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Vulnerable students need consistent supports across all school districts


iStock.com/SDI Productions

By an anonymous teacher


“I am trying so hard to do well! Why won’t you help me?!”  – Anonymous student

 

This heartbreaking statement came from a struggling student I was working with. Looking after our most vulnerable students has informed the fundamental tenet of my teaching. In fact, it is the reason I went into teaching in the first place: to help those students who struggle in the education system; those who are up against a structure that places them in an untenable situation and then blames them for not being able to keep up.

 

Having worked in many different districts, I have seen the variety of structures and policies in place across the province. Naturally, districts create their policies based on what is best for them and on their history. Some districts have a history of placing as much direct face-to-face teacher support with the child as possible. These districts tend to form in-school teams of specialist teachers whose primary job is to focus on our vulnerable students. An added advantage of these teams is that they provide direct support for classroom teachers, who are not left on their own to care for struggling students with all of the other demands of a modern classroom. This structure scaffolds a team not only around the student but also around the classroom teacher, who knows they have colleagues backing them up. School structures like these lessen teacher burnout, reduce disruptive behaviour, and allow the teacher to do their job effectively. Creating a culture of support, these teams of specialist teachers typically help to create flat, non-hierarchical structures that are optimum in human-based systems such as education. Simply put, these districts seem to place the child and systems of support for the child at the centre of the district’s culture and policies.

 

Struggling students are not additions to the system for which we need to find funding—they are part of the system.

Other district structures place more emphasis on the administrative aspect of vulnerable student care, with the unfortunate effect being that less support is available to vulnerable learners. Often, this is not the outcome teachers or administrators want, but it is the system they must learn to work within.

 

Depending on what school district a child happens to be in, they can have vastly different educational experiences and outcomes due to the varying approaches to care and support for struggling students. I am sure this is not what government or school districts intend.


This left me asking why. Why is it that there seems to be such a variety of care for our struggling students within the province of British Columbia? I do recognize that school districts have multiple pressures on them, staffing and funding being major ones, which have a direct impact on education. Finding staffing is hard for all districts, and we well know that funding for education is always at a premium. But as a profession, we need to find a more consistent support system that works across all school districts in BC and is founded in research-based, best practice for supporting all students’ academic growth and well-being. It would guarantee a standard of care for students regardless of where they live in the province.

 

Having seen the beneficial effects of providing face-to-face instruction to vulnerable students, I would advocate for a system based on tried and true, research-based practices; practices that include tiers of support that build on whole-class instruction to provide small-group intervention, as well as intensive instruction to create a prevention-based mindset within a school and school district. This structure has a beneficial effect not only on struggling students but on all students. It develops a school- and district-wide culture of prevention and intervention. Such a structure would place a “protective bubble” around our most vulnerable students, insulating them from outside forces that could encourage a district to start to pull resources away from them.

 

Struggling students are not additions to the system for which we need to find funding—they are part of the system. It is our duty to provide quality education to every child in the province regardless of where they live. A consistent, province-wide system of support made up of in-school teams that are focused on prevention and giving direct, face-to-face instruction to our most vulnerable students is one way of doing this.

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