In the spring of 2010 Calgary Public Teachers Local surveyed its members to obtain feedback on their conditions of professional practice. This provided significant baseline data. We then repeated the survey in the spring of 2013 and compared responses to the earlier survey. While we anticipated that there was a decline in job satisfaction the degree of decline was startling.
Teachers expressed increasing frustration with ever growing class sizes that are becoming more complex with diverse student learning needs. Teachers expressed frustration with the increasingly complex bureaucratic tasks they are asked to perform, all of which leads to greater imbalance between their personal and work lives: 86 per cent of teachers reported working more than 50 hours per week.
While many employed people may think that is just the way it is these days, what is most significant is the reason teachers gave for their frustration. Teachers were concerned that students’ deteriorating learning conditions made it increasingly difficult for them to meet the learning needs of special needs students, English as additional language students and even regular students who find themselves in larger classes, making it challenging to access teacher assistance simply because there are so many other students in need.
This was clearly an area of great concern for teachers.
At the same time in March 2013, the Alberta government tabled a budget that not only did not provide the anticipated 2 per cent increase in the education grants but actually resulted in $406 less in per student funding at a time when student enrollment was rising.
The direction from the Minister of Education was that school boards should maintain their class sizes in the elementary grades, as these younger students simply require more teacher direction and guidance. This further handicapped Alberta school board choices given increased demands with reduced resources. In the Calgary Board of Education (CBE), the decision was made to reduce funding to high schools by 11 per cent. It doesn’t take very complex math to realize that more students with fewer dollars to hire teachers results in larger class sizes. The Minister of Education denied that large class sizes were an issue and asked for examples of class sizes larger than 40 students per class.
In an attempt to meet his request, I contacted all 25 high schools in the CBE asking the question whether there are classes with more than 40 students in each class. All high schools reported classes with more than 40 students and in some cases even larger than 50 students per class. One school reported more than 30 classes with 40 plus students.
The difficulty this creates for teachers is clear, but more importantly, students find it difficult to obtain individual assistance when classes are this large. In particular, students with special learning needs, English as an additional language and students who struggle with achieving passing grades all are disadvantaged by classes this large. Research clearly shows class size makes a positive difference in children’s education.
These recent cuts to education have resulted in even more stress for both students and teachers. Students only get one chance to go through high school. These large and complex classes must change to ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed and obtain a high school diploma.
Frank Bruseker is the president of Calgary Public Teachers, a local of the Alberta Teachers Association.