How long are we, as a society, going to tolerate a provincial government that continuously disrespects and disregards teachers and school administrators? Throughout this pandemic, school staff have been on the front line, going above and beyond to keep our children educated, safe and happy. Yet, over and over again, we have witnessed indifference from those calling the shots at the top, who seem disconnected from the realities in the classroom.
It has become disheartening to hear the premier and his minister of education regularly hand down contradictory decisions that offer little protection to those who spend their days in overcrowded classrooms. Students and their teachers have become pawns of a government that seems to believe that top-down management is the preferred way to run an educational system. It is unfortunate that the expertise of those who dedicate their professional lives to our children appears to be overlooked by those who think they know better.
If the last 12 months had not already demonstrated that our government has a lack of regard for educators, the past two weeks certainly seem to have.
School personnel across Quebec were left scrambling once again when news broke Tuesday that schools would be returning to the earlier system of having Secondary 3, 4 and 5 students attend on alternate days. This reversed a decision made only a couple of weeks earlier to require those students to return to school full time. Seemingly oblivious to the challenges stemming from that previous sudden shift to in-person attendance, the government had proceeded to berate schools (and English school boards) that dared to defy these orders out of concern for the safety and well-being of their students and staff. They were informed, in no uncertain terms, that this choice was not theirs to make, and essentially told that orders from above were to be followed. Several days into this new chaotic plan, the puppeteers were forced to yank the stings once again, this time sending students back to the original hybrid plan, which never should have been dismantled in the first place.
The government then proceeded to justify this mishandling of the situation, suggesting that, however brief it may have been, a return to class full time had been helpful to the mental health of students. Seriously?
No need to be a psychiatrist to know that one of the greatest challenges to the mental health of students (and staff) this past year has been lack of consistency. Yo-yoing back and forth is not the way to help children and adolescents feel more psychologically stable. And it certainly does nothing to ease the strain of teachers and administrators who have toed the line throughout this pandemic. Our top government officials should know that mental wellness is complex and multi-layered, influenced by far more than whether one is being schooled inside or outside a classroom.
If this were not enough, our elected officials added insult to injury at Tuesday’s press conference, suggesting that the only experts of this pandemic are those linked to medicine or science. Premier François Legault suggested that school boards should be listening to the “real experts.” When it comes to our children’s presence in school, shouldn’t we respect the expertise of those who spend their days working to keep our kids educated, safe and happy?
Shame on our government for undermining the experience, commitment and dedication of teachers, staff and school administrators who have acted tirelessly throughout this pandemic, picking up the pieces and cleaning up the mess made by those who think they can run the show from their perch, removed from the daily realities of the classroom.
Susan Mintzberg is a PhD candidate in social work at McGill University. Her research focuses on the role of family caregivers in mental health care.