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B.C. teachers add 'manager of expectations' to their job description

(iStock Photo)

Head of Surrey Teachers Association says some parents say too much work is given, some say too little

He says they are being careful about assessing students, because home environments may not be conducive to learning

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s been six weeks since school began to look very different from what we’re used to.

Teachers deliver lessons, touch base with students, and still sit through their usual meetings – all remotely these days. Some instructors have even the added task of looking after their own kids while performing their duties from home.

The situation is compounded by students who have limited access to digital equipment, who need specialized attention, or whose parents don’t speak English.

“Not all families have the technology, or they might have to share the technology with other family members,” says Matt Westphal, president of the Surrey Teachers Association. “There aren’t enough multi-cultural workers to handle the increased demand.”

While their profession has been turned upside down, reaction from parents, he says, runs the gamut.

“It’s difficult to generalize because it’s all over the map,” he explains, as they try to manage different expectations.

“Some parents are saying their child is not getting a proper education, they want this or that, they are not getting enough meetings. They are pushing for more than is reasonable or realistic,” he notes.

“But I would say the more common complaints I’ve heard are from parents and families who feel it’s too much, rather than saying ‘You’re not giving us enough to do.'”

The minister of education has been clear that at-home learning is not expected to replace in-class learning.

Meanwhile, teachers are being careful about academic assessments. “How do you assess the work your students are doing under these conditions, because the conditions vary so greatly?” Westphal asks.

“You don’t always know what’s going on in students’ homes in terms of the challenges they are facing. For some people, school is not the top priority because they have more serious things they are contending with.”

In fact, a teacher told him they recently learned why a student hadn’t responded to any correspondence in a month and a half. The student, it turns out, basically dropped out of school to take on full-time work, after a parent lost a job.

It’s not like teachers can sit around table with their colleagues and go over the frustrations of their day, either.

“It’s been really difficult,” Westphal says, pointing out they can meet with other teachers online to commiserate, but that also takes time away from connecting with students and planning digital activities.

Looking ahead, Westphal has additional concerns. He’s worried about how schools, parents and teachers will manage once schools re-open with staggered classroom times.

“With kids only at school part of the time, and parents back at work full-time, who’s going to provide the childcare?”

Schools will be open June 1, but student attendance will be voluntary. For Kindergarten to Grade 5, students will attend school two or three times a week. For the upper grades, classrooms will be open only once a week. More details will be rolled out by individual schools in the coming days.