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When there’s no teacher teaching

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All these years that I’ve written about issues involving substitute teachers, and nary a syllable did I ever hear about school divisions somewhat regularly using unqualified non-teachers as substitute classroom staff.

So, of course, I eagerly turned to my story in the Free Press last week to learn what I’d written when first this came to light in our paper, particularly with its connection to H1N1 and an anticipated greater need for subs this year.

There were 269 non-teachers in Manitoba who worked at least 20 days supervising a classroom in a Manitoba school division in 2008-2009, having been issued a limited teaching permit by the department of education. Untold numbers worked fewer than 20 days and did not require provincial approval.

This year, the cutoff for needing to run these unqualified people past the province is 10 days.

They can only be used after every certified teacher on a division’s substitute list has been tried and is unavailable — in rural Manitoba, substitutes are pretty much all retired teachers; very few education grads live in small towns waiting for a job opening — and they must pass a criminal background check. First call is to people with higher education and some experience with children.

It’s almost entirely a rural issue. City divisions obtain a handful of the permits for vocational specialists who have decades of trades experience and are working on their education degrees, or high-demand education grads in areas such as French immersion, who haven’t yet been certified as teachers.

What Education Minister Peter Bjornson really didn’t answer, and his department appears not to have studied, is the educational impact on students of having someone substituting who does not have the teaching credentials to teach the class.

I was thinking that I could get a gig like this, and could probably handle a high school history class or world issues class, or social studies in younger grades, for a day or two and not do too much damage, but subbing for pre-cal or physics or art, I’d be babysitting and hoping the kids could work on their own.

Why didn’t I ever hear about the existence of such permits when writing about substitutes?

Maybe you recall that when the Doer government moved the first day of school to the day after Labour Day, it was the Manitoba School Boards Association that was a lonely voice decrying the move, saying that it would cost students several vital instructional days and make it impossible for teachers to cover the entire curriculum. Yet, have trustees ever made a fuss about having unqualified adults at the head of a classroom?

And those with longer memories may recall when teachers in several city divisions — Jewish teachers at that time, though the principle has since expanded to many faith groups — fought in court for years to have paid days off when their holy days fell on school days. And Winnipeg School Division, in its infinite wisdom, had senior staff file affadavits saying that any school day with a substitute was a wasted day for students.

And WSD was talking about certified, qualified teachers as substitute teachers.

Sigh.

Meanwhile, speaking of teachers, and as someone who is a major fan of licenced, non-profit child care centres, I must clarify what I said last week about Ontario’s full-day kindergarten next fall.

The McGuinty government, it turns out, planned to have teachers for half a day and early childhood educators the other half, but under pressure from teachers now plans to have teachers for the entire school day.

When Ontario announced full-day kindergarten packaged with province-wide child care, I’d assumed the kindergarten class would have a teacher from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and early childhood educators for before-and-after in-school care.

And staying with education........

Someone I know was flogging chocolate bars at three bucks apiece to raise funds for his kid’s school in Winnipeg School Division.

I’d thought the nutrition policy covered this, and that the division’s ban on junk food in cafeterias and vending machines extended to fundraising.

Here’s what the ubiquitous unnamed division official had to say:

"All groups (e.g. patrols, band, sports teams and student and parent councils) will be encouraged to raise funds by selling non-food items or healthy food and beverage choices if they choose this option for fund-raising.
"Here is the link to the policy: http://ww.wsd1.org/board/policies_pdf/policy_IGAEA.pdf"

And another segue, done so seamlessly and flawlessly that you’ll never notice my short attention span.....

Here’s another reason why I don’t have a career ahead of me in marketing or business management.

Certain university student I know requested a subscription to a print publication renowned for decades for its coverage of world geography and sensitive environmental issues. And nifty colour photos and maps.

I went to the website and found the subscription form. But the little box for address would accept and accommodate only a street address; it refused to accept the name of the college to whose residence mail would be delivered, and the name of the university, although both are part of the mailing address.

So I phone the toll-free number, and after being on hold get a guy who’s not sure he wants to deal with me, because I don’t have a membership number. Eventually, he tells me that he can only accept a subscription by writing down by hand the same amount of information the website would handle, so I’m out of luck.

After I persist, he offers to transfer me up the ladder to an account specialist.

Back on hold.

The account specialist too wants all kinds of personal information about me, before confiding and revealing that the publication uses a maximum mailing label of four lines. She balks at taking the amount of information necessary, even after I’ve raised the possibility that this is not the first subscription in history going to a student living in residence at a North American university. Do all Americans talk really slowly when they’re trying to get through to a really dim foreigner who can’t seem to understand corporate rules and procedures but in our ignorance are trying to give money to the free enterpise system in exchange for goods and services?

Anyway, she finally agrees to try typing into the system — we get the student on one line, the college and university names on the second, the street address on the third, and the city and province and postal code on the fourth. I nearly sabotaged the whole thing by saying "zed", which, fortunately, she was able to translate into American.

Sigh.

And several firsts for me as the playoffs come to a conclusion with championship weekend ahead.

First time I’ve ever had to tell a coach he’s not allowed to smoke at the players’ bench.

And in another match, first time I’ve ever had to tell a parent to leave the park. I’d given his kid a yellow card after the kid collided with the opposition keeper and they went down in a heap, and as the keeper gathered in the ball, this kid gave the keeper a little gratuitous jab with his heel, then got up screaming at me when he saw I’d awarded a free kick the other way. That got the father bellowing at me from the sidelines, and teammates telling this kid to tell his dad to knock it off.

In retrospect, yes, the father may well have had a point that his kid didn’t deserve a yellow — he may have deserved a red.

Anyway, at halftime, this father comes over to the team’s bench, then starts yelling at me, "Open your eyes, ref!" over and over again, while angrily pointing two fingers at his eyes. I told him that he was to leave the park, that he could watch the match from the parking lot. Still livid, he gave me the finger, and finally left.

It’s the first time since switching from coaching to refereeing that I was unsure I’d be able to go to my car safely after the match. However, that team’s coaches, who were pretty unhappy with my performance otherwise, stayed around after the match to ensure that I got to my car OK.

I also carded two players on the winning team for dissent and could have carded more had they not been far more loquacious behind my back than when facing me. You hear an older teenager say behind you, "He’s the only one in the park who doesn’t know that everyone’s laughing at him," and I’m thinking, I came in early from the lake for this?

Sigh.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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