Montreal Gazette

School sports suffer amid teacher fatigue

The health of students, and society at large, is at stake,

- Jason Chen says. Jason Chen teaches at Royal West Academy in Montreal West.

As a high school teacher, I have long heard the adage: “Those who do, do — and those who don't, teach.”

I have never subscribed to that. Even before becoming a teacher, I have always marvelled at the effect that a great educator can have on students.

Teachers play an important role in our society, and yet they are often underappre­ciated and undervalue­d. What can be more important than the developmen­t of the next generation by qualified and motivated teachers?

Unfortunat­ely, inadequate attention to educationa­l needs adversely affects young people entering the teaching profession and makes it difficult to retain current educators in the system.

Deteriorat­ing work conditions, such as larger class sizes and lack of support for students with special needs, along with demands for salary adjustment­s that reflect cost-of-living increases, have been the sticking points in the lingering labour dispute between the Quebec government and teachers.

I fear the treatment of teachers historical­ly in this province and during these prolonged negotiatio­ns — ratificati­on votes are ongoing among union membership — will exacerbate a problem that too often goes unnoticed but I believe carries damaging consequenc­es for students: the loss of motivation among teachers to offer extracurri­cular activities and sports programs.

I began coaching wrestling at a high school when I was a CEGEP student 30 years ago. Sports in school — which contribute so much to the developmen­t of our youth — are close to my heart, and the fate of after-school activities causes me great concern.

Those programs in most cases are started by highly motivated teachers, and once they leave or retire, the activities often come to an end. My wrestling program at my former school died after

I left. I had built it from the ground up and produced a number of national championsh­ip medallists who moved on to compete at the open and university level, as well as medalling at national and internatio­nal competitio­ns.

I like to think my coaching had a significan­t influence on many students' lifelong commitment to a healthy and active lifestyle, and to becoming good citizens who contribute to society.

I can't help think back to Education Minister Bernard Drainville's comments at the beginning of the school year, amid an alarming teacher shortage. Remember? The minister began by urging recently retired teachers to return to help fill the gap. Failing that, he said university graduates with a bachelor's degree in any teachable subject were welcome to apply. And if that didn't do it, then anyone with a diploma from CEGEP or even high school would be considered. By the end of his plea, he promised there would at least be “an adult” in every classroom.

With that kind of attitude from the highest levels of government, no wonder fewer people are entering the profession and morale is rock bottom. As a result, the quality of education is bound to decline — in the classroom and in the form of sports and extracurri­cular activities in and outside the school.

I have seen a decline in the number of teachers volunteeri­ng to coach sports after school, and who can blame them? Teachers are already overworked and underpaid. Coaching offers little or nothing in the way of extra compensati­on, while taking up a lot of personal time.

Coaching, like teaching, is done from passion, and this passion can carry over to inspire students to excel academical­ly and in sport endeavours. The positive effects are felt while they are in school and long after, when they become valued members of Canadian society.

This must be kept in mind and nurtured, always — before, during and after labour disputes. Otherwise, we will see the adverse effects on overall student developmen­t for years to come.

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