any necessary travel costs, while CBC had full editorial control of the forum taping, with no whiff of interference from the NLTA.
A fair number of the teachers who participated are branch presidents. And yes, the provincial government's task force on education is underway.
It's also worth noting that the NLTA and the government hope to exchange contract proposals in the very near future.
But not one person mentioned contract talks to me.
Not one criticized the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, nor Education Minister Dale Kirby.
You know who the teachers kept talking about?
Inside the Classroom
For the next three weeks, CBC will deliver coverage that's focused on the education system in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Each Monday (starting on Feb. 6), three segments of Inside the Classroom will be available on our website and on our YouTube channel. The segments will also air on Mondays on CBC Television on Here & Now, around 6:30 p.m. NT.
Stay tuned for related education coverage throughout the next three weeks on Here & Now, local CBC Radio One shows, and online.
If you have any feedback on this series, or stories you would like to share, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.