I have recently retired after 35 years of teaching. In the ongoing contract dispute between teachers and the government, there have been many references to “special needs students” and “specialist teachers.” I am one of those “specialist teachers” who saw her caseload skyrocket in the last decade.
During my career, I worked under Social Credit, NDP and Liberal governments. I witnessed a long parade of teaching practices and trends come and go.
In the first two-thirds of my career there were certainly bumps in the road, but overall, public and governmental support for students with special needs underwent a radical and positive transformation. We evolved from segregation to inclusion, and from a strictly remedial approach to one that embraced prevention and early intervention.
Sadly, under Christy Clark’s leadership as education minister, and then as premier, our public education system has devolved and is in danger of causing irreparable harm to some of those in its care. Students with identified learning disabilities are among those who have been most seriously affected.
I find that many people have a limited understanding of what a learning disability is. Learning disabled (LD) students are not mentally challenged or slow learners. To receive this designation, students can test out as having an IQ ranging from low average, all the way up to the gifted range, but be seriously underachieving in school due to their neurological “wiring.”
Their learning disabilities affect how they perceive, process or store information. LD students are all different from one other, and they all have the potential to be successful if they are given instruction that is tailored to their particular learning style.
Prior to the contract stripping and ongoing cutbacks of the last 12 years, I had a caseload of approximately 10 LD students. In the past decade, my caseload exploded to encompass all types of students with learning challenges, covering up to seven classes at one time. My caseload included the learning disabled, slow learners, mentally handicapped, English language learners, and the average child who needed specific support in one or more subject areas. No matter how I juggled my schedule, I could never meet all the needs.
I retired this June, and I am blessed to have an infant granddaughter. When she begins school, I hope that she and her peers will have access to whatever supports they may need,in order to realize their full potential as learners. We owe that to all of our children.
Janet Wiltshire, former Surrey teacher