Back to council now... I really enjoyed it. It was one of those times in life when you end up in a situation where you feel like you belong. There were lots of teachers just as interested in talking about collective bargaining, various educational issues, and all sorts of policies. Some people might find it boring but I found it fascinating.
My favourite part of the conference was having opportunities to advocate for English as an Additional Language students. I had a chance to do this with the election candidate at a luncheon on Thursday where our teachers' federation invited several election candidates to participate in a town hall forum on education and to join us for lunch for dialogue on educational issues. If you read the papers, you may think it was all about teachers complaining about our contract negotiations. Sure, we made the point that we felt disrespected by the government during the last round of negotiations. That is a fact. However, the majority of the forum was simply teachers advocating for public education and, ultimately, for our students.
In our table discussion with our candidate, I mentioned my biggest concerns with respect to education. Since I am an EAL teacher, the issues I feel most important are as follows:
- You cannot bring in thousands of immigrants and expect the current educational funding to support this population of students. English as an Additional Language (EAL) students require more resources, smaller class sizes, and more supports. I am also wary of hearing the argument from both federal and provincial MPs and MLAs (candidates) that the other is responsible for refugees/immigrants. I realize they need to communicate and possibly share funding but my impression is that there is a lot of passing the buck on to the other. Neither seems to want to take responsibility for the additional funding that is absolutely necessary to ensure that immigrants and refugees receive a quality education so they can become educated, productive members of society.
- There is no EAL curriculum in Saskatchewan and this is unacceptable. Once again, there is always a reason for why we don't have something as of yet. In this case, the argument is made that we haven't needed one until recently. Now, I would possibly consider this except that Saskatchewan has had EAL students for decades on Hutterite colonies. Furthermore, the majority of Canadian provinces already have well developed ESL curriculums including BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland & Labour, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. I have looked through the Saskatchewan Curriculum documents and cannot find one reference to English as an Additional Language students, not even for some adaptations. I recall the old curriculum made an occasional mention of ESL but the new document does not. There is a real need to develop a curriculum guide for English as an Additional Language as there are different outcomes required for students learning English and simply differentiating is not enough. I looked for research to support this argument but it doesn't exist because it just goes without saying that ESL students need a curriculum designed for their learning needs. Is there overlap? Of course, but it's language-based in that these students need to learn more than the outcomes and indicators in the existing curriculum which assumes students are native English speakers.
- We need EAs in our program. I cannot stress this enough. Yes, I have small class sizes but that's for a very good reason. In one class, I have students from several countries at varying levels of English and they may or may not have literacy skills in their first language. We always have at least a handful of students who are non-speakers and could really use one-on-one support from an EA. We used to have this support but lost our EA a couple of years ago when cuts to these positions were made. Another example of how we used this support would be when the EA's attended a Canadian class with a group of EAL students and could provide support for those students and report back to the EAL teachers for further tutorial support. We really miss that. Actually, the STUDENTS really miss that because they are the ones suffering.
One last thing...and the subject of a future blog post since it seemed to garner a lot of interest will be a discussion of what we are doing at my school to support EAL students. While there is always room for improvement, we are doing some great things and I want to share those. I was flattered and excited to know that a principal in another school division is going to take my ideas forward in an attempt to change things for the better. I want to share this information on my blog and maybe help others who are at a loss when it comes to supporting students from other countries.