This is a guest post by Scott Susin.
So what is class composition?
When looking at defining terms, I like to break them down piece by piece. So let’s do that with this one;
~ the class to which a teacher teaches, pretty straight forward
~ the make up of the class in which a teacher teaches.
By make-up, I mean not just how many boys, how many girls, the ages of all of them. No, that’s the easy part. With composition, we are talking about the differences each student brings to a class. These differences can be learning struggles, learning advantages (gifted), and behavioural struggles also comes to mind. Students that are not working or acting at their grade/age level.
Composition looks at the ENTIRE class make-up. Every single student in a class room. So if there’s a student in a wheelchair, that adds to the composition of the class, the make-up of the class as they are PART of the class, much like every other student in there. Over the last 20-30 years, children have been getting diagnosed with a myriad of designations ranging from moderately behaviour to a learning designation, or sometimes both.
More children are being diagnosed with ‘special needs’
Over time, more and more children are being diagnosed by their pediatricians and family doctors with conditions effecting their cognitive ability along with their social and emotional abilities. We now see students with post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), and Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) defined by the DSM-5 on Wikipedia as a pattern of angry/irritable behaviour, or vindictiveness lasting at least 6 months, and is exhibited during interaction with at least one individual that is not a sibling.
I had a child that encompassed all these conditions and he was identified as “complex behaviour”, meaning he struggled with learning and comprehension, behaviours, and handling his emotions for his age level. These are the students (and clientele) who are in our classrooms. I completely believe in all-inclusive education, however it must be implemented correctly and supported and delivered with sufficient funding and training. Currently, this isn’t the case. More and more special needs students are being dumped into classrooms with next to no support.
So what happens to those kids?
They fall through the cracks, stress out, act out, yell out, have meltdowns, cry. The number of diagnoses is rising exponentially and the public school system must match this rise with increased funding in order to provide support to these most vulnerable students throughout their entire educational career. However, that’s not the case, and hasn’t been for quite some time.
Students are numbers not little people with individual needs.
In BC, school districts count heads. And those heads are worth about $6900. *So to figure out any districts’ budget you take the total enrolment for the district and multiply it by $6900. That will give you a rough idea of how much each districts’ budget will be. In approximately 2005 the funding formula for kids in high school changed, They are now funded per course (8 courses divided by $6900 is the approximate formula) so if your high school student is taking only 4 courses then it gets adjusted. But when I was looking at the government of BC’s website for K – 12 funding, this wasn’t made clear at all. I had to keep digging, with the help of some friends on Twitter. Thanks!
This is all the money a district receives to run their system. It get readjusted when September enrolment is complete but if more children enrol after September 30th each school is left to figure out how to stretch their budget.
Special needs students in BC receive additional funding on top of their original price tag of $6900. I do not have these numbers in front of me, but in time I will, and can provide them. However, that aside, I know that the additional funding for special needs is currently not enough to adequately sustain the system, and / or allow teachers to properly provide a high level of instruction to their classes.
*Updated by Lee-Anne, June 30th. These numbers are only estimates but trying to find a simple answer has been challenging.
How do school districts spend their budgets?
As districts become more and more strapped for cash, the first thing to always cut back are positions. So either teachers go, or support staff go. For the purpose of this post I will focus on EAs as we are talking special needs. When an EA is laid off and not hired back, this puts a strain on the entire system.
For example, in my class two years ago, I had two EAs supporting and providing assistance over 5 special needs children. However, over the course of the year, it was rare to have both EAs in the room at once. This was because one of them would be called to assist student(s) in other class at any time during the day, week, etc. In doing this, the students that EA should be serving in my class, are then not receiving that support. It is downloaded on to me. So I either sit with them and work one on one, essentially leaving the rest of my class to work on their own. Or leave said special needs student to fend for themselves. But in reality, this is next to impossible.
These children have “special needs”. It’s as simple as that. They need support, supervision, one on one. When you take that away from them, it’s just a matter of time until something happens. You may have read the previous blog post that has since gone viral with nearly 20,000 views in which I compiled data given by me from teachers around the province. I wanted to compile my list of class compositions for a variety of reasons. But the most important reason was that I wanted to get parents talking and asking questions, and maybe even piss off a few people. For good reason of course.
When you go and look at the compositions of some of those classes, you shake your head, you look at it and think, “Really, this is what a class looks like?” And then to take it further, “Is this class composition conducive to learning?”, “Is my kid getting an education in this class or is the teacher spending most of their time putting out little fires all day long?” “Do I feel comfortable and confident sending my child into a classroom setting such as this?” All great and pointed questions that we all, as parents, advocates for our children, should be asking of MLAs, trustees, and the government.
If you don’t think teachers need more support in the classroom then you need to read this.
I want to share a composition story that was sent to me by a teacher. Over the past two weeks I’ve read maybe 100 different stories from teachers across the province. All were very touching, upsetting and frustrating at the same time. But this one was a little different. This teacher taught grade 1 this year. In September a little boy entered her class, he spoke absolutely no English and was identified as severe behaviour.
For the first couple of weeks this student would continue to abuse other students through hitting, biting and scratching classmates. The teacher realized that the only way to keep this student from hurting others was to carry him around on her hip for the first hour or so of each day. For six weeks this teacher carried the child on her hip in order to protect the rest of the class. Unfortunately however, because she had him on her hip, she endured daily abuse from him. He bit her, pinched her, yelled at her and basically did everything under the sun that you could think of.
This story hit home with me because here we have a woman who has put her students ahead of herself. To me, that shows true care and genuine love for your class and students. This woman chose to take the abuse herself if it meant that the rest of her class was okay.
To that, I could never express enough praise and respect, and she should be proud of what she did. This story also begs the question, Why was this teacher, this class, this student in this situation in the first place? Why was there not enough funding, or any amount of support provided to this student in order to ensure not only his own safety, but the safety of the rest of the class?
How come in BC, it takes a teacher to physically carry a child around on her hip in order to ensure her class is going to be safe? Something doesn’t add up.
To me, there is no excuse for this.
When a district can’t provide enough support to ensure the safety of a classroom of students, there is something wrong. And in cases like this, I like to follow the money. Where’s the money coming from and who is holding the purse strings? And it always leads back to one place, Victoria.
Those in power hold the money, and this government chooses not to spend it on our most valuable resource, our children. In conclusion, I believe the public must learn of these stories, must understand that no matter what Fassbender or Clarke may tell you in the media, our system is GROSSLY underfunded. The amount of funding does not match the amount of need, it’s that simple.
Please contact your MLA
I beg you to please hound your MLAs, set up meetings with them and hold them accountable. Call your trustees. School trustees run on a platform of supporting public education and advocating for your children, tell them to do it. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me at [email protected]. I’m always up for chatting education. Photo Credit: Ben Francis