Insights from Ontario teachers

‘The Ontario government isn’t thinking about the future.’

By high school teacher Joey Raso

Ontario’s Minister of Education Lisa Thompson says larger class sizes help make students more resilient, and I couldn’t disagree more. There are effective ways for teachers to foster resiliency in their students – and they don’t involve crowding young people in a classroom with less support and individual attention.   

I teach Grade 9 and Grade 12 geography, and my teaching philosophy is to make a personal connection with each student and learn about any challenges they face. Students learn at different paces and have diverse needs. A good teacher can identify such needs if they invest the time, and as classes grow, finding that time will be even more difficult. I fear many students are going to slip through the cracks. 

The province wants to raise the average class size in high school by six students per class, to 28. Some classes have traditionally been smaller because they are technical-skills classes with limited computers or have students that require more individualized instruction. To maintain the new average, schools will need to either counterbalance the small classes with larger ones in core subjects like math – which could grow to more than 40 students – or get rid of some small classes. 

Many of the small classes are electives, and the young people who get so much value from these courses will now have fewer choices to support their paths to success. Our school has already eliminated 42 elective and compulsory courses for next fall’s term. Students will suffer, and so will the teachers who will be put on surplus lists. 

I am also a student-success teacher, which means that for one period a day, I provide support to students facing academic challenges, working with them and their teachers to chart a path to success. I’m concerned about the future of this program; because it’s not a credit course, it’s hard to say if it will survive future funding cuts. 

It worries me because I see the benefits of this specialized program, how it changes lives. The Ontario government isn’t thinking about the future – it needs to invest in quality publicly funded education to help students grow and succeed. 

Joey Raso teaches at a Catholic high school in North Brampton..”

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Insights from Ontario teachers

‘It’s the children in our schools who will feel the impact.’

By elementary school teacher Lindsay Freedman

The Ontario Ministry of Education proposes to increase the average class size for Grades 4 to 8. That may sound minor, but it’s not, given the makeup of classrooms today and our responsibilities to customize instruction to meet individual needs.   

I have colleagues who can barely remember the last time they taught one curriculum in their class. We have an inclusive school environment, which means that in one class, you will have students with a range of learning styles and abilities. A Grade 3 teacher is often teaching Grades 1 and 2 material to certain students, as well as modifying the Grade 3 curriculum for others. 

Another issue is that the cap on class size applies at the start of the school year. Throughout the year, students move into your school community and many of the classes rise above the cap. All these increases in the numbers of students will further strain teachers’ capacity to ensure everyone gets individual attention and support. 

The funding cuts mean that boards will also be cutting the positions of teaching staff who support students needing extra assistance and help classroom teachers with programming. This means job losses for instructional coaches, itinerant teachers, guidance counsellors and other support staff. 

It’s the children in our schools who will feel the impact. We are particularly concerned about the most vulnerable students – those with special needs, behavioural and mental health concerns or less family support. All our students need more caring adults in their lives, especially to help guide them when they are older and preparing for high school and beyond. 

With fewer teachers and other employees, extracurricular activities including sports will suffer because we will have fewer people available to run them. At our school, we have great band and drama programs, and many of the children are building confidence through their passion for the arts and music, and losing access will be a tremendous loss. 

As teachers, we want the best for our students and value our role in helping them move towards successful futures. These changes will prevent us from giving students the support they need. 

Lindsay Freedman teaches a special-education class, Grades 6 to 8, at a middle school with the Peel District School Board. 

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