Presidents openly concerned about how teachers can continue to cope with cuts
Among those attending the recent Presidents’ Forum from throughout the province, there was a consensus that teachers are coping as best they can. But at the same time there is genuine concern that recent funding cuts are going to stretch the public education elastic too far.
“I think teachers in Prairie Spirit have been coping with the cuts as best they can, but you can really start to see the impact,” commented Brian Knowles. “A lot of teachers are losing their energy earlier in the year and there’s a lot of concern for lack of supports, so teacher burnout is definitely a concern.”
Clayton Boyer of Holy Trinity said the result of diminished resources means it is commonplace for teachers to try to do more with less. “You’re always putting out the biggest fires, but something is still smouldering. It definitely makes for a lot more stress.”
According to Chad Klein of Holy Family, it is a feeling his members are also facing.
“Teachers are working hard to do the best they can for their students, but it is becoming harder. Our members are feeling more overwhelmed in trying to make sure their students succeed.”
Knowles suggested that trying to fill in the gaps is becoming unsustainable for the future. “As president of our local, ideally I want our members to feel appreciated and valued for the work they do, but right now that’s not the case and they are being overtasked.
“Teaching can be a very rewarding and pleasurable profession, but it is becoming harder to accomplish what teachers want to provide for their students.”
Boyer said it is noticeable on a daily basis when you look at the number of educational assistants and to the library program as two prime examples.
“It’s cut, cut, cut and I would say there is nothing left to cut. We are all doing our best because we care for our students. The way they [Ministry of Education] are clawing back, something has to give. Somehow we have to turn this around,” he added.
Klein said he has personally seen higher turnover among teachers, particularly among the younger ones. “If services are cut any more, I don’t see how we can provide an investment into our future. I use the metaphor that education is research and development, and how many companies out there would experience success without investing in providing resources [teachers]? I think most of the companies who don’t reinvest, won’t succeed,” he offered.
Knowles said while his local association is in regular contact with the division office, the concerns are being experienced mutually.
“We share the same goals in wanting the best for kids, and I know they [division office] are in a difficult position too. It’s not like they are sitting on a pile of cash and so they have to decide whether to purchase new school buses or hire counsellors, for example. It’s a difficult position to keep trying to plug the leaks.”
Klein shared those sentiments, emphasizing that both groups are “handcuffed.” That has been the reality since funding for local boards was discontinued in favour of the Ministry being responsible for the dispersal of cash.
Klein said that invariably, the funding cutbacks are most likely to affect those students most vulnerable and in need of extra supports. He lamented that “they will be the ones who fall through the cracks, and it’s too easy to just blame the education system. But if we don’t have sufficient funding, it will be too late for some of these kids.”
Knowles shared that in his division, the reality is the decreased number of educational assistants means that “only those students in the red zone will have access to those supports,” adding that there will be those who are not afforded the supports they require.
Interestingly, Knowles said he is troubled both as a teacher and as a parent, noting that public education should be a basic human right.
However, whether or not the general public is aware of this troubling situation is less clear.
Knowles said that it presents a dilemma for teachers because they continue to do their best to maintain a vibrant public education system, thereby masking the funding shortcomings.
Referring to an earlier comment from Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Executive Director Randy Schmaltz where he said that it is imperative to seize the moment when it comes to capturing the public’s interest, Knowles said he is hopeful the Re-Imagine Education initiative has helped to make sure that teachers’ voices are being heard first.
Boyer concurred, adding that it is imperative to make sure accurate information is being widely distributed to the public as opposed to the conflicting, if not deceiving, data that can be published by Ministry officials. In fact, he went a step further in speculating that regular classroom teachers can fall prey to the same misinformation.
“That’s a grey area, and I struggle about how I get that information out to our members in a way that will resonate.”
From a personal standpoint, Boyer finds himself bemused about the current plight of public education funding compared to a decade ago. Specifically, he pointed to areas such as professional development, technology, and First Nations and Métis support as examples of shortcomings that are being experienced now.
“It’s scary to think what new teachers will experience 10 years down the road if this trend continues. I’m a pretty optimistic guy, but you start to wonder where we are headed,” he conceded.
Klein, meanwhile, said there are clearly different views about the importance of public education in terms of political ideology. He called for common sense to prevail.
“It depends on personal agendas, but where do we want to go as a society? It’s OK to disagree, but maybe we need to stand on the tallest hill and get our message out because I think a small percentage of the public underestimates teachers and the workload.
“I would say that if you just gave us five years with proper funding and resources for students, I believe we would wow the world.”