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.