Saturday, March 3, 2012

Saying Good-bye to Inclusive Education?

Several months ago, Gayle Hernandez, a teacher from Burnaby, British Columbia wrote an outstanding article (which is posted on my blog) on working in a province that has successfully created an inclusive education system. You can read her post here. Less than 6 months later, she finds herself in a completely different situation.....

I am writing to share an update to my “Forming Inclusive Classrooms” article that Nicole posted on November 1, 2011.

At the moment in British Columbia teachers are working hard to negotiate a contract that will continue to support all the children placed in our classrooms, most particularly those with special (or’ extra’) needs, the numbers of which seem to be growing every year.  The contract language that protects our student learners is on the verge of being thrown out by our current government. 

The latest news is that instead of re-investing funds (in the millions) that were devastatingly stripped in 2002 along with important language around class size and composition that was carefully negotiated to ensure success for all learners, a ‘new pot’  (miniscule by comparison to what was stripped) is being put forward to fund more Education Assistants (paraprofessionals) who are  quote ‘currently undervalued’ (I say not true) and who will now be asked to run programs such as early intervention for Kindergarten students.  Our Education Assistants in general have one to two years of college education aimed at supporting children with special needs.  Our Education Assistants are amazing, of course, but not trained (with university degrees) in classroom pedagogy or learning assistance techniques as our learning assistance teachers and classroom teachers are. 

More upsetting than this is the fact that our government has announced that they plan to ‘legally’ remove the limit of a maximum 3 children with designated special or ‘extra’ needs in each classroom (with, if lucky, education assistant support) that in many recent cases barely has made meeting the needs of all learners manageable for teachers.  This decision means that administration will have to power to put as many designated students as they would like into a classroom.  As a caveat I will state that the word ‘designated’ is a nebulous one.  Only our most severe children get a label at present and there are many who need support but don’t get it because there is not funding in the system to support them.  Needed support is stretched already and our classrooms are already on the verge of unmanageable. 

Alongside this, in my mind there will be no guarantee that the children who need one on one support will get it – already I have students in my classroom who desperately need one on one support and don’t get it due to the cutbacks.  There is no promise that this will change or get better.  The potential for devastation and huge impact on the ability to meet the needs of all learners will be further compromised in a big way if this comes to fruition.  Teachers will not be able to provide a quality education for anyone.

On top of this, our government has laid out a “BC Education Plan” that presents a focus on learning through technology (which for my Kindergarten students is not very relevant as the research tells us they need to learn through in class play) and plans to take over the content of teacher professional development days that until now have been driven by teachers, schools and local districts and which allows for each school to direct school goals and teacher learning that will address the needs of each school and district which needs to be defined by the uniqueness of the students living there to be effective.  An important voice from those who know the makeup of learners and what they need is, in my opinion, about to be lost.

In the blog post I wrote for Nicole in September of 2011 I spoke very highly of a Ministry that supported me, as a teacher, in my classroom with an infrastructure, support teachers/education assistants and curriculum that valued the work I do for mainstream children as well as inclusion for those with ‘extra’ or special needs.  It appears that this support will no longer be available and I fear for the future of the amazing work we have been able to do in our classrooms.  As I stated in my September blog post, inclusion cannot be successful without an infrastructure that supports it.  We are losing this supportive infrastructure here in British Columbia quickly.

If our government moves forward with its plans I expect to see a marked decline in the education we, as educators, will be able to provide.  This makes me so sad.  For years the British Columbian education system has been ranked among the most successful in the world.

I pray every day for an outcome that will put the funds needed to continue our exemplary work in classrooms back into our system.  I also pray that our teacher autonomy does not get thrown out in the process, as this is what gives us the passion and wherewithal to persevere and continue to put countless hours into a profession that to date, has brought me much pride.

Pride is important.  It drives me to get up each morning ready to give my best (above and beyond work) to the amazing families and children I serve.  

Gayle Hernandez began her teaching career 18 years ago. She has spent 16 of the past years she has taught Kindergarten in inclusive schools. She has presented multiple workshops on the topic of Kindergarten in the Burnaby school district, has facilitated Burnaby’s Kindergarten Network for 10 years, and completed a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education at the University of British Columbia in 2007. Gayle is passionate about inclusion and building classroom and school communities.

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