It was meant to be a day of celebration, but a World Teachers Day gathering at the Saskatchewan Legislature on Saturday saw parents, teachers, and children voicing concerns over the state of the education industry.
“There is not enough money to do what we know we could be doing,” said Amy Orth, principal at Aberdeen Composite School.
“It’s frustrating to know that you could be doing such a better job with more resources.”
Orth is speaking about growing class sizes and the expanding diversity of student needs that comes with that.
“Student diversity has really increased, just over the last four to five years, and unfortunately it corresponds with cutbacks when students need supports the most,” said Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation.
“Part of being out here is advocating for our students to have the best-supported classrooms.”
At contract talks in late September, The Government Trustee Bargaining Committee (GTBC) said it tabled a new three-year offer that includes a one-time payment of $1,500 in the first year for all full-time teachers, and two per cent wage increases in each of the second and third years of the contract.
That outcome is something Minister of Education Gordan Wyant said is a “fair deal for teachers,” though it neglects to address the concerns around class size and composition.
But, the issue may soon appear on the docket, according to Maze.
“This year, our members indicated that – when they’re at the bargaining tables – they want class size and class composition addressed as a bargaining issue,” Maze said. “They don’t want the government to be able to balance their books on the backs of our students anymore. This year we put it on the bargaining table.
“It’s happened in other provinces and we think it’s time it happens in Saskatchewan.”
By class composition, Maze means the varying needs of students with things like mental health issues, English as a second language, and high intensive needs, and those with higher intellectual abilities among other capabilities.
“We want teachers to be able to do their best work and part of that is making sure they’re properly supported,” he said.
Earlier this year, Wyant said the average class size was 18 students in rural schools and 21 students in urban schools.
In response, Maze took a poll on social media asking teachers how big their class sizes really were. He received hundreds of responses, with most saying they have 25 to 30 pupils.
Wyant has said class sizes are an issue for local school divisions, but is something they’re “willing to examine.”
“I think we’re at a critical level right now, we believe in the education that we’ve always been able to provide in Canada but it requires some support,” said Matthew Gray, principal at West Central Public School in Prince Albert, Sask.
“As a parent, I worry about what is going on for my sons in their classrooms, and the students in my school. We’re here to say ‘hey, enough is enough and we need some help.’”
Contract talks are now being made public through updates on the STA’s website, according to Maze.