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LETTER: Retired teacher says Ford cuts 'extremely detrimental'

If cuts are needed, it should not be at expense of students' or teachers' working conditions, says letter writer
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BarrieToday welcomes letters to the editor, which can be sent to news@barrietoday.com. Please include your address and phone number for verification, not for publication. This an open letter to Education Minister Lisa Thompson and Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop from retired local teacher John Winchester regarding class size.
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As a parent of a daughter who is set to enter secondary school this September, I want to state emphatically that increasing the pupil-teacher ratio from 22 to 28 would be extremely detrimental to our education system.

Every study dealing with class sizes shows that students learn better in smaller classes.

I taught secondary school (mostly History and English) for 30 years, with classes ranging from under 10 (Basic Level English) to 35 students (Advanced/Academic History and English).

There is no doubt that I was able to provide much more one-on-one attention to students in the smaller classes. Obviously, it is not feasible to have every class capped at the low end of the scale and no teacher is asking for this.

But when average class sizes (not the caps) increase by 27% (from 22:1 to 28:1), there will be many negative results: students will not get the attention that they need from their teachers or EAs; courses that students require for graduation will be cancelled, as there will be fewer teachers/EAs on staff; with fewer adults in the school, both as educators as well as coaches/club leaders, there will be a reduction in teams/clubs; and those remaining will see their workload increase significantly, some with classes exceeding 40 students.

If cuts need to be made to the education system, it cannot be at the expense of the students’ learning conditions and their teachers’ working conditions. After all, they are one and the same.

In an era where we are much more aware of our students’ mental health concerns and challenges, it is important to remember that our educators’ mental health needs to be maintained, too.

Three years into retirement, I continue to volunteer as a teacher, coach, and tour guide at Innisdale SS in Barrie (and volunteer at other schools, too) and can attest to the concerns expressed by my former colleagues.

More than ever are either on, or considering going on, stress leave. They are dedicated teachers who have given as much as they can. They are not looking for an easy way out. And I acknowledge that not all of the blame rests with your government.

However, the situation is getting worse, from what I’m being told.

Having lived and taught through the Harris/Eves cuts to education over 20 years ago, I am very worried about what the future holds for Ontario’s students and educators.

Vilifying teachers, warning them to not go on strike, bringing up their pensions and benefits (into which they pay), and blaming student-led walkouts on teachers and ‘union thugs’ is no way to foster a good working relationship with this province’s education workers.

Claiming to have ‘increased’ funding by $800,000,000 is also highly misleading, especially when the bulk of this ‘increase’ will be paid for by the layoffs, through attrition or otherwise, of approximately 5,700 teachers.

If a strike occurs, and I certainly hope that one can be avoided, it will be the result of your efforts to remove these teachers and making other cuts to the education system.

I trust that you do not want another province-wide strike to be part of your legacy.

I look forward to a reply at your earliest convenience.

John Winchester
Teacher, Simcoe County District School Board (1986-2016)
Excellence in Education Award Co-Recipient, 2004

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