Teachers outside of Riverdale Elementary School Friday morning (Feb. 28) to show their support for public education on National Day of Action. (Submitted photo: Judy Lans)

Riverdale Elementary

‘We have to triage’: Surrey teachers stage ‘walk-in’ to support public education

Teachers raising awareness after more than one year at the bargaining table

Teachers at a Guildford elementary staged a “walk-in” Friday morning to show their support for “quality publicly funded” education.

Matt Westphal, the Surrey Teachers’ Association president, said the walk-in was meant to get the message out to parents and people on the roads “that something is going on,” by walking around the neighbourhood before school started for the day, wearing red (as in “red for ed – education”) and red-and-white signs with the message, “I support public education.”

Friday was also National Day of Action.

READ ALSO: Surrey Teachers’ Association rallies about bargaining agreements at NDP MLA office, Sept. 19, 2019

READ ALSO: School returns in B.C. with uncertainty surrounding contract for teachers, Sept. 1, 2019

The BC Teachers’ Federation has been at the bargaining table for more than a year, Westphal said.

“It takes a real toll on people. The uncertainty is stressful. We would all like to have this resolved because people would like to get on with their work, the work that they love.

He said some of the issues are about addressing the issue of recruitment and retention, which there still aren’t enough teachers to address students’ needs.

“That’s why we still don’t have a resolution,” Westphal said. “There will be one at some point. How we get there, we don’t know.

“Really, what would solve it is, if the provincial government would provide more money to BCPSEA (BC Public School Employers’ Association) to bargain with. That’s the real obstacle. They’ve given them this amount of money to make a deal and that is not enough money to address what needs to be addressed.”

In Surrey, Westphal said, “things are quite serious.”

At Riverdale, it took “a while” for the school to be able to fill its two learning support teacher positions.

“That’s a school with very high student needs. Those (positions) are vital to be able to provide support to the kids who really need it. And for a while, we didn’t have them.”

Westphal said it’s also “quite frequent” that there aren’t enough substitute teachers.

“What happens in the school is that someone has to cover that class, so often it’s the learning support teacher who doesn’t have a class of their own,” he said. “Instead of working with their group of kids, they’re in covering a class. Or the library is shut down and the teacher-librarian is covering the class. Or the French teacher is re-deployed.

“It has a real ripple effect on students and the services the students need. It’s all about the staffing. There aren’t enough teachers.”

On top of that, Westphal said, another concern is not having enough support for all students’ needs.

“I’ve yet to talk to a single school who isn’t saying, ‘We are stretched too thin. We have to turn away kids who need extra help. We have to do triage and deal with most severe needs because we don’t have enough extra support for all the students who need it,’” he said.

This isn’t just teachers, but also educational assistants, Westphal said.

“We don’t think there are enough of them, so then we have people getting hurt at work because isn’t enough support for students, so then they are acting out in various ways and it’s not their fault. Things happen. We’re seeing more people get hurt or we have to clear a classroom because, say, a student has a meltdown, so for safety, we have to take kids into another room while we address the needs of that student. But then that disrupts everyone’s learning. That’s just a symptom of not enough support.”



lauren.collins@surreynowleader.com

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