The Reality of Class Size and Composition in BC

Imagine you are a server in a restaurant – you are a very good server and the restaurant manager believes in your abilities and trusts that you will do a good job of serving the people who visit and want to eat at the restaurant where you work.

Now imagine 30 kids come into the restaurant and your manager, who knows that you are a great server and trusts that you will be able to meet the needs of the 30 kids he has bought to your section tells you to serve them lunch. You’ve got 45 minutes to get this job done. Of course the 30 kids sitting in your section do have a variety of needs.

In the group that your manager has seated in your section there are four kids diagnosed with autism. Of course autism is “on a spectrum” so some kids are “high functioning” meaning they can basically handle things themselves as long as things are going along and there’s no disruptions or things throwing them off their routine.

However, one of the children with autism needs continuous one-to-one guidance in order to do the most basic, elementary tasks that a grade six level student should be able to do. She cannot order for herself off the menu.

Another of the children with autism, a boy who works very hard at building up his muscles so that he is bigger and stronger than anyone else in his group, has extremely violent tendencies. He is well-known for throwing pencils, pens, books, chairs, desks, or whatever is within his reach when he’s triggered by whatever it is that triggers him. You want to be sure to get his food order right.

Another of the kids lacks “self-regulation”. This means that the hormones that are raging through a grade 7 age boy are essentially running out of control. He does not understand that he is not to sexually touch himself or others (of course that includes you) in the restaurant and you need to constantly remind him to keep his hands to himself (so to speak).

Four of the kids do not have any medical diagnosis but you notice right away that they are unable to sit still and do not listen to you even long enough for you to describe the lunch specials. They are up and running, looking for the washroom.

And then there are the students with allergies. One student has an extreme allergy to peanuts. Absolutely no peanuts or anything related to peanuts can be in the section he is sitting. You need to be sure to communicate that to the 29 other kids in your section. Including the four who have disappeared from your section.

And then there is the student with the shellfish allergy; same routine as the peanut allergy. Exposure to shellfish could lead to a life or death situation. Make sure nobody in that section orders anything with shellfish. And be sure the epi pen is available. You do remember the day that your manager showed you how it works?

Of course the diabetic kid needs to be reminded that he needs to check his blood sugar, although he may or may not have brought his kit with him in order to do this. You are still responsible to make sure that he is safe.

You also need to serve the student who lacks the ability to communicate verbally. If he could afford an iPad or an iPhone there are apps that could help him communicate much more effectively. However, because the student cannot afford an iPad or an iPhone he has a device the size of a small television from the 1980s. It is cumbersome to say the least. If he could’ve had the services of a speech pathologist when he was younger his ability to communicate verbally would be significantly improved. However, he didn’t so this is what you have to work with.

The good news is you do have a helper. The helper however, needs to be alongside “his student” at all times. The student that your helper is working with does not have the ability to “toilet himself”. This means that if he needs to use the washroom, say to do a “number two” and the helper has taken a 5 minute breather, well you’ve got a stinky mess in your section. Be sure that none of the other 29 kids sitting nearby make any rude comments about the stench filling the area so that you do not harm anyone’s self-esteem.

So after you have somehow managed to serve lunch to these 30 students it’s time for them to leave. One little boy is too distraught to leave and he really needs somebody to talk to because he witnessed an extremely violent incident in his home the previous night and he’s just sitting at the table weeping uncontrollably. However you’ve got another batch of 30 students coming in who you need to serve lunch to so you cannot sit with him for long.

Although that little boy does eventually leave you’ve got another one who says, “No, I don’t want to leave, screw you, I’m staying”. You’ve got 29 other kids moving out of the building and one still sitting at his table waiting for nobody knows what and another 30 kids coming in with their own unique needs.

Does this situation sound reasonable? Does any of what I have described above sound fair or just or within the bounds of reality? Would you really expect a server in a restaurant to be able to deal with the scenario I described above? I doubt it.

However, this is the reality that countless teachers in BC are dealing with.

This morning I visited the picket line outside an elementary school and asked a group of teachers why they care so much about class size and composition in BC.

They described the scenario I have written about here. They told me that there are countless classrooms in BC with learning environments like I have written about here.

You would not expect a restaurant server to be able to serve these kids lunch. Why does anyone expect a teacher to be able to meet the learning needs of each of the 30 kids in their classroom when the composition of who is in the room is so outrageous?

This is not fiction. This is what teachers around the province are dealing with on a daily basis.


  1. Mr. Robinsmith, I do believe that you overlooked the table with the refugee student who is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, the three English Language Learners, and two International students (both of whom have been “recruited” to help get the District out of the red). Unfortunately, none of the students at this table can speak English or read the menu. If you don’t get to their table and try to decipher what it is that they want, they likely won’t eat today. And be mindful that the refugee student might not have the money to pay, but, being the good waiter that you are, you will choose to take the cost of that lunch out of your tip rather than have him go hungry. Now, if their Resource Teacher (with a caseload of over 100 students) wasn’t up to his or her eyeballs working on the Ministry paperwork necessary to “prove” that these students required additional support, he or she might actually be able to help you out.

  2. Remember the child under the table that has no money to pay for the meal and is being kicked by the other kids when you turn your back.

  3. You describe it perfectly. Now imagine the “kids” are in their brand new fully groan adult bodies, with 17-19 year old brains, with the same physical, intellectual and social needs, and the server has to serve up English literature.

  4. Then the little quiet girl who quickly cuts herself , hides the wound in shame, causes no trouble in her corner, silently weeping , leaves alone, no one sees

  5. Does the server ever get to the patrons of the restaurant that are ready to learn what the lspecials are? Or, do they have to figure it out for themselves?

  6. You do like everyone else… Make do and set your priorities. You have teachers aides use them accordingly! You are no different than any other organization in this capitalistic society. Maybe you should not have gotten rid of special education classes!

    • They have “teachers aides”??? Really? They may have one in the room, but just like the teacher, the EDUCATION ASSISTANTS cannot get to everyone who needs additional help. She has to focus on the funded student in the room so the school and district can prove they are offering services to that student in order to keep the special education funding….

    • “Anonymous says” still does not understand and and would like to remain “anonymous”. That’s okay. Some people need more time., information presented in different ways, visual aids, repetition, information “chunked”, an opportunity for a re-write. There’s an IEP for that.

      • The response to “anonymous” was not intended to be anonymous. I believe that everyone is entitled to an education – even the ones who struggle.

    • I’m sorry, I’m not dealing with widgets, but with young children – human beings. I cannot just say, sorry my priority today doesn’t include you, so you’re just going to have to wait. Their anxieties, behaviours, phobias, learning difficulties, language difficulties still exist. We have to try and help everyone.

      Just a question for you. How many “special adults” do you have working in your capitalistic organization? I am truly sad to say that in our school district – I don’t think we employ any. I know that we do have employers in our small community who do hire special needs adults and I admire them for doing so. However, there are too few of these responsible corporate citizens. I wonder how many special needs adults the premier and the minster of education have working in their offices.

      And as far as “Having gotten rid of special education classes” well lets not even go there…. That’s a whole other debate.

  7. One more addition! That was a 45 lunch, a high school “waiter” would have a whole new group of patrons just like that coming in for the next block. And another… And another.
    Anyone who thinks like “Anonymous” that everyone has problems at their job and teachers just need to “suck it up”, I will trade any of you any day of the week. Your most difficult, timelined, challenging month for my easiest month, no caveats…nothing. I walk in to your job with my knowledge, you walk in to mine with your own. I take your pay, you take mine. I’ll even sweeten the pot and let you teach your area of strength… Any takers?

  8. This article and the comments that followed made me cry because it’s so true. My son has been falling through the cracks for a decade. There wasn’t help for him back when I first started advocating for it, and I’ve since watched funding get cut back further and further until I no longer see Educational assistants in the classroom, and as someone pointed out already, on those rare occasions when they are there, they are mandated to help only that one child that they have been assigned to. I have never seen two EAs in the same classroom. That means all those other students who also need assistance are not getting it. They just aren’t deemed important enough.

    Self esteem issues develop, behavioural issues present themselves as kids feel like they are falling too far behind in their understanding and give up trying. I couldn’t even get the school to give my son a simple psycho-educational assessment ordered by his pediatrician because there was a lineup of students needing the same assessment and he was deemed higher functioning so they refused the request so the others could get theirs. Now my son is older, still not getting the help he needs, and is getting suspensions.

    Nobody can tell me these kids don’t need help. Nobody can tell me that just because they aren’t as visibly disabled that they don’t require intervention and that they’ll be just fine on their own. Nobody can tell me the teachers can provide all they need to each child in the room. Nobody can tell me they get enough help. I once observed my son all day in his classes, and I watched as he couldn’t get past the title of his story on the computer and the teacher only checked on him once. He didn’t get anywhere near done and there were natural consequences to that as he struggled to catch up to the rest of the class. It wasn’t the teacher’s fault… she was busy helping all the students who knew to ask for help (and there were many) and never had the opportunity to notice the child who is special needs enough to not understand that he needs help too. Wake up people! Our entire society is crumbling, and it starts with our children. We need to support them, and that means supporting our teachers and child professionals!

  9. And just to add a little fun, imagine that none of the kids has never seen a menu before so before they can order, you have to start drom first principles about nutrition and food selection and prices..

  10. You forgot to add…That you only had 25 plates and forks. But no worries you brought 5 from home, not to mention the bandages for the little girl who is cutting herself.

  11. And don’t forget as well that instead of taking your “break”, because it is in your nature to care and help everyone, you will help make sure that all those students choose the best menu items for themselves and more; no customer will be neglected. And even though your shift starts at 9 am, you will show up at 8 am to edit and print out a better menu, prepare some of the food items in the kitchen and ensure the restaurant is set up ready to go. And you will stay an hour (or more) after the customers have left to put away items, clean up and re-edit the menu. And your boss, believing that everything is fine and running smoothly, next time adds two more customers to your section. Suck it up; you can do it.

  12. Would this scenario be truly representative of an average classroom, or the highlighting of an outling case? I’m going to assume it’s the latter, given the population distribution…

    • Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that it is not representative of the “average” class. Let’s say, instead, that this is simply representative of hundreds of classrooms in the Province. No, let’s say it’s representative of just 100 classes. No, wait … let’s call it 50 classes! Does that make it okay? If it was simply a matter of an outlying case, then Christy Clark and the Liberal Government wouldn’t be so afraid of addressing class size and composition. Despite what spews out of their mouths when their lips are moving, they KNOW the reality, and so do BC teachers.

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