Janey Lee didn’t anticipate becoming a social worker, settlement worker and fundraiser when she started teaching 17 years ago.
But her school, Thunderbird elementary, lies across the street from the largest social housing project in the province and her students are largely needy children from immigrant, refugee, aboriginal and single-parent homes.
Her 15 new kindergarten students speak nine different languages, one copes with fetal alcohol syndrome, another with autism and one with oppositional defiant disorder. Many haven’t attended daycare or preschool so they may have problems that have yet to be diagnosed. Lee calls multicultural workers to the school at times to communicate with the grandparents who often drop off children because parents are working multiple jobs.
Lee will share the realities of her role at a University of B.C. Dialogue entitled “Who is responsible for our children?” at Creekside Community Recreation Centre in the former Olympic Village, Sept. 18.
She’ll be joined on a panel by Gwen Giesbrecht, past chairperson of the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council, Barbara Fitzgerald, a developmental pediatrician who works at Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children and coordinates an outreach program to inner city schools, Blye Frank, dean of the UBC faculty of education and Mike McKay, superintendent of Surrey schools. They’ll discuss why teachers are going public with pleas for help, what can be done, and how far beyond teaching basic skills a teacher’s job should go.
Lee completed an English as a second language teaching post-bachelor diploma to be more effective in her job. She’s furnished her classroom with toys and volunteered her time teaching summer workshops to buy reading and writing resources for her school and to replace rotting playground equipment that had been removed two-and-a-half years before.
“We don’t do all that we do out of charity,” said the teacher who grew up on the East Side in a poor family of seven children. “It’s our belief that each child can really make a meaningful contribution to society if they’re given the proper support… And there are some teachers that refuse to do that because they don’t want to see our school system as a charity when it should be properly funded.”
Lee says schools need more money to support students, even if that means paying higher taxes.
She’s keen to learn how the faculty of education at UBC is working to better prepare future teachers.
New teachers from UBC and SFU just volunteered to help her with school startup.
“They were so surprised with all the needs in my classroom and all the different languages, and they had no idea that when you set up your classroom, you really don’t get very much and then you have to buy it,” she said.
UBC Dialogues allow attendees to learn how the university’s interdisciplinary research and teaching are addressing complex societal issues, and to join in the debate.
The discussion starts at 6:30. Participants can RSVP online or at 604-822-3313. For more information, click “events” at alumni.ubc.ca.