For the past few months MTS has been hearing from and soliciting concerns from general members and local presidents about what teachers and principals are facing in schools.
After a recent telephone town hall, more than 225 members left voice messages about personal and general issues they feel need to be addressed. Regular online meetings with local presidents have rounded out the picture.
Among the most common complaints is that divisions have teachers trying to teach in multiple classrooms at the same time.
One president said the rule must be “one teacher, one job.”
One example given was a teacher having to go back and forth between two classrooms and also being responsible for four students learning remotely. In the end, teachers are unable to give students in a class or online the attention they deserve.
A growing number of divisions have adopted this so-called duplex model where classes are split in two or three to achieve physical distancing, but the teaching is left to a single teacher. Educational assistants are often posted in the classes while the teacher is in the next classroom.
“Duplex teaching doesn’t work,” said one teacher. “The students feel abandoned by their teachers.”
The issue has been exacerbated to some degree as some students are in class while others are learning remotely from the same teacher.
One pointed out she was teaching some grades remotely and teaching other in-class students and having those classes live-streamed. She said her workload has more than doubled. Another said he was teaching an in-school class of 30 students and a remote class of 40.
In mid-January, the education department issued a directive that “classroom teachers should not be solely responsible for providing both in-class learning and remote learning if the learning is not delivered concurrently.”
Whether that eases the problem has yet to be seen. This does not appear to cover teachers moving between ongoing classes at the same time.
While many directives have been welcome, a major problem is how they are viewed in each division. Many educators are upset that situations differ from division to division.
“Divisions are not interpreting (government) directives in the same way,” said a caller to the town hall. “Different divisions have different policies.”
For example, divisions have not been consistent in the numbers of teachers or EAs they have hired to reduce the burden on existing staff, leaving teachers with varying workloads across the province.
A number of callers and presidents pointed to differences among the 30 school divisions, some which have led to major increases in workload for teachers and difficult choices for principals.
One wondered whether the lack of government-mandated rules, and the obvious outcome, was to build a case for the amalgamation of school divisions. It is expected the government will announce a reduction in the number of school divisions in the coming months.
As well as concerns about the duplex models, the switching back and forth between remote and in-class learning has not gone smoothly for many.
A major complaint has been outdated or non-existent technology in many schools and uncertain internet connections in remote areas.
One teacher pointed out her 14-classroom school has only five web cams. Another said the computers in his school are 10 years old and incapable of doing what is necessary. Yet another said teachers have had to buy the necessary software and hardware to properly teach remote students.
Many others complained there is little support for teachers struggling with technology and a lack of prep time for remote learning.
And the problems aren’t just facing teachers. A number mentioned that many students don’t have the equipment necessary or knowledge to handle remote learning.
These issues were raised before the opening of the province’s Remote Learning Centre, which is expected to address some of the needs teachers have. The centre opened in mid-January.
One teacher summed up the comments by others: “Remote teaching is a problem. It shortchanges students.”
The safety of students and teachers was questioned in many of the comments MTS has received.
One particularly sore point among specialist teachers was that they had to travel between various cohorts in a school. One phys-ed teacher pointed out they are teaching various cohorts every day. A resource teacher said she has been asked to substitute in classes involving more than one cohort.
Added to that has been the lack of information that teachers are given when there is a positive case in a cohort.
Other comments and concerns raised during meetings and the town hall have ranged from the need for rapid testing in schools, the need for better ventilation and what will the arrangement be for teachers to receive vaccinations?
MTS has taken almost all of these concerns to the government, looking for, and proposing solutions, to the government and the associations representing school boards and superintendents.
George Stephenson is a writer/contributor for the Manitoba Teacher magazine.