Minister already forgets message sent to teachers

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McIsaac, school board make PD day decision without first consulting major stakeholders

Education Minister Alan McIsaac

Education Minister Alan McIsaac was busy writing a letter when he should have been on the telephone. The minister, teachers’ federation and school board are all seeking ways to make up classroom time for the 12 lost days this winter because of snowstorms. P.E.I. students lost an almost unprecedented five consecutive days starting last Wednesday and they would have been in class just twice this week until the minister and school board stepped in to cancel today’s scheduled professional development and parent-teacher day.

With the March break week holiday ending just as the storms were starting, it meant that students didn’t spend a lot of time in the classroom last month. Losing 12 days in one school year because of storms isn’t an historical event. It’s happened before and the school system got through it. But that was before the benchmark PISA test scores were released last fall, showing P.E.I. in last place in Canada for math, science and reading skills, and showing poorly against other countries rated by the international tests.

That put the focus squarely on more classroom time for students and additional PD days for teachers. Then, to make things worse, P.E.I. was lambasted with the most severe winter in 42 years. Worried parents and nervous students want results, putting a lot of pressure on teachers who have welcomed additional PD days to improve their skills and absorb curriculum changes.

Teachers might have quickly agreed to surrender today’s PD day but the way it was handled was unprofessional. The federation and its membership heard about it through social media or the press. Mr. McIsaac says he wrote a letter to Gilles Arsenault, president of the PEITF, on Wednesday to see if teachers would give up their scheduled PD day in May in favour of class time. Perhaps he should have delayed that letter and instead get a conference call going with Mr. Arsenault and school board officials the first thing Wednesday morning about today’s PD day. Once that was out of the way, then write that letter.

No one can blame Mr. Arsenault for being upset. The minister said in the house on Wednesday afternoon that a decision on the PD day in May is the teachers’ decision and he was hoping for a positive response. Well, why wasn’t today’s PD day a teachers’ decision instead of government and the board ramming it down their throats.

It seems the minister was under pressure to take some immediate affirmative action after that extended string of cancellations.

It did seem like the right thing to do, all right. But it could have been better handled. Unilateral decisions this week do not make for co-operative talks with all parties on options to make up lost classroom time. Options require the co-operation of everyone and it all starts with communication.

People need to be creative because time is running out on this school year. It was suggested that adding half an hour of classroom time to each day for the rest of the year might be an option. Moving

all parent-teacher sessions to the evening would help.

The bottom line is, get the job done. Everyone is well paid and well educated so solutions shouldn’t be too hard to come up with. Mr. Arsenault gives assurances that teachers can adjust and adapt to ensure students get the proper instruction. Before parents get too worked up, it should be noted that sports trips continue unabated with seemingly little concern or worry.

It was hammered home by government for months just how valuable PD days are and their lasting impact on students. Or has the minister already forgotten that?

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Surprised, but not really
    April 05, 2014 - 09:43

    May 2nd is not a PD day it's an area association meeting for the teachers union and a CUPE convention day for bus drivers, EAs, YSW, janitors and admin assistants. So Mr McIssac should consider the fact that the PEITF are not the only ones who need to give permission to give up that day. The union day is a contractual agreement for CUPE members. Interesting that no one in government or media has contacted CUPE for a statement or opinion. What happens if the teachers say yes, but CUPE says no? Teachers may be in class on May 2nd but there woul be no buses to take students to school.

  • Shocked, but not really
    April 05, 2014 - 09:13

    Here's something that no one in government, media or the general public seems to have considered yet. The teachers aren't the only ones who need to be consulted on giving up May's PD day! Administrative assistants, bus drivers, janitors, Educational assistants and youth service workers all have contracts separate from the PEITF. They are CUPE members and May 2nd is a CUPE convention day that is owed to them based on a contractual agreement. Even if the teachers say yes, CUPE has to give the go ahead too. Interesting that they have not yet been asked to make a statement to the media. You may have teachers in school on May 2nd but how will the students get there without the bus drivers?

  • RM
    April 05, 2014 - 09:03

    Dear community members that complain about teachers, My mom chose a teaching career to support her family and do what she's good at. She has a 4-year Bachelor of Arts (English major). She also was accepted to a competitive Bachelor of Education program and completed a 2-year degree in teaching. She has worked for 21? years of experience in all grade levels of the PEI education system, focusing on elementary school grades. She works from September to June every year. Her official work time is 8:00am to 3:00pm with no real guaranteed break times on any given day. Her time off is scheduled by the board of education. This time includes: summer (8 weeks), Christmas break (2 weeks), March break (1 week), and statutory holidays (about a week's worth/year that most public employees have off or get compensated for working a stat). Total days off per year equals roughly 63 days per year off. About 440 hours of 'vacation'. It is true that many people who have work a long time only get 6 weeks off per year (roughly 30 days). When I go on vacation I leave my pager with someone on my team and pick it up when I get back. My mother's 63 "days off" includes: writing report cards twice a year, preparing for and attending parent interviews twice per year, making computerized & laminated educational cut-outs and materials to set-up her classroom, developing and marking tests, emailing and telephoning parents and colleagues, preparing a daily plan, running evening school events, and dealing with anything that surrounds a student having specific medical needs (school behaviour reports, recommendations for specialized programs, etc...). I have no idea how to do statistics on that time, but let's say 30 days (or 210 hours) worth of 'work time'. That means that my mom gets about 6 weeks and 3 days of vacation time per year. Let's say that managing 22 students every day is 3 worth days of 'extra' vacation for mental health reasons... My mom has approximately 6 weeks of vacation per year and is 4 years from retirement... Seems about right for any long-standing Canadian government worker. At my workplace we get 3 paid days for education and weekly 1-hour sessions (sometimes more) to keep me current with research, guidelines and new programs. "PD" stand for professional development days, which teachers are obligated to attend and have little say in the topics they are learning about. The topics include English, math, science, writing, arts, health, and classroom management strategies. If any of my staff members need time off for "union business" they give me a request sheet and I would have to have a really good reason to say no (full days or ransoms meetings). Teachers get one day per year for all union members to get together and conduct union business... And likely do no other union things during school hours at any other time of the year. My job includes 4 "special leave days" per year. Let's say I got snowed in... I would use a day and stay home, or a pipe burst in my house, child illness, etc. If my work schedule changes with less than 2 weeks notice I get compensated for that change. If it's less than 3 months notice I get compensated for that change as well. I get 10-15 days of sick time per year which can be accumulated over years. If I wake up sick I call my department phone and say I won't be in, take Advil, drink water and go back to bed. If a teacher is sick they often call in and email their plan (if it wasn't left the afternoon before). Teacher's salary? What? - that's all I'm going to say about that. For every 30 minutes of overtime I work I could technically bill for overtime hours. If at any time (big or small) management or government doesn't follow our collective agreement, we could call our union rep or even president if we wanted to and it would be dealt with at the appropriate level immediately. My mom told me to be a teacher because I would 'get' the summers off. Knowing what I know about teaching I have never once in my life wanted to be a teacher. I am not teacher material! Thank god that there are people in this world that like that job because it's the most important paid job. Without teachers, I would not have reached my current position as a physiotherapist or a clinical leader for a busy urban hospital (right where I want to be). Without teachers I would know very little about life. Bless teachers! Love you mom! My favourite teacher! P.S. My mother doesn't know I wrote this and did not prompt me to do so! I am just speaking my mind from what I know.

    • Monte
      April 05, 2014 - 16:48

      Dear RM, It is admirable that you wrote a letter supporting your mother and her profession. Teachers play a very important role in our society. However, by pointing out the facts concerning the lack of time teachers and students spend together in the classroom together underlines the problem with the system. Many of us work hard to get by. I am a business owner and I work 7 days most weeks, during stat holidays, far longer hours than 8 til 3 and still find time for community service. I have more education (and not in Arts) than most teachers and make the same money or less the those in the teaching profession. I find it frustrating when I can't find an employee under the age of 30 that can actually compose a sentence properly or do basic math without a calculator. The system is broken and needs some radical change. The 63 days off, that others are often working, you mention does not cover storm days or PD days. It also does not include field trips, sporting events, sick days (by students and teachers). It does not include examination study nor exam writing periods. These all add to the lack of instructional time between students and teachers. It is no wonder our graduates are not prepared to meet the world when they graduate. Ask any first year instructor at a college or university and they will confirm the depth and breadth of the problem. The lack of learning and poor results from our education system is the most pressing social issue we have in Prince Edward Island. Teachers need to become part of the solution. We all (politicians, unions, media and others) should stop debating the merits of one PD day in April or a union meeting during the work day in May. The problem is far deeper than this trivial distraction. However, the fact of the matter is that many teachers are quite comfortable with the status quo. The profession pays well, is respected and has lots of perks. Political history has taught the smart politicians not to rile the public service ... especially teachers. They are influential in the community and as you point out - have the spare time to organize and defeat a government. Reference: Binns government election in 1996. His cabinet was full of school teachers whom resented the 7.5% rollback of Joe Ghiz government. Lesson learned = Don't mess with teachers. With change, Prince Edward Island could move from the poorest of educational results to the best in Canada. I don't believe this is a monumental task. Anyone who defends the status quo for the PEI educational system is out of touch with reality and certainly should not be bearing influence of the next generation. I suggest we: 1. Lengthen the school day and add more instructional time. 2. Lengthen the school year. 3. Toss out seniority in the teaching ranks and hire, promote, reward teachers based upon results and not on the basis of the number of degrees and length of service. There are many bright young eager new teachers that can't find work while the system is being held back by those who resist change and improvement. 4. Implement massive policy change throughout the system. For example, when there is a snow day, have an on-line environment where students and teachers are still interacting, working and learning. In many places storm days are made up by students and teachers. These are not radical changes. In fact, the principles of performance measurement and reward are well established in nearly everything else we do in work and in life. The educational system deserves the same chance to advance and succeed. PS: No one prompted me to do this either. I just found myself reading the resume of a recent university graduate today and had to comment on your letter.

  • Queen Street Parent
    April 04, 2014 - 16:26

    I have complete trust that Island teachers are going to make the right decisions in the classroom to allow our students to succeed - regardless if they have cumulatively missed 12 or 10 days. Forcing more classroom time at the end of June is NOT the answer. Has the minister been in a classroom during the last two weeks of June? Students are not going to learn anything extra in that one day and he is fooling himself if he thinks parents believe they will.

  • frustrated
    April 04, 2014 - 11:58

    If the media were to do their job and offer an unbiased report of the story....they would quickly find out by interviewing the superintendent that Friday's decision was teacher driven and considered at the request via e-mail's of hundreds of Island teachers. The Minister only had to approve the request......It happened quickly because teachers were on board and pushed for it. It was not the Minister's idea! The way this has been handled by the media and govenment has left a sour taste in mouths of many educational professionals who advocated for Friday's change!

  • Plans Spoiled
    April 04, 2014 - 10:25

    Seems as though our Minister of Education is more of a ruler than a leader. How is it beneficial to cancel this PD day last minute? I may be off on this one, but I'm sure attendance is low today due to the fact that most people have had plans for this day off. I'm sure this wasn't the last PD day this year, he could have cancelled a later one? With that said, I don't recall in past years when we only had 3-4 snow days, that the school year was shortened due to the lack of missed time? I consider my self and my children fortunate that although the people calling the shots lack logic, the teachers in the classrooms are doing a great job with the children. Well, with the children whom parents choose to pay an active roll in their educations anyways! It's easy to sit back and protest against our teachers, but it's unfortunate when people point fingers, it's not in the mirror!