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Bianca Ferrara: COVID changed everything — except the school curriculum

How can we set up students for success when the curriculum hasn’t changed to accommodate kids who missed so many weeks of instruction?

Today, it’s impossible to reach every single student in your class.
Today, it’s impossible to reach every single student in your class. Photo by FREDERICK FLORIN /AFP via Getty Images

When you work in education, as I have for more than 10 years, you see and learn a lot.

Teachers can easily spot students with weaknesses who require that extra push. Before COVID, these stark differences made it simple to pinpoint how to move forward with a student. Now that the lockdowns are over, the gap between students with learning differences and students who have fallen behind is nearly impossible to navigate.

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It’s frustrating to feel like you’re failing your students and working through each day following a curriculum that must be completed before reaching a certain level.

Did you know that it’s frowned upon if 80 per cent of a textbook is not completed in class? This means that if students struggle with a concept, they must still push through to attain that 80 per cent, even if they haven’t mastered any of the concepts. Years ago, it would have been achievable. Today, it’s impossible to reach every single student in your class.

Students who come to me in Grade 5 have not mastered uppercase and lowercase letters. They have difficulty reading and struggle to string a complete sentence together. Other students need more “number sense” and are working on mastering basic math. As teachers, we are expected to follow a curriculum to prepare our students for Education Ministry exams and, ideally, for success in future grades, but how can we do this when the curriculum hasn’t changed to accommodate kids who missed so many weeks of instruction?

I can’t stress enough how unfortunate it is that we are still feeling the effects of COVID. What’s worse, the curriculum hasn’t been adapted to meet the needs of these children who missed nearly two years of school because of the pandemic.

Confidence is a huge factor in education. We don’t hold children back a grade because we fear their self-worth will be damaged, instead of giving them a chance to catch up and feel successful. This is a taboo that no professional wants to discuss. However, we are facing a challenge where students moving up are not mastering any skills because they are working so hard to learn the basics.

COVID has caused immense damage to our society economically, physically and psychologically.

Society should be coming together to find solutions. I know these issues were present before, but cracks were exposed when the world practically shut down.

It’s easy to blame someone or something simply because we feel the effects of our shortcomings now, but at the end of the day, we’re all to blame. Instead of working together, the pandemic pulled us farther apart. Individuals went into fight or flight mode; the more power we had, the more we tried to control situations entirely out of our control.

We should have adapted to the kids’ needs instead of thinking only of the curriculum. We should have come together and determined what our students, at this point, really need. Instead of giving them pages and pages of situational problems or reading responses, we could have slowed down and taken the time to make sure they could read effectively, write neatly, and understand how to compute mathematical equations fully.

Instead, our class sizes are getting bigger, new teachers lack job stability, we lack resources in the schools and we need to beg for materials that help us teach. Why? Because the public English system in Quebec is undervalued and being created by individuals with power who have never taught a day in their lives.

I believe we should raise awareness about the importance of working as a community. Teachers need to be heard. Students deserve the best quality of education to succeed. We must be respected as professionals and our word should have weight when it comes to curriculum planning and school needs.

If anyone knows what the educational system needs, it’s the teachers.

Bianca Ferrara is a Quebec schoolteacher. You can send her questions, anecdotes and feedback:

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