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Gerry Chidiac on public educationPRINCE GEORGE, B.C. /Troy Media/ – The 21st century is a fascinating time to be a teacher. It’s also a time of great challenge as we work to help every student realize his or her potential.

Shifts in technology have made the memorization of facts less relevant and the ability to access information a necessity. Students have the greatest libraries in the world at their fingertips. At the same time, we’re just beginning to understand the negative impacts of overuse of technology.

I work in a school that for various reasons is seeing more students with learning challenges. We need to respond effectively to provide these children with the education they not only need but deserve in order to become people who continue to work for the betterment of humanity.

Despite what appear to be perpetual tensions between teachers and government, amazing things are happening in British Columbia schools.

Funding for schools doesn’t vary from one neighbourhood to another. The result is that some of our best teachers are drawn to schools with children with high needs because they love that kind of work and are rewarded equally for it.

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And our provincial teachers’ union is able to speak in a strong and unified voice in advocating for education reform. There’s been tremendous progress in curriculum development and this has allowed for powerful learning – for teachers and students.

Standardized tests and book publishers don’t determine the curriculum in British Columbia; it’s educators who understand the needs of the children and are responding effectively. The Ministry of Education relies heavily on input from teachers in creating its guidelines.

What does this mean in the day-to-day running of a school?

Primarily, this approach allows us to look honestly at where we are and where we want to go. We see the growing needs of young people, and we see the kind and competent leaders that they need to be when they leave our institutions. The great challenge is in figuring out how to best serve them in achieving these goals.

What’s beautiful is that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Teachers benefit as well from the volumes of research available, from the effective strategies that have been developed and from success stories we can emulate.

Of course, every child and every situation is unique, and we must respond to that as well.

The key is to allow the time for teachers and administrators to problem solve and perfect new techniques together.

For those of us who have been in the classroom for a long time, many of these approaches are not only mind expanding, they’re very challenging. I have greatly benefited, for example, from collaborating with other teachers with different expertise. They helped me to rework a course in genocide studies in a way that made it a positive learning experience for students who once would not have had access to such a course due to their learning needs. The result was that my program became much better for all students.

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However, I need to continue to improve the course and for this I need further guidance from my colleagues.

I know how fortunate I am to work in a school where our aim is to meet the needs of each child and help them achieve their goals. I also know how fortunate I am to work in a school system that shares this vision. This is ultimately why the Canadian educational institution is one of the best in the world.

As we move forward, society needs to believe in our children. It’s also essential that we invest our time, energy and resources in them so they can lead us into a bright and exciting future.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students. 

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