Schools Must Allow Teachers to Regain Control of Their Classrooms

Schools Must Allow Teachers to Regain Control of Their Classrooms
With efforts in education policy to downplay the expertise and leadership of teachers, it should come as little surprise that teachers are struggling to maintain their authority. (Philippe Lopez/AFP via Getty Images)
Michael Zwaagstra
10/18/2023
Updated:
10/18/2023
0:00
Commentary

One of the most common sayings in education faculties is that a teacher should strive to be a “guide on the side” rather than a “sage on the stage.” Virtually every teacher has heard this many times during their training.

Pushing teachers to become guides on the side is a pithy way to promote a child-centred educational philosophy. The central idea is that children should, to the greatest extent possible, take charge of their own learning. This includes minimizing any distinction between the roles of student and teacher.

In its most extreme form, educational progressives encourage teachers to become “learning facilitators.” Since teachers are no longer expected to be subject-matter experts, progressives want the curriculum to focus on so-called transferable skills such as communication and creativity that do not rely on content knowledge.

This shift in pedagogy is happening across Canada. For example, in British Columbia, the Ministry of Education has introduced a curriculum that downplays the importance of facts and focuses instead on generic skills. To make matters worse, report cards in B.C. have been redesigned so K-9 students no longer receive letter grades or percentages. Rather, teachers must use meaningless verbiage such as “emerging,” “extending” and “developing” to describe student achievement.

With these efforts to downplay the expertise and leadership of teachers, it should come as little surprise that teachers are struggling to maintain their authority.

A survey released earlier this year by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) found that 77 percent of ETFO members have experienced or personally witnessed violence against staff members. A similar survey by the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Federation found that a whopping 92 percent of respondents witnessed violence while at work. And according to a Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation survey, 35 percent of respondents personally experienced violence at school—a six percent increase from the previous year.
Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen multiple recent media reports of rampant violence at public schools including the out-of-control chaos at Pine Crest Elementary School, a K-8 school in Ottawa, where fights are common, children are bringing knives to school, and racial epithets are directed at students and staff.

Sadly, instead of dealing firmly with troublemakers, Pine Crest’s principal instructed teachers to move away from rewards and punishments. In newsletters to staff, the principal explained that teachers should refrain from trying to assert their power and authority in the classroom. This is the type of nonsense promoted by administrators who take the child-centred educational philosophy to its logical extreme. No wonder teachers feel unsafe.

But while teachers’ unions draw attention to the problem, they do little to promote real solutions. It’s not enough to call on governments to spend more money on public education, nor is it sufficient to conduct annual surveys about violence against teachers. Union leaders should demand teachers be given real authority, and for school rules to be consistently enforced.

Teacher unions should also support the right of teachers to have a safe working environment, which would require suspending and even expelling students who repeatedly refuse to respect the rights of others.

Instead, teachers’ unions appear more interested in pushing woke ideology and social justice activism. For example, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation recently sent a letter to political party leaders demanding they condemn the parental rights marches and rallies that took place last month. Union leaders in other provinces did the same thing. This is a prime example of teacher unions focusing on issues that fall well outside their purview.

Too many teachers suffer in silence while school boards and provincial education officials force them to adopt the latest nonsensical education fad. Imagine the positive change that could happen if teacher unions used their influence to stand up for the expertise and leadership of teachers.

No teacher deserves to be reduced to a mere guide on the side. It’s time for teacher unions to stand up for the right of teachers to take charge of their classrooms.

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute. He is the author of “A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.”