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Have you hugged a teacher today?

Will, leading a concert.

So, I’m sitting at home listening to CBC over a cup of coffee. I’ve finished my first show of the day and am getting ready for my second show later this afternoon. The topic being discussed is the state of our public school system in Vancouver and the rest of BC as the reality of significant budget shortfalls is setting in.

I am deeply saddened and worried about our schools. As an educator, entertainer and soon-to-be father I am concerned on a number of levels.

As an educator who has been working for the Vancouver School Board I have seen first hand the challenges of running a school with less funding than is needed. For the last four years, I was teaching in a school that had the benefit of a very active and supportive parent community. The Parent Advisory Council even allotted some money to each classroom teacher. Despite this very supportive parent community I’d like to present a very mundane example of our school’s lack of funds. With a couple of months left in the year the school always ran out of paper and we all just had to make do. Crazy.

Teachers have far more responsibilities now then even before. The Ministry of Education has identified a number of issues that are very important for the development of our children. There is new curriculum for personal planning, new initiatives for healthy and active living, there are new expectations around the use of technology in classrooms. I think it is fantastic that the ministry acknowledges these needs in theory—now they have to acknowledge them in practice.

When I was a kid, teachers did so much. Now teachers still try to do the same things but are also expected to have the expertise to often teach a second language, technology, physical education, music, personal planning, etc. Then there are the extra curricular activities like sports, clubs and musical groups… In the past these activities presented an opportunity for teachers to connect and bond with their students in a way that was not always possible in the classroom. With extra curricular activities teachers and students have the chance to participate in something that they all really enjoy. When I was teaching, the choir I led was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding activities of my week. Sadly, with the amount of responsibilities on teachers’ plates, the extra curricular activities are usually the first thing that gets dropped, if for nothing else, than to avoid burnout.

As a musician, I am concerned for the school system because music and the arts is always one of the first things to go. What will happen to the arts and culture in our society if our children are not brought up having the enriching experience of participating in and learning about music, art, theater…?

As a soon-to-be parent I am concerned for my children. Will my daughter have teachers that are over-stressed because of the number of kids in their classrooms? Or because of the number of kids with special needs but without support staff? What if my daughter has a learning disability? Will there be support for her? Will their be any young and enthusiastic teachers going into a profession that seems to offer fewer and fewer rewards? Will my daughter be able to participate in a school choir?

I love the public school system. I love that it stands for equal educational opportunities for all children. I love that it brings together children of all races and classes. To me, these values are fundamentally Canadian. Our government needs to know that education has to be a priority even in these difficult financial times.

If I was not on leave from teaching right now, there would be a good chance I’d be layed off at the end of this year. In fact, there is a good chance I’ll be layed off anyway. This would have been my fifth year teaching in Vancouver. I have many friends and colleagues who are facing uncertain times. I count my lucky stars I have another way to make a living right now as I prepare to support my wife and my daughter the best I can in the coming months.

Have you hugged a teacher today? Let teachers know you value them. They are doing the very best they can for your kids.

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