April 2005 / Volume
A Teacher Speaks Out! Who is Listening?
Freda Lewkowicz is a teacher in the public system in Quebec. Here are excerpts from her
recent submission to the Montreal Gazette op-ed page.
“The times they are a-changing and the classroom is no exception. When I was a girl,
the worst school misdemeanours were chewing gum, running in the halls, talking out of turn, and dress-code infractions. Unfortunately,
school life is no longer like that. There are real children hidden behind the phrase ‘children with special needs’.
These are the kids dependent upon the most important teacher demand – more resources.
So, here they are with no air brushing. Meet the parade of acronyms, disorders and syndromes.
There's ADD and ADHD, Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Beside them waltz ODD, Oppositional
Defiant Disorder and BD, Behavioural Disorders. It's not easy for these children, with or without proper diagnosis, with or
without medication, to meet success in the classroom. It's a struggle to learn, especially without resources or special help.
Meet the dyslexic students who cannot process information and who have difficulty learning
to read, write and spell. These kids deserve a support group to help them come out of the darkness of letter reversals and
letter and word confusion.
Next are the children so damaged and sad that school is their only safe cocoon and the
only place they are happy and carefree. Their young shoulders carry the burdens of broken families, sick parents, poverty,
neglect, abuse, death, mental illness and the other scourges of living in the 21st century.
Meet the substance abusers. After lunch they are sprawled across their desks giggling,
lethargic and dreamy. Even in Grade 7, they are ingesting more than their tuna sandwich and cookies at lunch.
Last, meet the conduct disorder students. Classroom and school rules were made to be broken
and they have difficulty controlling and self-monitoring their behaviour. Close supervision is needed for these children.
Behaviour technicians for them would be helpful. Triggers to their bad behaviour are everywhere and help is needed to create
a safe environment conducive to learning.
Downsizing and budget cuts have mowed a five-mile swath in schools. Some schools have gone
from four full-time guidance counsellors to one. Missing in action also are the school psychologist, the social worker and
the nurse who now might arrive one day a week.
I hope this introduction to some of our students will help explain the need for more resources
in the classroom for special-needs students. In 2005, teachers are not lamenting the decline of penmanship or the lack of
good manners. I hope that meeting the children will persuade other voices to join the teacher refrain of ‘public education
is our future’.”
The sad reality is that the problems Ms. Lewkowicz has so eloquently described are well
known to the employer side. Where are the solutions to this deteriorating situation? Will removing most special needs codes,
eliminating “ad hoc” committees, removing “weighting” factors and providing no additional resources
We intend to send a message to M. Charest on May 6th in front of the National
Assembly! Let’s have a huge turnout! Public education needs serious investment, NOW!