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This Is What Premier Clark Is Calling A Success

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I haven't blogged about education in a while. And I won't lie -- it's been a glorious break. Writing about all the bad parts of my job isn't fun. Letting myself think about the difficulties doesn't make me excited to go to work and be the best teacher I can be.

But today I need to talk about education. About the premier's deflection of all questions about more than a decade's worth of underfunding. About how she keeps saying that B.C. students are ranked number one internationally for reading.

Because the fact that we rank number one in reading means nothing.

christy clark
Liberal Leader Christy Clark speaks to candidates and supporters at the Elk Lake boathouse in Saanich, B.C., on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. (Photo: Chad Hipolito/CP)

I teach English. I work my brain to mush teaching teens how to infer meaning, defend opinions, and think critically about the information their eyes transmit to their brains.

So, yes. I would hope they rank reasonably well. But the honest truth is that a lot of them don't. And every time the premier brags about how well B.C. students are ranked in reading, I have anxiety inducing flashbacks to the English class I was teaching during one of the years she's so proud of.

I was teaching English 10. That's the same grade level as the randomly selected handful of teens who write the PISA test the premier is talking about. And it was not a success.

I had 28 students in that class.

Eleven had previously failed English 10. Some had failed twice.

Two were beginner English Language Learners. One ended up pulled from my class in October. The other remained, with the understanding that there was no way the student would be able to pass. But there was nowhere else to put them.

Three were intermediate English Language Learners.

One had a life threatening health condition and designated learning disabilities.

One had learning disabilities severe enough that their Individualized Education Plan called for someone to read and write for them. But learning disabilities don't qualify for an Education Assistant. So this student had no support in the class. They had no reader or scribe.

One student was finally tested for learning disabilities the semester they were in my class. Their cognitive ability -- what some might refer to as IQ -- tested well below average. So low that this student would not have been in a "regular" class years ago. But they were. And they did not qualify for an Education Assistant.

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But these are just the students who had a designation or other on-file concern that they brought with them to class each day.

But two of these 28 students also had well-documented anger management issues and multiple suspensions.

Five of them had attendance issues necessitating frequent intervention.

In truth, of this class of 28 students, only 14 would fit into the description of an "average" student -- and I'm including self-sufficient students with mental or physical health designations.

So, in one of the years the premier is holding up as a success, a full half of my class was struggling in ways that I could not support as a single classroom teacher in what was then a course that ended with a provincially mandated, standardized test. A test that some of these students didn't even show up for, because they knew there was no way they could pass.

And I wanted desperately for them to do well. But classroom management was a never ending gauntlet. I was in constant contact with counsellors and principals. Providing feedback and suggestions for improvement took ages. Class discussions were impossible. I re-structured my entire way of teaching to counter half a class's apathy caused by the school system that had failed them.

Yet some students did extremely well. Somehow, despite their teacher's exhaustion and their peers' attempts to derail lessons, they excelled. And they will continue to excel. Because that's who they are as people.

So, yes. Some students in B.C. are exceptional at reading. But that's their success. It's not their government's.

And it sure as hell isn't shared by all those kids who were stuck in English 10. The kids who were floundering while their teacher did everything she possibly could. The kids whose failures the premier is calling a success.

Note: this class would not have even existed if the B.C. Liberals hadn't illegally discarded the teachers' contract, then spent years fighting the BCTF in court. Under the old contract, English classes are capped at 25 students -- fewer when there are students needing extra assistance.

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