Beside my desk, on the ledge in front of my office window, sits a relatively small, unassuming brass hand bell. It is one of the items in my office that brings me the most pride.
I received it at the end of my first year of teaching, when my school division nominated me for the Edwin Parr Award for outstanding first-year teacher.
The trustees committee overseeing the award were impressed by the list of courses that I taught that school year: Pure Math 10, 20 and 30; Math 31; Math 33; Physics 20; and Phys Ed 10. I also served as students’ union staff advisor and senior boys’ basketball coach.
As a beginning teacher, I knew this was demanding, but it did not look much different from what my colleagues were doing.
The Grades 7 – 12 school I taught in for eight years, Breton High, had about 200 students (although fewer now) but still offered the full set of core courses (including Math 31 and all three sciences) and had well-equipped computer, cosmetology, food studies, construction and mechanics programs. As much as possible, although not every year, the school would also offer art, drama and other options.
However, like every other school in the province, we were funded primarily through per-pupil funding from the province. This current funding model is not working for schools of 2,000 students, let alone those of 200 students.
That is why, over the past few years, I have heard regularly from teachers in rural areas who say that they have been less able to identify with Association messaging on class size — their problems are more about class complexity.
I was blessed in my first year to have very few combined courses. But, over time and despite my protestations, these increased.
In a neighbouring school, a colleague taught all of the junior high students in one classroom at the same time. He had to prepare for more than 20 programs of study each year.
A delegate at this year’s Annual Representative Assembly talked about having combined courses in each of her assigned classes last year, including one class with students learning four different courses, and another that had three courses, two students with severe special needs and no EA support.
The only reason rural schools are viable right now is that they are being propped up on the overworked backs of teachers and other staff.
“Funding for students is based on the number of students, not the programs,” said the teacher, noting that her tiny K–12 school of 86 students lacked resources and the teachers lacked prep time.
“I’m exhausted, I’m burnt out and I have [the] expectations of my
Bio 30 kids, who are going to be writing the diploma exam, when they have had nine minutes of teaching time per hour because I have four other courses to teach at the same time,” she said.
“It’s almost like third-world education,” she added. “And if you don’t believe me, I would love you to come out and do my job for the day, because I just want a prep period that week.”
ARA delegates heard a number of stories about the struggles faced by rural schools in the debate over a resolution calling for the development of a new rural education strategy.
The truth is, the only reason rural schools are viable right now is that they are being propped up on the overworked backs of teachers and other staff.
Rural and urban schools both face funding challenges, and the common way to deal with them is to add more students to existing classes. Fortunately for rural schools, the classes are starting out small. Unfortunately, when students are added, they too often come with a different course assignment.
This is another policy piece where the Association has agreement with the new United Conservative Party government. The UCP platform promises a review of the funding formula to “ensure that rural schools have adequate resources to deliver programs in an equitable way.”
Given the base of support for the UCP in rural areas, this should be a very positive, overdue move. However, in an environment of cost containment, I am leery about how these improvements will be achieved without additional investments.
Rural schools need a new strategy and a renewed funding formula. We can’t do more with less. ❚
I welcome your comments—contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.