Supt. Kevin Godden (centre) and trustees Freddy Latham (left) and Shirley Wilson (right) listen as Abbotsford District Teachers’ Association president Jennifer Brooks presents to school board at a recent meeting. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

Abbotsford teachers call out ‘chronic underfunding’ in classrooms

Lacking teachers-on-call pulls specialist teachers from helping at-risk students, union says

Abbotsford teachers are calling for a greater investment in teachers and resources, particularly teaching assistants and supports for students with special needs.

While school enrolment has continued to see a general rise in students over the past several years, the funding for classrooms has not always seen that same rise, said Jennifer Brooks, Abbotsford District Teachers’ Association president, at a recent school board meeting.

RELATED: Abbotsford schools’ uneven enrolment issues levelling

“It’s been difficult, especially as we work our way through the redesigned curriculum,” Brooks said.

“You don’t have to talk to a teacher for very long before you realize that our classrooms are also underfunded, and we need more resources. We have suffered from chronic underfunding in our classrooms for so long, teachers are making up all the shortfalls they possibly can, but we can’t do it alone.”

The greatest issue for teachers, Brooks said, is a lack of specialized teachers who can work with at-risk students, such as those with English as a foreign language.

RELATED: BCTF wins grievance over teacher shortage in public schools

“Students that require additional supports in the learning plans, counsellors, learning-problems teachers, educational psychologists, speech path and language pathologists. We need more specialist teachers working with our students that need the support,” Brooks said.

“Like in many places, we seem to lack in the number of TOCs, that’s teachers on call. This greatly impacts the issue of specialist teachers, because the lack of TOCs is causing specialist teachers we do have in our buildings to have to be reassigned … into a classroom.”

That means the teachers who specialize in assisting students with special needs, from language supports to general learning supports, are being pulled from those duties, Brooks said. And that has the effect of reducing those supports.

RELATED: Abbotsford schools rank 24th for international enrolment in B.C.

“Teachers are very quick to tell you the many different things they would love in their classrooms,” Brooks said, indicating to a group of teachers gathered behind her in the school board meeting who held up posters listing programs lacking in their schools.

Among those requests: projector systems for all classrooms, money for provincially approved resources, more books and textbooks “that are from the current decade,” matching sets of chairs for a kindergarten class, better math script software, more educational assistant support for IEP students, replacement bulbs for projectors, books for home-reading programs, speakers for computers and more laptops.

RELATED: Abbotsford schools short 54 teachers, including 23 full-time

“On the bigger picture, we need you now more than ever to help us lobby the government for more funding for our classes. We need more specialist teachers to work with our at-risk students. We need to have a nice, full TOC list so there is always a TOC when a teacher is sick and there can be no other teachers disrupted when they can all do their own jobs,” Brooks said.

Earlier this month, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation announced that it has succeeded, in an arbitration, in its grievance with the Chilliwack School District that the district had not hired TOCs or teacher-librarians fast enough.

Although the grievance was specific to Chilliwack, the BCTF said in its announcement that it was far from unique to that district.

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