Surrey teachers raise concern over library service cuts

Teachers in Surrey are expressing concern over a decision that they say will impact library services for students.

According to the Surrey Teachers’ Association (STA), an increase in prep time for teachers of Grades 1 to 3 is coming at the expense of older students’ valuable time in the library, as librarians are being tasked with additional supervision.

Normally during teacher prep times, students have music class, French class, or go to the library for lessons with a teacher-librarian, explained Jatinder Bir, president of the union.

The extra 10 minutes of weekly prep time, Bir says, was a negotiating win for teachers back in December. Just before spring break, however, they were notified that it would be teacher-librarians carrying the load without any additional hires being made to help deliver the extra prep time.

“Something that should have been a win for us in recent contract negotiations is, unfortunately, turning out to be a loss,” she said during a news conference Thursday.

“This decision is resulting in a devastating cut to the level of service that teacher-librarians can support to the rest of the school.”

Anne McNamee has been a teacher-librarian in Surrey for over 20 years. During that time, she says she’s never seen a library service cut like this.

“I am devastated by the decision by the Surrey School Board, as are all of the elementary school librarians in Surrey,” she said.

McNamee says the additional prep time, which includes five, hour-long periods per week, cuts into the time she would normally spend with Grades 4 to 7. That time, she says, is spent delivering lessons on things like digital literacy, coding, and robotics, among others.

“All of the really exciting things that kids want to do, happens during my collaboration time,” she said.

To deliver those specialized lessons, McNamee says she would collaborate with the teachers of those classrooms, but she will not be able to do that if she’s supervising the primary classrooms for longer.

“I’m like a classroom teacher at that time. It means I’m not available to the rest of the school for all the additional teacher-librarian duties that are at the core of the teacher-librarians job,” she explained.

McNamee says the changes are “heartbreaking” to those in her profession.

“Classroom teachers are telling us ‘it’s great, we’re getting an extra 10 minutes of prep time, but had we known that that additional 10 minutes of prep time would mean that we can never come into the library and work side-by-side with the teacher-librarian again … we would say that extra 10 minutes of prep time is not worth it’,” she said.

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In a statement to CityNews, Surrey Schools says teacher-librarians are an “integral” part of the school community, and even with the additional prep times, still have 50 per cent of their time available for collaboration and library administration work.

“Several options were considered, and after thoughtful review and stakeholder engagement, we selected the option that best fit the needs of our district. We know that hiring a large number of specialized teachers by September wouldn’t have been feasible given the rapid growth that our district is experiencing, as well as the shortage of teachers in this province,” a statement reads.

The board adds there are currently 34 elementary teacher vacancies posted, 18 of which are for specialized teachers.

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