Nfld. & Labrador

Inside the Classroom: A year later, a progress report on how teachers are feeling

Twelve months after CBC hosted a forum on problems within the public school system, some teachers are noting positive changes.

Many problems persist but teachers note progress in some areas

Danielle Stanley-Genge teaches primary students on the North East Avalon Peninsula. After airing her concerns on CBC-NL's Inside the Classroom forum, administrators tweaked the secure schools policy. (CBC )

Finding the pluck to speak up about problems within the public school system has changed day-to-day life for her students, said teacher Danielle Stanley-Genge.

"If you go out on a limb to do something that you're not quite so sure about, it's nice to know that positive things can come from it," said Stanley-Genge, a primary teacher on the Northeast Avalon peninsula.

She was one of 30 teachers who took part in CBC Newfoundland and Labrador's Inside the Classroom forum a year ago. It was an unprecedented conversation with a group of educators who normally avoid the media in order to protect their jobs. 

During that conversation, teachers listed serious concerns with the education system, ranging from problems with inclusive education to students who are sometimes violent.

Twelve months later, CBC checked back in with four of them. They're reporting significant improvements in some areas, even though myriad problems remain. 

If you go out on a limb to do something that you're not quite so sure about, it's nice to know that positive things can come from it.-Danielle Stanley-Genge

Stanley-Genge said that after flagging disruptions associated with the secure schools policy, her school's administrators not only welcomed the feedback but took action. 

A student whose behaviour is out of control can prompt the secure schools protocol to be put into effect. 

Before, every teacher then had to lock their classroom doors. 

Stanley-Genge said it was happening so often that it had become routine. During that time, children could not leave class in order to visit the washroom. 

Now it's more common that only the cluster of classrooms in the area where the trouble is happening is affected. 

That frees the rest of the students to use the restrooms, and also to get to gym and music classes, Stanley-Genge said.

Teachers can now deduct marks for late assignments 

That's not the only revamping since teachers spoke out. 

Students can no longer pass in assignments late without losing marks, unless there are extenuating circumstances. In extreme cases, teachers are now able to give zeroes for grades. 

In the past, some students would wait until the end of term to pass in assignments. 

Gabe Ryan teaches junior high and high school students on the Avalon Peninsula. He says teachers who spoke out during 2017's CBC-NL "Inside the Classroom" forum started an important conversation that is helping to improve the education system. (CBC )

Gabe Ryan is a junior and senior high school teacher on the Avalon Peninsula who supports the new rules for students. 

"When they leave school and go to colleges and universities, they're not going to get extensions without any kind of penalty," said Ryan. 

The old policy worked against students who handed their assignments in on time, since they might get lower marks than those who kept working past the due date, said Ryan. 

'My frustration level has gone down'

Another change: there's optimism about the future of inclusive education. It was the No. 1 concern voiced by the teachers who participated in the Inside the Classroom forum. 

Last year, Avalon Peninsula primary teacher Sheldon Slaney told CBC that his frustration level on a scale of one to 10 was "one million". 

Slaney called for more classroom support for students with a complex range of exceptionalities, such as learning disabilities and autism.

Sheldon Slaney is a primary school teacher on the Avalon Peninsula. Last year he said his frustration level was at "one million" on a scale of one to ten. Now he's hopeful that the recommendations in a task force report on improving education will make a difference. (CBC )

In July, 2017, the Premier's Task Force on Improving Educational Outcomes released dozens of recommendations for improving inclusive education as well as math and reading curricula. 

The provincial government has appointed an associate deputy minister to oversee the implementation. 

Most haven't been put into practice yet. Slaney said teachers still need a lot more support in the classroom. 

But he called the report a fantastic document that should lead to meaningful improvements. 

"My frustration level has gone down knowing that the issues that need to be addressed are finally being looked at," said Slaney.

Northeast Avalon junior high teacher Angela Dawe also expressed hope. 

"There's a lot of information in those recommendations that are really life-giving to educators and to students," said Dawe. 

From defeat to hope 

That's not the kind of language she was using last year. 

At the time, Dawe had this way of describing how she was feeling about her profession: #defeated. 

She didn't actually send any tweets with that hashtag, and now it's in the past. 

"I've turned it around," said Dawe. "I'm #hopeful right now."

In the past year, she's set up a quiet inviting space complete with ping pong tables and Sudoku puzzles where students at her school are welcome to spend their lunch hour. Dawe calls it "Comfort Cove" because it's a safe place.

Last year was #defeated. And I've turned it around: I'm #hopeful right now.- Angela Dawe

She still has numerous concerns about the state of public schools in Newfoundland and Labrador, including behaviour from students that is potentially violent or disrespectful. 

But she said she's also more rejuvenated. 

Angela Dawe teaches junior high students on the North East Avalon Peninsula. She's feeling more significantly more hopeful about the school system this year than she did 12 months ago. (CBC )

All four teachers agree that speaking up last year was worthwhile. 

"Since that time we've started a conversation amongst our own membership and to the wider audience at large in this province and I think that's well worth it," said Ryan.

Along with classroom duties, all four are either branch presidents or on the executive of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association. 

The organization is in contract talks with the provincial government. The last contract expired in 2016. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ramona Dearing has worked as a reporter, host and producer at CBC's St. John's bureau.

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