On Monday morning November 16, at 8:40, a couple of dozen striking teachers and one reporter left LaSalle Community Comprehensive High School on 9th Avenue in LaSalle and began walking downtown.
We’re going to walk to where the common front is meeting at the Metropolis near Place des Arts,” said Paul Wasacz, who teaches a semi-skilled program at the high school. “We did it a few years ago during our 2005 contract talks and found that it’s a good way to get together, a good way to stay united.”
Walking is also a good way to get noticed. As we walked north on 9th Avenue and east on Champlain, cars and trucks continually honked. The noise got even heavier as we passed striking workers at the Douglas Research Institute and Beurling Academy.
We’re noticing more support these days,” said one of the teachers.
Eight teachers from Beurling Academy joined the group and four others from Pearson Adult Career Centre (PACC) joined in at a mini-break at Atwater Market. The group then continued along Atwater and east on Sainte Catherine before reaching Metropolis at 11:30 a.m.
As we walked in the sun, one after another of the teachers explained their concerns about large classes and diminishing special need services. The broad strokes of teacher rights and obligations are outlined within a 73-page agreement between the Lester B. Pearson school board and the Pearson Teacher’s Union. The details, however, are much more restrictive. According to the teachers, government bureaucrats and union number crunchers force them to report where they are and what they’re doing every second of every day.
None of the teachers who spoke were complaining, and all of the stories included heartwarming incidents serving students. To someone who hasn’t been in a classroom in years, however, their stories emphasized an unbelievable rigidity in schools these days.
From 8:29 in the morning until 3:29 in the afternoon, teachers and students follow a regimented routine. Classes last only 50 minutes in Beurling and 53 minutes in LaSalle Comprehensive and the curriculum is designed to take up every one of those minutes. Schedules rotate around six days, with five periods and lunch covering each day. Teachers have to fill in reports justifying lessons in each period.
The timetable allows for no extra discussions with students, no marking time and no bathroom breaks.
There’s no free time to speak with one another, no time to encourage one another, no time to use the washroom or take a walk. This rigidity affects every classroom. For example, a physical education teacher described the difficulty ensuring that students use only three minutes to get changed so that they can move for more than half an hour.
A science teacher described the challenges ensuring that every student gets a hands-on chance to conduct an experiment in a class of 38 students. Imagine a room in which nine groups of four or five students gather around hot plates, trying to determine how heat affects the amount of sugar dissolving in water.
A drama teacher spoke about the challenges keeping students on task when so many of them constantly check their latest social media messages.
An art teacher described his frustration trying to answer all students’ questions while still ensuring that everyone has a chance to draw or paint before having to pack away their materials.
Other issues they’re facing are challenging too. One teacher described relatively small classes of only 23 and 28 students. Each of them had 14 students with “individualized education plans” or IEPs. IEPs enable teachers to understand special needs of a student, which can range from a hearing disorder that requires seating in a specific location to autism.
My classes seem small when you don’t look at the details of who I’m working with,” said the teacher. “It’s those details that the government proposes taking away.”