For more than a decade, shop teacher Ryan Fullerton has seen his classes get bigger and the number of special-needs students in those classes increase.
Now, he's hoping for some help to ensure those students get the attention they need, thanks to an interim deal announced last week between the B.C. Teachers' Federation and the provincial government.
The deal is a stopgap measure by the province to comply with a Supreme Court of Canada decision in November that found the B.C. government acted wrongly in 2002 when it stripped class size and composition limits from teachers' contracts. The deal provides $50-million to hire up to 1,100 teachers around the province, beginning now.
Mr. Fullerton hopes at least one might wind up next to him at Gladstone Secondary School in East Vancouver.
"It feels like a bit of light at the end of the tunnel at this point," Mr. Fullerton said Friday.
"I'm really feeling frustrated that I can't do very much with my students because the class is so complex…having a second body in the room is going to allow two of us to actually teach the kids and make it safe," he added.
Under the old contract language, split classes – those containing students from more than one grade – would have been capped at 20 students and further reduced depending on the numbers of students with Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs, in the class, Mr. Fullerton said.
Currently, he oversees automotive technology classes of up to 24 students, from Grades 9 to 12, that include as many as five students with IEPs.
Money will go to districts under a formula based on enrolment and other factors. The BCTF estimates up to 3,500 teaching positions were eliminated as a result of contract changes.
Restoring class size and composition limits will push already strained capacity in the Surrey School District.
Based on its size, Surrey is probably in line for about $5-million, or roughly 10 per cent, of the available funding, says Surrey School Board chair Shawn Wilson.
That translates into about 100 teachers, who could be absorbed into the system without too much disruption.
Once a final deal is reached, the situation could change.
"If the language is restored to what it was before 2002, then it's a whole new ball game – it goes from a bit of a nuisance to a major calamity," Mr. Wilson said.
"I think it will be a monstrous challenge come September, when the numbers are actually known."
Provincial Education Minister Mike Bernier has declined to speculate on when a final deal could be reached.
Surrey has roughly 7,000 students in portable classrooms now; smaller class sizes will make the situation worse, said Cindy Dalglish, a spokeswoman for Surrey Students Now, an advocacy group.
She'll be watching the February budget for funds to restore contract provisions as well as capital funds to build new schools.
For young teachers or those who have spent years on on-call lists, the Supreme Court of Canada decision could open doors.
"There's a bit of hope now – because the young teachers are looking at this and saying, 'This job is more possible,'" said Rory Brown, president of the Vancouver Secondary Teachers' Association.
"There are a lot of teachers out there who are not working as teachers – and I think we need to have a really big conversation at the provincial level about how we're going to attract some of those people back into the profession."
Districts will set their own hiring priorities, based on input from teachers and administration.
"Our understanding of the process is that superintendents will be working with committees and their local union presidents to look at district needs – and then creating positions to meet those needs," said Kevin Reimer, president of the B.C. Principals' and Vice-Principals' Association.
"One of the things we greatly appreciate is that [government] has given the districts the flexibility to deal with those needs in different ways," he added.
That flexibility means, for example, that districts could focus initially on support positions such as teacher-librarians or counsellors – who can slip into existing timetables – and plan for more staff next year.
In Prince George, the district and the BCTF local were already talking about how to bring former contract language back into effect, said Superintendent Marilyn Marquis-Forster.
Those talks will now continue, with added momentum from the interim deal.
"Until we have dollar figures, we are not able to make concrete plans," Ms. Marquis-Forster said, adding that she expects the district and the union will be able to come up with shared priorities quickly.
"We're all in the same business, of educating our kids – and extra support for student learning is always a good-news story. It's a good problem to have to sit down and figure out what to do."