Trying To Teach: Interim Report of the Committee on Public Education and Professional Practice as approved by Provincial Executive Council for discussion at the 1993 Annual Representative Assembly

"The act of teaching is a noble endeavor. Its essence needs to be strengthened and not diluted."
from a submission by a school staff

Acknowledgements

The committee wishes to extend its sincere thanks to those who made submissions. The deep concern expressed by hundreds of teachers, individually or in groups, had a powerful impact on the committee. A common concern was that the views of teachers were not being heard; it is our hope that this report gives voice to their views, which were expressed with such commitment and eloquence.


Introduction

Origins

The 1992 Annual Representative Assembly of The Alberta Teachers' Association endorsed the following resolution:

BE IT RESOLVED, that Provincial Executive Council develop and publicize a comprehensive position on, and strategies for dealing with, the combination of emerging trends in curriculum, methodology, and organization which are imposing unsound educational practices on teachers and creating conflicting and unreasonable expectations of public education.

The Assembly debate on the motion reflected the view that classrooms were being inundated with a considerable variety of changes, most of which were imposed by local or provincial authorities. Speakers suggested that this rash of "solutions" to perceived problems was designed primarily to indicate to the public that "something was being done." Concern was expressed about the wisdom of some of the changes, as well as about their combined impact. A dominant concern was the lack of input into these changes by teachers and their Association. It seemed as though everyone but teachers had a hand in redesigning the education system. The task for the Association was seen as formulating a systematic and coherent view of the directions necessary for public education in Alberta, in the eyes of the profession.

In response, Provincial Executive Council established the Committee on Public Education and Professional Practice, and as members named Larry Booi (chairman), Noel Jantzie, Diane Lazurko, Terence Tiffen and Noreen O'Haire (secretary). The committee was given the following frame of reference:

  1. To review recent trends and initiatives in education, including integration of students with special needs, results-based curriculum, individual educational plans, portfolio assessment, continuous progress, increased external testing, program continuity and vision statements.
  2. To undertake necessary research and analysis.
  3. To provide a summary of these trends along with a proposed Association position on and strategies for dealing with them.
  4. To report to Provincial Executive Council no later than the 1992 12 meeting.
Actions of the Committee

The committee held the view that it was crucial to receive widespread input from teachers in order to develop proposals that genuinely reflected the concerns and desires of the profession. Teachers' views were solicited in the following ways:

  1. An invitation for input was sent to all principals and school representatives, requesting responses from individuals and/or school staffs;
  2. A similar invitation was sent to local secretaries, seeking input from all Association locals;
  3. A similar invitation was sent to presidents and secretaries of specialist councils;
  4. Advertisements were placed in The ATA News soliciting submissions;
  5. Presentations were made at the October 1992 local presidents' meeting.

The committee recognized the need to seek advice from those with a variety of perspectives; requests for input were sent to all superintendents in the province, as well as to the deans of faculties of education.

In terms of other research, the committee commissioned surveys of the literature, and consulted a wide range of writing on educational trends and their effects.

Submissions to the Committee

The call for submissions produced a result that was in several ways overwhelming, particularly in light of the time constraints which undoubtedly made it difficult for many to respond.

In total, there were over 200 submissions, including eight from superintendents, three from universities, three from specialist councils and eight from local associations. (The actual number of responses is difficult to quantify, since some schools made submissions which comprised a dozen or more individual responses. If these were counted as separate submissions, a conservative estimate of numbers would be at least 3,000.) The most common form of submission was a collective response by a school staff (often after a staff meeting where the issues were discussed).

The submissions from teachers and school staffs were, both individually and collectively, quite arresting in their impact. They were often eloquent, passionate and disturbing. Almost always, they were written out of a deep concern for children, education, the profession and where all three seemed to be headed together. Their statements provided much of the basis for Part II of this report; as often as possible, this was done through direct excerpts from their submissions.

Tasks and Timing

In light of its frame of reference and the submissions received, the committee focused on three key questions:

  1. WHAT IS THE PRESENT SITUATION? (An analysis of where we are, where we seem to be going, and how teachers view these developments.)
  2. WHAT SHOULD BE THE SITUATION? (A statement of the profession's view of the necessary and desirable directions for education in Alberta.)
  3. HOW DO WE GET THERE? (An action plan to achieve the goals described above.)

In this interim report, the committee outlines its conclusions on Question 1, and the principles for Question 2. (What should be the situation?)

If the 1993 Assembly approves these principles, then the committee proposes to continue its work by completing No 2 (What Should be the Situation—A Detailed Description) as well as No 3 (Action Plan) for completion by December 1993.


What is the Present Situation?

Overview

In general, two broad views on "trends and innovations" and their combined effects seem to emerge; responses tended to fall on a continuum between these two views:

View One: There is no overall plan; the situation is chaotic and often contradictory . This view sees different levels of government imposing conflicting expectations (which are inadequately explained or defined), and identifies contradictions between such developments as program continuity and increased external testing, or between integration and results-based curriculum. An analogy is made to a medical situation: What if a patient were to see one doctor for a foot problem, another specialist for a throat infection, another for high blood pressure and so on. If each doctor, acting independently of the others, prescribed a medication, should we be surprised that the patient suffers from a drug interaction?

View Two: There is an overall plan, and it will dramatically change our classrooms and teaching. Some of the newer junior high schools in our larger urban school districts are the harbingers for what is to come in education in general, according to this view. In one such school, "grades" have been abandoned; students from "years" 7, 8 and 9 are grouped together in "teams." Teachers "are considered learning coaches"; "subject specialists" are no longer utilized; a teacher works with the students in almost all subjects. Students with special needs (physical, mental, learning, behavioral) are integrated into the classroom; there is a wide range of ability among the rest of the class. Learning is "customized and personalized for each student"; each works at his or her own rate. Diagnostic tests indicate the "level" for each student in each subject area, and the extent to which "results" have been achieved. Each student has an "individual pupil program"; student progress is also reflected in (and assessed through) "portfolios." Teachers emphasize cooperative learning, and students constantly make use of educational technology.

Regardless of whether there is or is not a clear overall plan, there is no doubt that important changes are taking place; they are having a major impact, and their consequences must be examined and assessed. In addition, it is obvious that the profession needs to have a very clear view of where education should be headed, if teachers hope to influence the direction of change, and if teachers' voices are to be heard.

It is important to deal at this point with a concern voiced in a number of submissions: a perceived "negative" tone to the ARA resolution which resulted in the establishment of this study. There was some criticism of the Assembly for characterizing some of these developments as "unsound practice" when in fact some of these practices are supported by many teachers.

The committee's response has been to agree that some of these developments are widely seen as educationally desirable, and are in no way in themselves "unsound practice." However, a number of points need to be made:

  1. Some developments may be good in theory, but, through lack of support or faulty implementation, may be unsound in practice as a result. (Many submissions raised integration of special needs students in this context.)
  2. Some developments may be very desirable to an extent, but may be undesirable or unworkable in a more extreme form. (Because full integration is good for some students, is it necessarily best for all students in all circumstances? If portfolios are effective in some settings, does that mean they should be mandated in all classrooms at all levels?)
  3. Some developments may be desirable in themselves, but may be unworkable when combined with other changes that are occurring at the same time. (For example, the combined effect of integration, individualization, program continuity and increased external testing has led some elementary teachers to state that they simply can no longer do their jobs.)

It should also be noted that the eight trends the committee was asked to examine were by no means a complete list of changes or innovations. In their submissions, teachers pointed out that these trends occurred in the context of other developments such as "school-based budgeting"; pressure for improved "retention rates"; increases in teacher evaluation; widespread curriculum change; more violence in schools; increased parental demands and involvement; changes in the Young Offenders Act ; "business partnerships"; increases in the numbers of ESL students; cutbacks in funding; global competitive pressures; and other broad social, economic and cultural changes that have a direct impact on children, teachers and schools. This changing context, reflecting the realities of today's classrooms, needs to be kept in mind as a backdrop to the more specific changes examined in this report.

Because of their interrelated nature, it is difficult to examine each of the eight areas in isolation, but it is necessary to do so. At that point, their combined effects can be better understood.

Integration

Without doubt, the specific development causing the greatest amount of concern among teachers is "integration." The submissions on this topic were the most in-depth and passionate, and clearly displayed the frustration felt by teachers.

There are some disagreements over the meaning of the term. "Mainstreaming" is used less often; some increasingly prefer the term "inclusive education." However, the principles seem to be summed up in the ATA Special Education Council's definition of integration as "the practice of educating children with special needs in the regular classroom in their neighborhood school with their non-handicapped same-aged peers."

Integration, in some form, is an increasing reality in many Alberta classrooms, and is viewed by many as "the educational placement of first choice." Some expressed absolute support for its goals:

  • All children have, by law, a right to education. . . To isolate any child because we fail to understand their needs is our failure and our systems failure. Our nation needs to become more tolerant of differences, cultural or developmental. What better place than a classroom to learn that tolerance? What better person than a teacher to model tolerance, acceptance and the value of diversity?
  • The value and success of integration depends greatly upon what is considered most important in education. The rights of an individual, his value to society and the maturity of a society to accept all its members are increasingly being stressed in Canada. This makes integration an important goal for Canadians. I strongly encourage it.

But in general, the submissions overwhelmingly expressed a deep concern on the part of many teachers that in too many cases the process is not working, and is in fact creating educationally unsound situations.

In many instances, teachers expressed support for the principles of integration, but identified critical problems in its implementation:

  • I am wholeheartedly in favor of integration of students with special needs. My experience, however, has lead me to believe that some integration programs are in fact abandonment or submersion programs.
  • For the most part we agree with the philosophy of integration, however, schools must have adequate resources to meet the needs of the integrated students without detracting from the needs of regular program students. These resources should include funding, programming, consulting services and material resources.

Others focused more directly on the lack of necessary support:

  • Integration of students with special needs in our school means "dumping" the child in a regular classroom with no aide, no extra time to work with the child or prepare and no professional resources to support us.
  • This "dumping" of special needs students without aides, without counselling services, without necessary resources and without inservicing has added stress, frustration and work on the teacher. It has created a negative effect on the other students and is not meeting the educational requirements of the special needs child.

Some maintain that it is a good idea for some students, but not necessarily for all:

  • An example is a dependent handicapped autistic 11-year-old boy who was integrated in my Junior Adaptation classroom. He was functioning at about a 20-month-old level, with an approximate IQ of 25–30. Although appropriate programs focusing on his level of functioning were available and recommended, his parents adamantly decided it would be better for him to be integrated. The boy had also been integrated in our school for the two previous years. The cost of educating him, taking into account aide time, teacher time and consultant's time, was between $25,000 to $30,000 per year. In short, it cost between $75,000 to $90,000 to educate him during the three years that he was at our school. Had he been in an ability appropriate program he would not have required a full-time aide and would have cost far less money. Monetary cost was not the only "cost" of this integration. It reduced the overall preparation time that I had for the other students' program because I was responsible for setting up and monitoring two distinctly different programs. The students additionally "lost out" in learning through the number of disturbances created by this student. He would frequently cry out, make whimpering sounds, bolt across the room, lie upon the floor and giggle, and attempt to masturbate. How does this promote excellence in education?

Others point to the problems related to the lack of essential training for "regular" teachers:

  • Up until now, it seems that we needed highly trained special needs teachers to assess these students and develop individual programs specifically suited to each student's needs. These teachers needed special university training to learn how to do this. Once in the workplace, they also needed low numbers of students under their care due to the great time factor required to plan individual programs and the need to deliver these programs on a one-to-one basis. Now someone is trying to tell us that every teacher can do this even if they have no training, no time, and all the other regular students to still plan and mark for as well. This is absolutely ridiculous and I fail to see how anyone can benefit.

The lack of inservice training was also an item of concern:

  • Teachers need support and inservicing for this to succeed. Even though these students can be generally included in the main program instruction, they do have special needs that have to be addressed. Teachers need help with setting up programs—academic and social.

Some focused on the impact of these practices on "regular" students:

  • It's difficult to understand why five years ago we hired specialized special needs teachers to work with special needs students in small groups. Now suddenly, we are informed a regular classroom teacher can handle 25 to 30 regular students as well as any number of special needs students in one classroom. My concern is what is going to happen to the average and above average student. Obviously, with the time required designing new programs and administering these, and all of this done by teachers unfamiliar with the needs of a special student, the average student will get less of the teacher's time. I wonder how parents of average children feel about the teacher's lack of time to help their children?

Others felt that the situation has resulted in a failure to meet the needs of either "special needs" or "regular" students:

  • Many of the teachers feel that without extra help in the classroom, this trend in education is not having a positive effect on any of the students involved. We are not able to spend enough time with these students to create a significant difference in their learning. Yet, we are spending more time with them and neglecting our "regular" students to an extent that we feel that they are suffering. This, I'm sure, you have heard before.
  • Integration works well for some children but not all children or all classes. Classes where the student can experience some degree of enjoyment and success are beneficial for both the special needs student and the "regular students." But integrating students who cannot understand or perform the activity makes the time spent in class quite useless and possibly more harmful. It can reinforce a poor self-image. It wastes valuable learning time that could and should be spent doing work at their own functioning level. Special needs children who are put in classes in which they cannot function adequately, do become frustrated, discouraged and/or depressed. Integrated special needs children require extra time from the classroom teacher which does take time away from the "regular students." Depending on the special needs child this can be a great deal of time. Behavior problem children can totally destroy a classroom learning environment. The teacher's attention becomes focused on this one child as he/she is always trying to head off an explosive situation or is dealing with a confrontational issue. While behavior disordered children need positive role models, should it be at the expense of a whole class? "Regular children" deserve to learn in a positive, non-threatening environment. Often a behavior disordered child adversely affects the behavior of other children in the class who could manage in a calmer atmosphere. The "regular students" also deserve to have a teacher who is not taxed to his/her absolute limit. These extreme cases drain a teacher emotionally. Caring and dedicated teachers cannot function at their best when the classroom is in turmoil.

Some concentrated on medical aspects:

  • The scariest thing about integration for teachers is the medical aspect of it. We're looking at giving out medication, injections, changing diapers and always having to be on guard for handicapped children's frailties in case they get a reaction to something or stop breathing for some reason. We're not trained in medicine and its procedures and if we have to take that on yet, when are we going to have time to teach anybody anything? It's stressful enough dealing with the increasing numbers of dysfunctional (mentally, socially and emotionally) children and their dysfunctional families. A large amount of our time is already consumed with psychiatrists, social workers, health clinic referrals, etc without more time being taken up with talking to doctors and learning medical procedures. It seems the [Department of Education] is determined to put as much stress as it possibly can on teachers. How much extra do they expect us to take.
  • Some students have severe medical problems. There is a lack of proper facilities in schools for these students (eg, a private area and bed (table) to change a diaper of a severely brain damaged nine-year-old. A cement floor in a cramped bathroom is not satisfactory or dignified). Teachers and most aides lack adequate training to handle these medical problems. They chose teaching not nursing as a career.

Some questioned whether some aspects of integration were reasonable in theory or in practice:

  • Many teachers are not qualified or interested in teaching special needs students (especially emotionally disturbed and severely handicapped). I believe we should have that choice. My doctor is a GP and excellent at her job. She does not however, perform brain surgery, but has the option of referring these special needs to a specialist. Does that make her a poor doctor? My daughter is a special needs child (IQ = 77). She spent six years in [one school system] in tears and frustration, being taunted and picked on because she was "stupid." Then [another] board (after an eight-week enrolment time) placed her in a special class—integrated wherever she could cope. Her attitude has completely turned around; she feels safe to risk and is making excellent progress. Integration must be best for teacher, special needs child and the rest of the class (who often suffer because special needs children take up teachers' time) or it is an exercise in futility.

There was an overwhelming concern about being placed in a "no win" situation as a professional:

  • When the classroom teacher is stretched too thinly, no one benefits. If the teacher spends too much time working with those students who have special needs, then the needs of other students in the classroom are not being met. If the teacher devotes much or most of his time to the needs of regular students, then the needs of those with learning disorders are not being met. In either case, parents are likely to complain if the academic needs of their children are not being met. The teacher is placed in a no win situation. To expect teachers to cope with the needs of students with learning disabilities, with regular students and with large class sizes is to place unreasonable demands upon [them].

Some saw budget factors as a force driving the development and questioned the "costs/benefits":

  • The idea of integrating special needs students into the regular classroom seems to be motivated by economics rather than by any real concern for meeting the educational needs of the majority of students in the classroom. Certainly, placing special needs students into regular classrooms is cost effective in that special classes for these students are no longer necessary. The real costs of placing such students into the classroom, however, cannot be measured in monetary terms.

There was a widespread perception that it was crucial to involve teachers more fully in all aspects of the process:

  • Adequate staff preparation, readiness and support is a must if we are to succeed and rise to the challenge. Trying to patch up the leaks without properly preparing the "learning vessel" will provide more setbacks, lack of confidence and support, and loss of staff morale. Building together as a staff towards the goal of integration and showing benefits and difficulties in an open and honest manner can gain tremendous support—don't put the cart in front of the horse.

The ATA Special Education Council commented on the "Limitations of Integration":

  • Integration is not appropriate for all children with special needs. . . Integration is not the placement of students in the regular classroom without the essential support services. . . It is imperative that training and support services be given to all professionals involved and be made readily available.

The council concluded:

  • Students with special needs can be successfully integrated into the regular classroom. Successful integration depends upon factors such as an understanding of the process, sufficient preparation time, training of educators, students and parents, effective service delivery and ongoing evaluation.

Results-Based Curriculum

Teachers did not have a shared, clear understanding of this term, nor did it evoke the same emotional response as did topics such as integration, in part because the introduction of results-based curriculum is in its early stages, and its main impact is yet to be felt.

A definition was given in a Department of Education discussion paper's answer to the question, "What is a results-based curriculum?":

  • A results-based curriculum identifies what it is that students are to learn, and describes it in a way that facilitates recognition of student achievement. A results-based curriculum is one which describes, in observable terms, what students need to know and be able and willing to do (knowledge, skills and attitudes). It contrasts with traditional approaches to writing the curriculum which often describe what teachers should teach or how they should teach, but do not clearly state what students should learn as a result of the teaching. A results-based curriculum is usually organized into levels which reflect stages of student growth or learning.

    In a results-based curriculum, the focus is on intended educational results, rather than on the amount of time a student uses in achieving those results. A results-based curriculum clearly recognizes that the amount of time taken to attain the results will vary for each student. . .

    Other terms used in the literature with meanings similar to "results-based" are "outcomes-based education" or "competency-based education."

The reasons for the move to this type of curriculum are described in the same paper:

  • We are moving toward a results-based, levels-organized curriculum because we believe that when people (students and teachers) have a clear vision of what they are trying to accomplish, progress toward the goal is better than if the goals are unspecified or unclear. This approach places emphasis on the student and on student learning.

    We also believe that a results-based, levels-organized curriculum fosters continuity in student learning—children progress best when the curriculum builds on what they already know and identifies the next steps in their learning.

Obviously, this "levels of learning" approach is closely tied to the moves toward program continuity and individualization. The discussion paper also identified the link between this approach and the changes in assessment of student performance:

  • A levels-organized approach, in combination with a results-based curriculum, helps guide the assessment of student achievement. By having results clearly identified and sequenced, diagnostic assessment of student progress is facilitated; which in turn provides a basis for instruction[al] planning.

There was clear agreement among those who commented on this topic that obviously teachers "need to know where they are going" in the classroom. (How can one be opposed to having "results?") However, concerns arose regarding the dangers of over-emphasizing some aspects of learning at the expense of others. For example, this approach tends to exclusively emphasize what is "observable" and "measurable." But what of the educational goals that are not so easily observed and measured? There was a fear that this approach promoted an excessively narrow view of learning and education:

  • The danger comes in assuming that the worth and the depth of an individual can be measured by comparing to a list of desired "results." Does this leave room for intuition, invention, creativity, love? We hear that nothing that is experienced by a person is ever lost, that it settles into the subconscious level to be used in providing feelings of the worth for an idea before there is time for the conscious mind to track down the related incidents. If all a person's experience is truly valuable, then how can a small subset of it which provides the desired "results" measure the worth of a person or an education?

    Results-based evaluation works quite well in measuring the value of a mechanical process, like an assembly line. If we are wise, we will leave it there; and not try to fit our wonderfully gifted, talented and varied children into such a simplistic pattern!

An ATA position paper summed up the concern in another way:

  • Even the words "results-based" curriculum tend to focus on what can be seen as an end product; the words tend to imply that education is a simple input-output system when education is truly a complex relationship of teachers, students, subject matter and the milieu.

Clearly, the move towards results-based curriculum is tied closely to the idea of "accountability"; specify the outcomes precisely, and then measure whether they have been achieved. Among the concerns of teachers in this regard is the potential increase in over-emphasizing external tests:

  • A results-based curriculum encourages us to teach toward the test. Although it isn't supposed to occur, Grades 3 and 6 teachers still feel that their merit as a teacher is being judged against achievement test results. (Both by parents, other teachers and administration.) Encourages rote memorization rather than application and process skills.

Another concern related to a perceived incompatibility between results-based curriculum and other trends such as integration:

  • Results-based curriculum seems to stress producing highly trained, intensely educated individuals. This suggests homogeneous grouping of students with narrow educational goals and teachers focused on getting the most information into them in the shortest time. This cannot occur in a classroom which integrates special needs students to get an extremely wide range of abilities.

An overall concern expressed by a considerable number of teachers was that results-based curriculum was part of a larger process whose goal seemed to be to make education "teacher proof," to turn teachers into "technicians," and to deny them the right to make professional decisions in the light of their training, experiences and the needs of their students. There was also criticism of the move towards this approach without adequate consultation with teachers and their Association—it was seen as another "top-down, imposed innovation."

Program Continuity

An enormous amount of confusion surrounds this initiative which has been promoted as policy by the Department of Education for several years. One superintendent stated:

  • There is probably more misunderstanding about these two words than there has been about anything else in education in the last five to ten years. First and foremost, program continuity is not a program, rather it is the application of sound pedagogy as we have always known it to be. It carries a strong philosophical belief of how children learn and how to apply these beliefs in classroom, school and home practices.

The Minister of Education addressed this confusion in a letter to board chairmen in November of 1992 (in the context of delaying implementation of the policy for one year):

  • 1. Program continuity is not a particular way of organizing the school. . .
    2. Program continuity is not one particular method of instruction. . .
    3. Program continuity is not one particular way of organizing instructional time. . .
    4. Program continuity does not require one particular type of equipment or materials. . .

The minister went on to state:

  • Assessing what students know and can do and then teaching so that every student is learning the next steps is the essence of program continuity. Every facet of classroom instruction, assessment, school organization, recording and reporting student achievement needs to be connected to the fundamental idea of the maximum achievement gain for each student, each year, across all areas of the curriculum—knowledge, skills and attitudes.

The connections with a "results-based, levels-organized curriculum" are articulated in a Department of Education discussion paper:

  • All of the tenets put forward in the Program Continuity Policy are reaffirmed, and are fully consistent with a results-based, levels-organized, integrated curriculum. These tenets are applicable not only to students who happen to be in ECS through Grade 6, but to students at all levels.

    One of the features of the Program Continuity Policy is the focus on the student as an individual. The levels structure (rather than a lock-step grade structure) of a results-based curriculum supports the idea that students progress at different rates and that good programs build upon existing competence to achieve maximum growth. The range of student achievement in school programs can be matched with comparable breadth in student assessments.

    A main feature of the Program Continuity Policy is the focus on continuity from year to year and from level to level. As each new school year begins, each student needs to be learning from where he/she left off in the previous term or from where he/she is in terms of his/her knowledge and skills level. A results-based curriculum facilitates the kind of diagnostic instructional practices required to address this reality. What a student is involved in learning is dependent on what he/she is personally ready to challenge rather than what the cohort group is ready for.

There was some support expressed for the principles of this type of approach:

  • I view program continuity as a noble attempt to place the needs of the child at the centre of our educational practices. That this is considered, by some educators, to be merely a trend or an unsound educational practice is frightening to me. I do understand that program continuity requires a fundamental paradigm shift from teacher-centred to child-centred practice. It further reflects a conceptual framework based upon a developmental model rather than the older behaviorist model. I understand that shifting one's thinking is very difficult for some people. Flexibility of mind, however, is clearly a requirement for modern life and again, what better place than school to observe models of flexible, open, questioning minds.

Others expressed grave concerns over the policy's implications:

  • As a secondary teacher, dealing mainly with junior high students, I am confused and worried about program continuity. What I am confused about is how we, as secondary teachers, are going to be expected to deal with these students as they leave elementary and enter junior high. While it is true that we are now dealing with students who have a vast variety of skill levels, I believe that there will be an even larger gap as a result of program continuity.
  • Before program continuity goes any further, it must be more accurately explained as to how it will fit into a child's complete educational experience.

    Program continuity also worries me because it has been my experience that students often work to the expectation placed on them. How can a teacher require more of a student when the philosophy is to let the student find his or her own "comfort" level of learning (or at least this is how I understand program continuity). Students often must be pushed, prodded and forced to grow and learn. I am concerned that these "tools" of teaching will be lost for the teacher and we will be no more than mere givers of information rather than teachers.

Others rejected the idea as completely unworkable:

  • Program continuity is one of the worst concepts that I have heard about in a long time. If nothing else does, this concept will drive teachers away from teaching rather than getting into it. The concept looks fine on paper and administrators want to boast that their school is up date in all the methods, but they are out of touch with reality and have not been in a classroom for over a decade. Program continuity will make it impossible for teachers to do any kind of job. It is humanly impossible to do the job that this program demands.
  • In my opinion, program continuity is nothing more than a philosophical approach to learning which has very little to do with the reality of the classroom.

There was concern about trying to accomplish the goals of program continuity in the context of all of the other changes that teachers face, and in the light of the realities of today's classrooms:

  • We as regular classroom teachers are dealing with a much higher teacher-student ratio. More and more is expected of us, we don't have the time to deal with special needs, IEP and program continuity for individuals. The result of more pressure on the teacher is simply more teacher burnout. Can we afford to have more teachers on LTD?

There was a great deal of frustration over the lack of clear directions from those who were imposing the policy:

  • We do not know enough about this. In the last five years, nothing has been done to promote this new program in the school or in the home. We need more information and inservicing to enable us to start the program next year. The public needs to be informed of what will be happening.
  • Over the past couple of years, I have heard so much about this that I am about as sick of this topic as I am about the constitution and the referendum. To be perfectly blunt, I don't know what program continuity is, what it isn't or what the implications are for students, teachers, parents. Every speaker I've heard seems to have a different opinion on what program continuity is, no one can tell you what is not program continuity.

Some were worried about a lack of balance:

  • The new trend seems to push too far to one side. With a full teaching schedule, there is no time to do any cooperative planning. Some schools have little or no time for any preparation during the day. We are continually being required to do more without any time to do it in.

Others were concerned that this was an example of an innovation that was imposed without evidence that it will result in improved learning:

  • Program continuity in theory has some positive aspects but we are concerned that we seem to be encouraged to throw out tried and true methods that have proven effective for years for new unproven methods. We need to combine many methodologies in the classroom to meet the needs of all children. Some structure is valuable. Are we dropping our standards and producing a generation of children who are undirected and lacking in responsibility? For self-motivated children this program can work well, but we work with many unmotivated children who require structure to learn effectively.

The recurring theme of "erosion of professionalism" returned in this context as well:

  • What I resent is that some are trying to take away my professional decision-making as to my philosophy, teaching style and even content.

Continuous Progress

While "program continuity" is a broader term, there is clearly a great deal of overlap with "continuous progress." (As one submission stated, To me, continuous progress is program continuity. Or am I missing something again? ) Since so many submissions addressed "continuous progress" specifically, it is necessary to deal with it at this point, despite the overlap with the previous section.

When teachers referred to "continuous progress" or "continuous learning," they also often referred to "age-appropriate placement" or "ungraded classrooms." The practices are usually based on an attempt to accommodate the fact that children learn at different rates, and in different ways. Most often in this approach, children are no longer "retained" in grades; they continue to move through "years" with others of their age, and learn at their own rates. The implications for teaching and learning in the classroom obviously are profound.

Support for the principles often took a form similar to the following:

  • The idea of taking each student from where they are at and having each student move at their own rate of speed on their own program is again a super idea, but practical application of this concept is more than a little difficult for the teacher. In our school, we try to do this in a limited sort of way and have pretty well gone away from having students repeat a grade. We have stopped failing students because over the years it became quite apparent to us that if a student was getting very low marks and was repeated, it might help for a couple of years but in the vast majority of cases, these weak students were again right at the bottom of the class by the end of their upper elementary grades. In addition to this, they often became a more serious behavior problem.

    Therefore, we attempt to modify weak students' progress to suit their needs and will generally not have them repeat a year. None of us are fully satisfied with this solution, but it appears at least as productive and likely more productive than repeating students.

Others took precisely the opposite view:

  • The student with below average grades and abilities, who is moved on to the next grade begins a cycle of underachievement and failure, developing low self-esteem. Considering the importance of the fundamental skills taught in ECS, Grades 1 and 2, it is imperative that students in these primary grades are given the opportunity to gain control of required skills before continuing on.

Some identified difficulties in areas such as self-esteem and ever-widening "learning deficits":

  • Students who move along from grade (archaic word) to grade according to age rather than achievement could eventually reach the stage at which they are 12 years old but are reading at the level of an eight- or nine-year-old. Any advantage gained by keeping them with their age group is lost if they have to attend a reading class with students considerably younger than themselves. This would be as damaging to their self-esteem as having them repeat a grade. Students are quick to see differences in their learning abilities. Naming the "red birds" and "blue birds" to hide the difference is insulting to their intelligence.

    Eventually these students will enter high school. How will they deal with the difficulty of the courses at this level if they are still reading or doing math at the level of a nine- or ten-year-old? Somewhere there will have to be a period of "catching up." High school students are not allowed the option of continuous progress. They either pass a course, or they repeat it.

The effects on teaching style and workload were often a source of concern:

  • I seem to be spending more and more of my time remediating rather than teaching. Students just don't seem to have the skills necessary to even begin attempting the work at this grade level. I can't teach this year's material properly until students are at grade level. This becomes extremely stressful when you know that the students are expected to do well on provincial achievement tests.
  • Students who don't have the necessary skills are continually being promoted and falling further and further behind. This places more and more stress on teachers as they have to provide alternate programs. Students don't seem to be acquiring necessary skills. There are definite gaps in learning.

Some concluded that it was simply unworkable in practice:

  • I am also concerned about continuous learning. This is a wonderful theory but certainly not practical in the every day functioning of the classroom. There is no possible way that 28 children can all be put on an individual learning program unless it is simply working through units of work at their own pace and that approach leaves the struggling student falling way behind and frustrated. Only so much grouping can be done. Cooperative learning has its place but is only one of many approaches that need to be used to effectively reach as many students as possible.

Another common concern dealt with the impact on a teacher's right to exercise professional judgment:

  • Having a policy for "age appropriate" grouping reduces flexibility in the placement of students. As professionals in a "caring" profession we try to make the best possible placement for the student based on academic, emotional and social considerations. Placement decisions should be made by the teacher and parents after taking into consideration the unique circumstances affecting that student.

Other concerns focused on the increasing stress load involved in attempting to meet so many increasingly individual needs. The contradictory expectations were a source of frustration to many:

  • Now we're made to feel guilty about ever retaining a student, or feel responsible if the student can't read at high school graduation time. Make up your mind! You can't have it both ways.

Individual Educational Plans

Individual Educational Plans (or Individual Pupil Programs) can be seen as a specific aspect of a broader trend: more individualization of instruction in the classroom (brought about by such developments as integration and program continuity, as well as a heightened emphasis on individual rights in society).

IEPs are an established feature of special education, where it has long been a common practice to develop an individualized program to meet the special needs of each child. However, with integration, IEPs are increasingly the responsibility of regular classroom teachers, rather than those trained in special education. In addition, with other trends, and as the range of abilities in classrooms widens, there is pressure for IEPs for increasing numbers of children. The more extreme view is that, since all children have individual needs, they will all need individual programs. The Department of Education's discussion paper contains the following observation in this regard:

  • We are quite sure, for example, that the practice of grouping students homogeneously for an entire year, setting the same expectations for all in the group, and then failing or retaining some, is more harmful than beneficial. We also know that the development and use of Individualized Program Plans based on clearly specified intended outcomes facilitates student attainment of those outcomes. However, it may not in all circumstances be possible to develop IPPs for all students.

The major concern expressed by teachers is, as one staff put it, "Time, time, time!":

  • The individual educational plans are very time consuming and present another cause of frustration to the classroom teacher, not only does she have to do reporting on a large class, but she has to do three, four or more individual reports.
  • This trend has been an expectation of special education teachers in our jurisdiction for roughly the past five years. Like most ideas, if this expectation is applied in moderation, then it is a beneficial tool to be utilized in dealing with special needs students. However, if the expectation is made of teachers that the IEP be very extensive and in-depth, then it does become a problem. Different students have different needs, and sometimes teachers are expected to spend countless hours devising individual plans for different students, and if this is multiplied by 20–25 students, it becomes a ridiculous expectation.

Some questioned the whole basis for the trend:

  • IEPs are an exercise in futility, understood only by a few people, prepared only for a few people, and probably read by fewer still. Parents want to know in clear, simple terms where their children are, what they can expect and what is the plan of action. The amount of time required to prepare these documents is disproportionate to their value. The time is the teacher's, spent entirely outside of school hours.

Many questioned the workability of the concept in secondary schools, where teachers often face 180 or more students. Others questioned whether teachers are adequately trained to do these plans, whether they were worth the effort involved, and where the time to do them would come from. Many saw IEPs as a part of an increasingly impossible task, and linked them to the difficulties inherent in the general trend towards increasing individualization:

  • Teachers will be dealing with a progressively wider range of academic levels in their rooms thereby necessitating individualized programs. The logistics of providing individualized instruction to every student is a major concern for the teachers. Training will be required for teachers to implement individualized programs effectively. Where will the time come from for the training, set-up and implementation of such programs? Individualization takes a great deal of teacher time which in the end will cost the student.

There was often a plea to recognize the limits of what we can reasonably expect a teacher to do in terms of individualization of instruction:

  • Assuming that the purpose of education is to produce a student with specific skills and knowledge and who sees him/herself as a worthwhile human being who works to potential, the present directions, in my opinion, cannot succeed.
  • One teacher cannot provide material, counselling and motivation for 30 students with skills ranging over five or six grades. One teacher cannot have the skills to handle a Cerebral Palsy student, a student who lives in a correctional facility, a student who is facing death and a near blind student—and this is all in one day. These students will be ignored or the other students will be neglected or the teacher will suffer a deterioration of health in trying to do the impossible.

Others called for a balanced approach to the practice:

  • Like most ideas, if this expectation is applied in moderation, then it is a beneficial tool to be utilized in dealing with special needs students.

Increased External Testing

The trend to increased external testing is quite evident, and highly contentious. Some school systems have developed their own batteries of tests for Grades 3, 6 and 9; provincial achievement tests also cover these grades; diploma examinations for Grade 12 courses have been in place since 1984; there is a push for "national indicators" testing in literacy and numeracy for all 13- and 16-year-olds in the country; international comparisons are constantly touted in the media.

Part of the reason for this trend is a demand for increased accountability, coupled with the widely-stated view that schools are failing in their task of educating children, particularly in comparison with perceived "successes" of countries such as Japan, Germany and Korea. Whether the system is in fact "failing" is the subject of an enormous and continuing debate; nevertheless, there is a widely-held view (particularly among some business interests) that somehow increased external testing will help to rectify the situation.

  • Already business input has furnished the policy that a simple solution in improving schools can be made. . . if (national) standards are set and incentives established that force school people to pay attention to them. Essentially, this line of thinking assumes that problems exist either because educators don't have precise enough targets to aim for, because they aren't trying hard enough or both. Supplying concrete goals and using both carrots and sticks to move educators to pursue them are the presumed answers to underperformance.

The submissions overwhelmingly indicate that teachers accept the need for accountability, and see the assessment and evaluation of students as a vital and integral part of the educational process. Rather, they questioned whether increased external assessment was effective in improving education, and instead saw their own practices as professionals in the classroom as being the crucial component in student evaluation.

Often the basis for external testing was questioned:

  • It seems to me that the primary focus of external testing (achievement exams) is a public relations exercise on the part of the government and [Department of Education]. By administering these tests, they can tell the public they are monitoring the performance of the schools in the province. However, it seems like a lot of time, effort and money goes into the development, administration and marking of these tests and I don't feel we, in the schools, get a great return from these tests. The marks students achieve in these tests are pretty much in line with what they achieve in my testing program and I'm sure that this is the case for the vast majority of teachers. The data from the tests is returned to the schools so late in the year it is a problem to analyze it and try to incorporate changes in your program and I'm not sure how many teachers have the time or knowledge to analyze the mass of material that is sent back. All in all, most external testing does not seem to provide any direct benefit to the teachers or the students.

Another area of great concern was a perceived "misuse" of test results:

  • If this is used as one means of assessing programs and progress, it's fine. If it's used to compare students, schools, districts, etc it becomes threatening and destructive.
  • External test results are published in the newspapers and determine the reputations of our schools. Inner city schools who cater to lower IQ students who do very well but do not match more middle class area results, are penalized when the few role models we have are pulled from our schools because they may feel their "average" children do not receive the program they may receive in other areas.
  • While results of external testing are not to be "publicized and politicized" they most assuredly are. For a number of years, high school diploma exam results have been at or above average in our school. This year, however, some courses were below average, or some students failed diploma examinations although teachers had sent in passing grades for the students. Suddenly the situation merited a letter from the Minister of Education, although when results were good, no letter was forthcoming. The letter praised one course in which high marks were obtained. However, it did not take into account the fact that of the 15 students originally registered in the course, only three remained to actually write the diploma exam. Meanwhile, in two other subjects with enrolments of 26 and 27 respectively, all students wrote the diploma exam, regardless of whether they should have been in the course in the first place or not. A school policy of "right to fail" has been changed to "right to try" and I expect this will soon be changed so that only the very best students are able to take the 30-level courses.

Many questioned the format, validity and timing of the tests. There were many comments on the apparent contradiction between this type of testing, and other developments such as continuous progress:

  • The concern which I want to state as clearly as possible, is with regard to the disparity in philosophy evident within the different branches of the [Department of Education]. The language learning document and program continuity materials reflect a child-centred developmental conceptual framework. And yet we are apparently going to be forced to use more behaviorist driven standardized achievement tests and the program of [studies] and curriculum materials also continue to reflect notions which [do not] have the child at the centre of the learning process.
  • Very difficult when we have continuous progress and student-designed courses (eg CTS). Have they thought this through? Individualized, student-centred learning and then provincial standardized testing?

Many felt that there was far too much testing going on already. Other comments regarding a resulting increase in teacher stress were common:

  • This serves to put additional stress on teachers. While it may be desirable to set standards for instruction, there are many variables that come into play. Achievement tests in Grades 3, 6 and 9 are supposed to be based on cumulative knowledge. However, it is the teachers of these grades who are taken to task if results are not acceptable. Not all classes will achieve "provincial average" simply because their make-up is different. One year, a class may have several high achievers and results will be good. Another year, the opposite situation may occur.

There was also a repetition of the theme of the decline of the teacher as a professional:

  • Policy makers have changed the way we are able to instruct children. Teachers have gradually lost legitimized control over classroom standards. External assessment measures are the same as saying "something's wrong" and by testing, we will find solutions. The culprit has been the trend to accountability.

Some felt that the Department of Education could better put its resources into the development of tests that could be effectively used by teachers in their work with children:

  • I like the idea that a tangible continuum of approximate ranges of average children's abilities and curriculum expectations be available so we are able to put learning in some perspective. It would at the same time show what progress and at what level a regular student or a student with special needs is making. It would be a good guide. As a visual, it would be a powerful tool to use when conferencing with a student (older) and parent(s) to show progress, to show realistic expectations to a student experiencing difficulty in exercising personal responsibility towards learning and as an objective manner of measuring children. I compare it to growth charts used in public health units. As a parent we can see how our child measures up to the norm and if extenuating factors affect his growth we are then able to look at adjustments necessary for success. Whether or not it would be as useful at all levels of schooling is questionable.
Portfolio Assessment

"Portfolios" of student work have long been used by some teachers to enhance learning and to aid in their assessment of students' work. What is new is a trend towards authorities mandating their use in schools and school systems.

At present, there is a great deal of debate over such questions as what constitutes a "portfolio," how they should (or should not) be used, and who gets to decide their contents.

There is a considerable amount of support for the use of portfolios, particularly in some elementary schools, often by those who favor a more "child-centred" approach to teaching. Some see them as a means to get at goals which are not easily reflected in achievement tests or other means of assessment (often in such areas as creativity, originality and higher levels of thinking skills such as synthesis and evaluation).

  • Portfolio assessment is a joy for me. I can learn more from studying a collection of students' work than any "test" I've ever administered. At a recent writing process workshop, our staff was asked to study samples of childrens' writing in order to plan strategies and to assess student growth. The ensuing list of our observations is testimony to the value of portfolio assessment. Another benefit of portfolio assessment is the ease with which one can include the student and parents in the assessment process. Assessment and evaluation for me, are irrevocably tied to educational practice and curriculum. Assessment and evaluation occur daily, and are contextually based. I am very concerned by the rumors of more and more external, decontextualized standardized tests. What is "inspected is respected," and as external measures of a child's growth proliferate our classrooms, so will teachers under pressure begin to teach for the test rather than teach the children at their level.

But, while it is often seen as a desirable tool if used by individual teachers of their own volition, there is widespread resistance to the imposition of portfolio assessment as a mandated practice. The most common concern was "time":

  • We are presently reporting four times per year. Between the first and second report, there is hardly any time to finish a unit. Teachers are usually scrambling to find something to mark in order to do their second report card. The idea of adding a portfolio assessment to all this grief is ludicrous. There are only 24 hours in the day, the last time I heard. Where is the time for us to do all that is being demanded of us?

Some see it as just one more task in an already-too-demanding job:

  • What I talk about here is common sense. Being in a classroom, spending all day with students, teaching, dealing with behavior problems, supervising (BC has paid volunteers for supervision), providing extracurricular activities, attending PTA meetings, report cards, preparing classes, taking photocopies for classes, looking up resource material, marking, concerts here and dances there. . . FINE. Aren't those full days already? We shouldn't be hassled with extra paperwork. We need to have energy left for our own children at home too. We deserve to live and not come home as drained vegetables.

    To expect teachers to work until they break down is unfair. We are facing a grim kind of reality. It's about time something gets done.

There were also questions about their overall usefulness:

  • Parents don't really like them because they always want to know how their child is doing compared to what they are supposed to be doing and in comparison to the rest of the class; teacher often seems to be afraid to say negatives in anecdotal records; say lots of things but in reality say nothing; anecdotal records don't seem to work the way they are supposed to; really useless for the child who moves to another school because they tell the new teacher nothing about the child.

A series of questions needs to be answered, as reflected in submissions such as the following:

  • Because of the international recognition and success of school-based budgeting, [our system] seems to be trying to be in the forefront of "innovation." Our newest venture into this area is portfolio assessment. All of us can appreciate and understand the concept of this endeavor and have used it in limited forms. On a system-wide basis, however, it has its own special problems for which we do not have answers, eg Does this reflect traditional testing and reporting? We can see growth or change. Does this reflect work at grade level? Should the child proceed to Division II? to junior high? Do we use standardized tests to evaluate this work? How do we physically store these portfolios in schools? Are receiving junior and senior high schools or out-of-system schools going to be able to take these voluminous records and evaluate all of their students on the basis of past performance in terms of where they are now? Will business and universities in Canada or abroad do the same?

Many observers expressed a very "conditional" approval, based on whether the individual teacher found the practice to be desirable:

  • A number of our teachers have used portfolio assessments to good effect especially in the language arts, the subject where this practice first became widely known. Again the efficacy of this practice should probably be judged with reference to the situation in which it is applied rather than being judged in isolation.
  • The other day I was given pause to wonder: if I were afforded the opportunity to make my own decision about whether or not I wanted to use a student portfolio system as part of the assessment process in my classroom, what would my decision be? Putting aside any district directives or suggestions stressing the "appropriateness" of portfolios, and not letting myself be intimidated by teachers around me constantly making reference to portfolios, and temporarily disregarding all the professional literature that repeatedly tells me what a wonderful thing portfolios are, would I voluntarily choose to have them as part of the my regular practice?

    The answer is "Perhaps, . . . if!" If portfolios can do something different for me from everything I already am using in my classroom, or if they can do it better, and if they can make it happen without requiring any more of the time I already spend to accomplish my other responsibilities, then I think they might have a place.

If there was a consensus, it was that the use of portfolios should not be imposed on teachers or schools.

  • Evaluating students' work, reporting to parents and the use of work samples for the above should be left to the individual school. If it is "good" to let each school make their own report cards and standards, who is served by superimposing a portfolio system???
Vision Statements

Of all the areas examined, this topic provoked the least response from teachers, probably because it was seen by many as being far removed from the classroom. Generally the focus was on the "vision statement" (and accompanying action plans) made by the Minister of Education.

A superintendent's submission saw it as a necessary statement of common purposes:

  • The vision statements by the Minister of Education are essentially a declaration of what he and his department believe society should be striving to attain for students. These statements should be no more threatening to the membership than any listing of goals and objectives generated at the school or district level. The statements are meant to give common direction and focus for all educators based on the identified needs of students and society.

The "top-down" nature of the "vision" was a common source of concern:

  • Too many ideas seem to come from above, we don't have parents beating down our doors telling us they are unhappy and that we must change our ways immediately, we don't hear from other teachers that what we are doing isn't working and that we must change the way we teach immediately, so who is it that is asking for these changes or policies or ideas? The way it is now the [Department of Education] holds a seminar and tells us of how things will be in the future when we thought things were pretty good already, this "from the top-down" approach really alienates teachers and widens the gap between classroom teachers and those who don't know beans about the regular classroom.

Some questioned the motivation, as well as the impact:

  • All leaders need to have visions, but when we play with the education of youth and very essence of future society, then it is inconceivable that schooling be politicized, used as a tool for personal advancement. In about 20 years, we have moved from "the teacher knows best" to "the parent or student knows best" how to achieve educational attainment. In this change, we have fully witnessed the demise of education, facilitated and spurred on by political leaders seeking popularity and exercising the prerogatives of their leadership.

There was a strong concern on the part of some teachers about particular directions specified in the vision:

  • "Vision for the Nineties"—The concern I have with this document is the allusion to the fact that in his "vision" the Minister of Education sees the schools taking over many of the duties of parents. Both as a parent and as a teacher, I have some concerns with the idea that this is appropriate. I feel that parents should be allowed and encouraged to be parents. Likewise, teachers should be allowed and encouraged to teach. At a time when teachers are absolutely inundated with the daily happenings in their classrooms I see this as an unreasonable and dangerous expectation. Where will it all end?

Others saw the statement as another example of a failure to deal with the realities of today's schools:

  • Arguing against this is like arguing against apple pie and motherhood, but as an old quote goes "it's hard to remember your objective was to drain the swamp when you're up to your —— in alligators." The alligators are in the schools these days—drugs, violence, broken down family relationships, AIDS, sexual abuse, physical abuse, alcohol, hunger, gangs, weapons, technology, poverty, etc and all the esoteric vision statements in the world are not going to help deal with the realities that every teacher in Alberta faces every day in the classroom.

The "vision" in the context of budget cuts and other apparent contradictions were another point of concern:

  • Pretty "blurry." It seems to me that "excellence" for all students (gifted, disabled, ESL, natives) is going to be expected with no more money being pumped into education. On one page he states that high standards, improved results (suggesting more testing) and a results-based curriculum are needed and when you turn on the radio they want budget cuts. Is the next new education minister going to agree with the "vision statement"—how much did it cost (man hours, paper, meetings, etc)?

A common view was that, if they were to be meaningful, the visions had to be developed at the school level:

  • Our school has a vision statement which we believe reflects the background of our students and our goals for them as well as our realistic practices to meet their and our needs. It is reviewed at appropriate intervals.
  • Vision statements should come from teachers not politicians. Politicians are constantly changing and we are controlled by their whims and there is no continuity.

Combined Impact

The submissions, taken as a whole, paint a dramatic picture, one of schools and teachers pushed to their limits and, in some cases, beyond. It is difficult to overstate the concern, frustration and dissatisfaction that emerged in so many statements by so many individuals and groups of teachers.

One large teachers' local came to the following conclusion, based on views expressed by teachers and schools in their jurisdiction:

  • Reading from the comments it is apparent that teaching is a profession in crisis. It is difficult to find support for the various trends and when support is given by teachers, there is invariably a disclaimer immediately following stating that support for the program is at a philosophical level, and that the practical application of the program is so fraught with problems such as insufficient essential support mechanisms that the program is doomed. Teachers feel suffocated, frustrated, angry and stressed to the point of collapse.

Another local expressed more support for some changes, but raised other concerns:

  • In conclusion may we emphasize that many of the current educational changes are embraced by our teachers. Teachers are proud of their expertise and wish to be professionally accountable. They fear that many of the changes are inspired not by professional motives but by the current government's desire to reduce spending. Professional practice must not be driven by political expediency in difficult economic times, but rather by a concerted effort to facilitate learning in the light of sound educational research.

A third local, after analyzing the "flood of information" which came from its membership concluded:

  • If the current situation continues, public education is likely to destroy itself. Even without the current and pending funding restraints, it would be impossible to meet the expectations which have been created and for which public education has explicitly or implicitly assumed responsibility.

While many of the effects of these changes have been described in previous sections, in this case "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts"; it is important to highlight the major results of these changes in their combined form, which is how they have affected many of our classrooms.

1. Many teachers feel simply overwhelmed by the combined changes in curriculum, school and classroom organization, instructional methods and assessment techniques. In particular, they feel that they simply don't have the time to do their job, and that the demands have become absolutely unrealistic, especially since they are "added on."

  • The general reaction to all these "innovations" is not "How good are they?" but rather "How does an individual teacher do all these things?" These "innovations" are not changes whereby something is dropped from our workload in order to try something new in its place. Instead, they are additions to an already demanding workload placed on teachers. The [Department of Education] must realize that if new innovations are going to be taken seriously, they must be realistic or they will not be carried out in an effective manner. I, too, can ask students to do 30 pages of math exercises in one night, but I'm certain that they will recognize that I am being unrealistic and hence the job will not get done.
  • I have taught for over 20 years, have continued to upgrade and feel confident in doing my job to the best of my ability and in the best interest of my students. In reflecting back over my experiences as a teacher, I am thankful I began my career when I did. I fear, however, for anyone just beginning in the field of education as a classroom teacher. I fail to see how we can cope with new curriculums, discipline, coaching, day-to-day teaching as well as integration, individual education plans, portfolios, continuous progress, program continuity and on and on goes the list. This load will undoubtedly force new teachers out of the system. There is simply not enough time in the day for all the [Department of Education] based initiatives as well as district-based initiatives. When does the teacher get to know his or her students? All of the time will be taken up with inservicing and paperwork. It makes me wonder who we're serving; students or new innovations?
  • It also seems to me that year after year more responsibilities are added to the teacher's task without anything [being taken] away to compensate. I certainly can foresee a lot of teacher breakdowns in the next years. The people who make decisions will have to be reminded that we are not machines. . .
  • Upon examining the situation in perspective, I wonder if we are tackling the central issue and cause at all. We accept that the "family" dentist won't do root canals, and the public bus driver doesn't supply change, so why do we, as teachers, add on and assume the roles of social worker, sex therapist, nurse's aide, bus driver, etc, etc? Extrapolating from the [Department of Education's] Excellence in Teaching notion, why aren't we saying we teach? Period. We will do it excellently. I believe we are condemned to a lemming-like self-destruction if we continue to accept and run with each task foisted on us.

2. A direct result of these developments is an enormous increase in pressure and teacher stress.

  • I don't know what to suggest to do. I do know that a few years ago, I would have unhesitatingly recommended to any high school student who asked that they seriously consider the teaching profession as a career. Now I would never recommend that anyone go into teaching.
  • The demands of the teacher seem to be ever-increasing. As a teacher of 20 years, I am choosing between fighting or ignoring these issues, or adding to my current work week of approximately 60 hours.
  • Teachers bear the load of implementing all these innovations. Classroom teachers are the grunts of this profession. We are expected to assemble portfolios, design report cards, write IEPs, provide labor intensive hands-on materials for learning, attend case conferences, involve parents, participate in community PR and keep abreast of the constant changes in techniques, technology and philosophy. We are being bombarded from all directions and being asked to deal with environmental concerns, the medical treatment of students, family crisis situations, religious and multicultural issues. Last but not least, teachers are striving daily to meet the multi needs of their students, to provide them with the best education possible, and to inspire them to be lifelong learners.

    Teachers want to do a good job of teaching their students. They have a very hard time saying "no" to demands especially when they are always facing evaluations. There are only so many hours in a day—teachers are not being left with the time or energy to pursue professional and personal development activities that would enhance their teaching, improve their quality of life and make them better equipped to deal with the emerging trends in education. Teachers today need a strong, aggressive advocate.
  • I feel very strongly that teachers are being put into positions of stress and frustration and that these tendencies are increasing every year. Teachers are being put in a position where they are unable to do an effective job in the classroom, because of all these other obligations that are being placed upon them. I think that if any more is forced on us there had better be some provision made for all the sick teachers we are going to have in the future. Already we are overwhelmed by items discussed above and we are struggling now under the strain and finding it impossible to cope. Adding to this will result in chaos.

    I hope that there is a champion somewhere waiting to take a position on these issues and try to lessen the burden placed on the modern day teacher.
  • I decided to take early retirement largely because of the new policies. Although I enjoyed teaching I could not stand to see the disadvantaged not receiving the help they needed; I exhausted myself trying to fill the gap; and I felt that expectations of teachers were so high as to be impossible and therefore I received little feeling of success in the last few years.

3. There is a feeling of being powerless to control or even affect the impact of these changes, in part because they are externally imposed, and hard to "pin down" in terms of source or rationale.

  • What emerges is a mounting feeling of frustration and powerlessness. It is not that we are necessarily opposed to some of the changes but rather that the whole process of implementation is occurring at a much too rapid and hasty pace. Teachers are feeling overwhelmed because of the combined effects of increasing demands and decreasing resources, both human and financial. Lack of time is definitely a major problem. We are feeling the pressure of having to meet everyone's demands, being all things, to all people.

    The proponents of these proposals seem vague when it comes to explaining the how and the why of these changes. Employees at all levels are unclear as to the direction the system is taking on these issues. Everyone in the system seems to be busy trying to second guess what everyone else is doing. This is no way to run our education system. The time has come for us to be given a detailed explanation of the rationale, the mechanics and the ramifications of these proposed changes. A good deal of our foreboding and frustration springs from our inability to get straight answers to our questions.

    Without such explanations how can one expect teachers to embrace let alone implement any of these innovations?

4. There is a strong feeling that teachers' professionalism, authority and expertise are being steadily eroded.

  • If these merging education innovations are not addressed by the teachers' association soon, teachers will no longer be free to determine strategies and techniques they will use in teaching their class. Not only will teachers be told what to teach, they will be told how! Individual teaching styles are obviously not a consideration!
  • Don't they trust teachers anymore? With constant supervision and a stress on produce, produce, produce you'd think we were dealing with a business product. There's so much push on the paperwork that there's little time to actually interact with students. If one did all that is expected of a teacher these days there would be no time for one's own family, sleep, eating or heaven forbid, relaxation and some form of personal life. Everyone from business to government to school board to parents is an expert on what teachers should be doing at school!

5. A common concern was that teachers' voices were not being heard—in fact, they were not even requested.

  • It seems to me that a lot of decisions are made without consultation of the teachers or the ATA. . . It is absurd that even if the decisions that affect the classroom and the students affect us, we are nevertheless excluded from the decision making process. We are the ones who work with the students in this system, we are the ones who can tell them if their new ideas can work or not in the present system without creating more harm than good.

6. Many feel that some of these innovative practices are of dubious value when their potential benefit is weighed against the resources required.

  • In the area of individualization of instruction, teachers would love to be in a position to meet all the needs of each student and ensure that all students are able to "keep up" with their age peers. However, while IEPs may be very useful in the education of students with very special needs, given the realities of educational funding, it is ludicrous to think of IEPs for all students. Similarly, teachers question the efficacy of age-appropriate placement, family grouping and other innovations which imply abandonment of the efficiencies associated with homogeneous grouping. They also question portfolio assessment and similar innovations in terms of whether the benefits they may yield are worth the educational resources they require.

7. Many feel that some changes or combinations of changes are having a negative impact on teaching-learning outcomes and are leading to unsound educational practices.

  • It will make teaching in already overcrowded classrooms more difficult and for the students with special needs, they will either be lost down the grate as the teacher attempts to teach to the majority or the teacher will be required to spend an inordinate amount of time on the special needs students thus neglecting the majority. Either way its a no win situation for the teacher and the students. The only one reaping benefits is the government in its funding cuts for special education.

8. A common concern related to the lack of research to demonstrate that changes would result in improvements:

  • Teachers will do anything if they think it will work but I want evidence that it will work, particularly at the secondary level. The view is that "if we say it enough, it will fly," but this just isn't true.
  • Many innovations are partly or briefly instituted; poorly understood practices lacking a philosophical underpinning are often mandated by administration. Ideas are discarded as quickly as they are undertaken.

    There is a clear need for a comprehensive evaluation of all of the innovations and trends which are currently being tried in our schools. There is also a need for a comprehensive evaluation of the nature of our students and our teaching situations so that the best solutions for the growing number of problems may be sought. We need a consistent philosophical position throughout the province and realistic goals for public education. Then perhaps the usefulness of these and future innovations could be accurately measured and only those which best serve our purposes be adopted.

9. Many were concerned about contradictions and the lack of a clear sense of direction:

  • At this point, teachers are caught between conflicting expectations caused by fragmentation, by lack of coherent direction and by lack of balance within public education. While educational "visions" abound, there is no clear unifying philosophy or policy base which reconciles the conflicting expectations of the public and the various groups involved in public education. . .

    The vacuum created by the lack of a unifying philosophy is being filled by innumerable innovations and initiatives being generated at the department, district and school levels.

10. There was a widespread demand for much more consultation with teachers and their Association on all aspects of educational change, and an accompanying desire for the Association itself to set a clear course and speak with a clear voice.

  • If we are our own masters and as such are also responsible to the children of Alberta, at this time, I question the clarity of our sense of what we master. Without a relevant, comprehensive policy, I fear that we will adapt and/or collapse, accept vested interests' tenets in our eagerness to placate for support and funding, or withdraw from teaching. We need to regain a clear sense of purpose to guide us in our policies and actions. Without a moral foundation how can we judge new issues as they affect children and the profession?

It is vitally important to establish that the comments consistently were made in the context of dedication to teaching and commitment to children. Their frustrations occurred precisely because these teachers cared so much about meeting the needs of their students, and above all wanted to practice their profession in an effective way.

  • My last comment regards the morale of all teachers who are continually bombarded with new ideas. You have mentioned eight and this list does not include implementing new curricula. The unrealism of this is that eight or more different specialists may impose their innovations and ideas on the individual teacher. Over a period of a year a very good teacher may very well feel like a failure because they have not managed to implement any or all of the above. However, these same good teachers probably had the respect of their students, showed care and concern for their students, as well taught their programs in an innovative and interesting manner. I wonder if we should expect more of any human being.
  • All of us feel that we are professionals, that we are dedicated to doing the absolute best that we can for our children. None of us is opposed to change providing that we can be shown that it is justifiable and not the latest trend. . . Underlying everything is this feeling of frustration. What is expected of us? Who is making these decisions? There is only so much time, patience and energy to devote to our profession. Let us do what we are supposed to do—teach.

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What Should be the Situation?

The evidence which this committee has gathered points to critical problems within public education in this province; these problems are affecting large numbers of teachers and students. It is particularly frustrating that some of the changes which have contributed most to the problems seem politically motivated, or extremely difficult to achieve in the context of the realities of today's classrooms. Their combined impact has produced a situation in which many teachers maintain that they can no longer render professional service, or meet the educational needs of their students.

Alberta is not unique in this regard. Public pressure for major educational reform is building throughout Canada and other countries. Undoubtedly, more change is going to occur. The question is whether teachers as a profession are prepared to take the initiative and to attempt to set the direction for those changes. If we decide not to exercise that initiative, there is little doubt that others will continue to impose their "solutions" on our classrooms.

It is essential that the profession act concertedly to bring about the changes that they know to be necessary for effective education in the province's classrooms. The tasks are not easy. We will have to mobilize our members in asserting their professionalism to end the present waste of educational resources and to resolve this crisis. We will also have to develop ways of arriving at a consensus on the specific directions that public education should be taking. We will need to take actions that will convince others who influence or make decisions in education.

In order to initiate and give structure to these actions, the committee is proposing a set of principles to guide the development of the more specific statement of directions for public education in Alberta. This statement would be followed by the development of an action plan which would involve teachers in systematic activities designed to bring about these changes.

Recommendations

The committee makes the following recommendations:

Recommendation 1 That a comprehensive position on public education and professional practice be developed, based on the following foundation:

  1. A significant reduction in the expectations placed on public education, based on clear and deliberate choices.
  2. Elimination of contradictory expectations, in a clear statement of realistic, achievable goals and directions.
  3. Recognition and enhancement of professionalism and of teachers' rights to make choices and judgments in the light of their training, experience, expertise, and needs and interests of their students (with particular reference to Sections 1, 3 and 4 of the Declaration of Rights and Responsibilities for Teachers 1).
  4. Provision of the resources to allow teachers to refine and perfect instructional techniques.
  5. Efficient organization of schools to recognize the constraints of group instruction and the reasonable limits to individualization.
  6. A revised model for implementing changes in education, wherein innovations are piloted under controlled conditions; are subject to independent evaluation; and are assessed on demonstrated effectiveness, impact on workload and combined impact.
  7. Provision of necessary supports for all introduced changes.
  8. Systematic and meaningful input by teachers, individually, in groups, and through their Association, into decisions which affect their professional practice.
  9. Restoration of balance into such areas as integration and student assessment.
  10. Concentrated efforts to confront and reduce the factors that contribute to teacher stress.

Recommendation 2 That an action plan be developed and implemented to provide teachers and their Association with an organized framework for promoting and achieving these changes.


11. Teachers have the right to base diagnosis, planning, methodology and evaluation on professional knowledge and skills, and have the responsibility to review constantly their own level of competence and effectiveness and to seek necessary improvements as part of a continuing process of professional development.

3. Teachers have the right to a voice in all decisions of a professional nature which affect them and have the responsibility to seek the most effective means of consultation and of collaboration with their professional colleagues.

4. Teachers have the right to criticize educational programs and have the responsibility to do so in a professional manner.