On Wednesday, November 29, 2023, a group of 6 BCTF members travelled to Victoria to meet with various MLAs and the Premier as part of the BCTF Lobby Day. The group consisted of teachers from Abbotsford, Burnaby, and Vancouver. There was also a school counsellor from Fernie and an Integration Support Teacher from Sooke. I was there representing Teacher Librarians and other non-enrolling teachers. We were asked to share a five-minute prepared write-up about our experiences as teachers in hopes of sharing the very real experiences we face on a day-to-day basis. We were asked to make it personal. As a teacher librarian and classroom teacher I have always believed in the power of stories, so here is my story and what I shared. 

Good afternoon Respected Legislative Assembly Members, 

My name is Marilyn Carr. I am a teacher librarian in a high needs school in Surrey. 

I’m sure you’ve heard about the many issues schools are facing including:  overcrowding, failure to fills, not enough academic and mental health supports for students, not enough teachers to fill classroom positions, and the immense sense of overload that most teachers feel daily.  

What I want to share with you today is the power of stories. As a classroom teacher for 10 years and a teacher librarian for over 5 years, I know how stories can change hearts and minds. Let me start with my story… 

I grew up in Richmond in an abusive home. There were two things that got me through it – stories and music – and isn’t music just stories told with instruments and voices? I was in elementary school until fourth grade – I remember loving hearing Mrs. English read stories aloud. I remember her praising my reading and story writing ability. That went a long way to building my confidence. Then I did 3 years of home school – no teachers, just trying to figure it out on my own.  

At 13 I went into foster care. Did you know there are over 4,000 kids in care in BC and that 50% of them do not graduate before age 19? I had to start fresh – going into grade 8 not knowing anyone. Three foster homes later, I found my forever home. Through it all I continued to bury myself in books and music. Stories took me to happier places and in music I found confidence and joy. I was encouraged to study music by fantastic teachers, and it is still a big part of my life.  

Fast forward to age 30 – I decided to leave my corporate career to go back to school to pursue a career that would allow me to make a difference. I remembered the impact that caring teachers and a love of learning had in my life. Six years later I became a teacher. My first classroom position was a combined grade 1/2 class. At the beginning of the year, I made sure I told my students I loved them, I was invested in them, and they were mine for life. We read a lot, learned a lot, and grew together. 

Over the next few years, I taught different grades. Every year I gave the students the same message. I wasn’t perfect, neither were they, but we loved being together, trying new ways to learn, managing different learning styles, and trying to help regulate our emotions. It was not easy – there were times I wanted to give up because the needs were so high and there was never enough support. But like all teachers do, we fill the gaps, with our time, energy, money, love, and grit. Last year I was able to see my first grade 1/2 class graduate and they shared their favourite memories. All of them talked about all the reading we did, the stories we told and what a difference it made to their education and lives. 

In 2018, I became a teacher librarian. Instead of just one class, I was able to share my passion for stories and lifelong learning with a school of close to 500 students and teachers. Over the past 5 years, I’ve worked hard to build a library that is inclusive, safe, and welcoming for all students and staff.  

Teacher librarians are in a unique position to support teachers, students, and the entire school community. But one of our biggest challenges is when we are pulled from the important work we do for our school to cover classrooms due to a teacher’s absence. This has an impact on the foundational years of a child’s education. It means sacrificing engaging storytelling experiences, well-chosen book collections, and the literacy-focused activities we provide our students. I also hear from the students and teachers about how disappointed they are to be missing library – for many students that is the place they feel the safest and happiest. Just ask all the students that come in every day before school, at recess, lunch, and even after school. When I’m not there, that can’t happen. 

It’s not just teacher-librarians that get pulled to cover classes, it’s also learning resource teachers, integration support teachers, counsellors, music teachers, and prep teachers. All these programs and supports are lost when they must cover a classroom. Students lose out on individualized and small group support, which hinders the development of critical learning skills. Too often, it is our most vulnerable students that pay the price.  

If we want our students to feel safe, cared for, and given the opportunity to learn in a dynamic and healthy way, we need adequate supports in place. This means funding schools with full-time counsellors, having manageable class sizes, having adequate numbers of learning resource teachers to support student learning needs, more psychologists to complete the testing needed to help students get the designations they need to receive the support they need.  

If we want to attract quality educators to our province, we need to equip our teachers with the supports they need to be successful which includes in-service training for changes to curriculum and reporting.  

As I stated at the beginning, you’ve probably already heard about many of these issues. What I’m asking you to do is think of all the stories related to what students and staff around the province are facing. Maybe they are stories like mine, where having teachers that cared made such a huge difference.  

Thank you for your time and hopefully your support. 

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