Ferrara: Mr. Drainville, this is what a kindergarten teacher does

How is it that the Quebec education minister seems to have no idea what goes into teaching a kindergarten class?

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The first month of school has ended after a great struggle to fill vacant teaching posts.

We have plugged into schools individuals with no teaching experience who are not qualified to be in a classroom. Education Minister Bernard Drainville said he believed these inexperienced teachers should be put in kindergarten classrooms because it’s simpler and less demanding. They don’t have to worry about homework. All they must be present for is free play and nap time.

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How is it that our own education minister seems to have no idea what goes into teaching a kindergarten class?

A child’s first few years of education are foundational. Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten provide children with the skills they need to advance in the school system. This is where they learn to socialize, build the base for number and letter recognition and learn manners and routines. It is a period for early intervention, where children are recognized for being proficient or behind in certain areas of development, such as language and motor skills. These are the bare necessities of an effective kindergarten.

Besides curriculum planning and “teaching time,” teachers must also respond to emails, talk with parents, attend meetings and record observations. Kindergarten teachers help children who have separation anxiety, might not be fully toilet trained, struggle with routine or struggle with emotional regulation.

The new educational plan for pre-K and kindergarten is centered around learning through play. This does not mean allowing the kids to play while the teacher does independent work.

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For children to “learn through play,” the teacher must be present, modeling how to use various play materials, encouraging turn-taking and sharing and promoting the appropriate use of vocabulary. Through play, the children will practice letter sounds and number sense, learn how to categorize objects and organize their space. They will learn to clean up after themselves and how to get ready for the next step in their routine. They will learn how to express their feelings and ask for something in a polite way. They will learn how to navigate uncomfortable emotions and solve problems.

Throughout this process — which I can tell you does not allow for “personal time” — a teacher will constantly watch to see where a child is proficient and where they need assistance to prepare for Grade 1.

Instead of scrambling to fill posts each year, why don’t we consider why there are so many vacant posts? Where are they coming from, and what can we do to fix it?

In my view, our own government does not respect the teaching profession. Drainville appears to believe one of the most crucial school years is the easiest to teach. When was the last time he taught in a school? Does he know what teaching is like in the 21st century, where needs are ever-growing and resources are cut?

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Teachers are going on burnout leave, creating these immense shortages; they are burned out because of working conditions and lack of respect in the teaching profession. It feels as though they are treated like glorified babysitters.

It’s time to give teachers their rights back. They have an education, work hard and are passionate about the profession. They know what children need to succeed. They work unpaid overtime every day.

Many times, the needs of students surpass those of the teacher, and they forget to take the time to relax and nurture themselves. They are turned down when asking for resources, an extra body in the classroom, smaller class sizes, functioning technology and extra pay for extra work.

The problem is not the teachers, it’s the system.

We have to start giving incentives to teachers and make them feel like their roles matter. We have to improve working conditions and hold judgment until we walk a mile in their shoes.

From one teacher to all others: You are society’s foundation.

Bianca Ferrara is a teacher with the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board and lives in Laval. You can send her questions, anecdotes and feedback: [email protected].

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