Thursday, October 8, 2015

On the Indifference of our School System to Parents and Teachers

To date on this blog I have avoided discussing the school system. As many of my readers know I am the husband of a school teacher and have avoided writing on topics that would potentially affect my wife’s workplace but I am going to make an exception to my informal rule. The reason for this is that our local school district continues to show indifference to the needs of parents and teachers in our district and I am simply tired of staying silent on the topic. You see, I am also the parent of three kids: two are school-aged and one starts kindergarten next year and I am amazed at how many decisions our school district has made in the last few years that have negatively affected our household and those of our friends and family.

We have all been taught that it is important to make a good first impression, but our school system immediately starts off badly with parents. Next year our family will be re-introduced to the concept of “gradual entry” into kindergarten. For those of you unaware of the program, it is a two week regime designed to gently ease children, who have been attending daycares since age 1, to the "rigours" of full-day kindergarten. My nephew went through the gradual entry program this year and it was ridiculous. Elementary schools start the Tuesday after Labour Day and as his first step in the gradual entry process my nephew had no school on that Tuesday. On the Wednesday he attended school for 30 minutes. As for Thursday and Friday, he didn’t have any school on those days either. So for the first week of gradual entry kindergarten he attended 30 minutes of school.

Now if you happen to have a stay-at-home parent in the household this glacial process would not be a problem, but for two-income families it ranges from a major inconvenience to a real financial hardship. As most families know, daycare is hard to get, expensive and most daycare slots go from September 1 to August 31 to fit in the school calendar. If you have a child in school, you certainly aren’t going to pay a full month worth of daycare to hold a slot for one week in September. This means that during the two week gradual entry program families either need to find alternative child-care or take time off work. Since most kids in working families have been attending daycare since age 1, gradual entry represents a struggle to figure out, or pay for, child care arrangements for kids who are completely ready for school, but no longer have a daycare slot. For families like my own, with only one parent available to do home care during the week (I will discuss that issue later), it means I will be using two weeks of my annual holidays to accommodate this questionable requirement.

The frustrating secret about the gradual entry process is that the first week is mostly devoted to the school system doing administrative tasks that they could have accomplished during the summer. As I described above, our nephew only got 30 minutes of face time that entire first week. He wasn’t getting acclimatized to school he was being shunted aside while the administration did the work they should have completed before September. Administrators are paid very generous salaries and perhaps requiring them to work a bit during the summer would allow thousands of British Columbian families to save a week’s salary/holidays. I can understand the need to for gradual entry but it is time the school system gave kids some credit for resilience and cut the “gradual entry” back to one week.

Now we have addressed gradual entry, let’s talk about professional development days. As we all know teachers get professional development days in the school calendar. In the 2013-2014 calendar there were six of these days. Each required a parent to stay at home or find alternate care for their children costing either money or vacation days. Well apparently the school district decided that ruining six days of work was not challenging enough for parents so since the 2014-2015 school year the school calendar was changed so that the district professional development was done by the half-day. So now instead of six full days they have gone to two full-day provincial professional development days, four half-day district professional days and six “collaboration” days.

So you may be wondering what a “collaboration day” represents? These aren’t really days, but rather they represent 80 minute blocks where school starts either earlier or later than normal in order allow teachers to work on schemes to “collaborate” both internally (within the school) and externally (with teachers at other schools). Six times a year our kids will be sent home 80 minutes early to allow for this process. On the bright side, during the first year of collaboration days they started school 80 minutes later. This precluded parents getting to work in the morning and cost a lot a parents work shifts. At least by moving the collaboration to the afternoon it allows families with after-school care to simply pay extra for the extra care.

As for the straw that broke the camel’s back, Thursday the school district announced that all parent-teacher interviews in the district will be coordinated to be held at the exact same two days at the exact same times. There will be one day when the teachers stay until 4:30 pm and another when the teachers stay at school until 7:30 pm. Even the dinner break for the teachers will be at the same time. This sounds like a good idea from an administrative perspective but completely ignore the fact that a large percentage of the teachers in our district are also parents; parents who are interested in the academic well-being of their kids. In previous years, elementary schools teachers could stagger their days to allow teachers, who were also parents, to attend to both tasks. This year, in a fit of administrative orderliness, the district will not even allow teachers who have an empty block in their schedule to leave their schools to discuss their kid’s performance.

That last point brings me to the level of “respect” our school district holds for its employees. The school district demands an incredible amount of flexibility from the parents in the district (as demonstrated above) but allows for exactly zero flexibility for its employees. They don’t trust their teachers to leave the school during breaks in the parent-teacher interview schedules; they won’t allow teachers any flexibility during the “gradual entry” period to allow the parent/teachers to help ease their kids into the school system; and they won’t allow any flexibility to cover the half-day breaks.

Going over all the numbers in the text above, I have come to a frightening realization. I am one of the lucky people out there who gets three weeks of holidays a year. Looking at the numbers above I can see that I will be using all that time filling in the gaps in our child-care arrangements. The two weeks of gradual entry (actually only 9 work days with Labour Day) combined with the 6 professional development days actually works out to my entire allotment of holidays for the year. It looks like we won’t be taking a family summer holiday unless I am able to bank a lot of overtime or take unpaid time off. Happily I have a job where I can bank overtime but there are going to be a bunch of Kindergarten parents who will not be spending any special summer time with their kids because our school system doesn’t consider their interests when it makes decisions. The sad part is they don’t even do this out of malice, instead it is mere indifference. The school district has shown time and again that they are indifferent to the needs, wants and desires of the working families and teachers in the school district. Administrative tidiness is all they care about. Given the choice between inconveniencing thousands of parents and workplaces and having nice orderly lines on their charts, they choose the orderly lines every time and are utterly indifferent to the time and resources their decisions cost the rest of us.    


  1. Hi Blair. I am a reporter at The Vancouver Sun (and frustrated mother of son in gradual entry) I would like to write a story about the two-week gradual entry and difficulties two working parents face. If this is is something you would like to talk about please email me at Thanks.

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