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Teachers raise concerns about May Day

Preparation takes away learning time for other students, say Tweedsmuir teachers

Teachers at Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary say teaching May Day dances is taking up too much learning time for students who aren't involved in the annual community event.

As a result, they want the school district to bring in substitute teachers to show grades 3 and 4 students the festive dances so other students don't lose out on 16 hours of instruction.

"We do not believe the challenges we face are unique to our school, but, of course, we are not in a position to speak for others," said a letter sent to the school district and signed by 13 Tweedsmuir teachers.

Teachers with multi-grade classrooms have a difficult time keeping all of their students engaged while teaching the dances to the students who actually need to learn it, said the letter. They wrote that it was difficult to prepare for a substitute teacher to take over their class while they taught the dances. The teachers also wrote that they feel "bad" about missing out on valuable instruction time with non-dancing students.

"Our proposed solution: In order for multi-grade classes to provide adequate May Day preparation, without adversely impacting the learning of other students, we request that May Dayfamiliar TOCs (teachers on-call) be provided. They would teach the folk dances and the maypole, leaving the regular classroom teacher to teach the other children," the letter said.

To prepare for May Day, teachers in New Westminster are expected to show Grade 3 students folk dances and Grade 4 students a ribbon maypole dance.

Superintendent John Woudzia said he would take the teachers' letter to the May Day committee's next meeting for discussion.

"One of the challenges would be to identify TOCs that possess the background to teach the dance," he said. "There probably are people who would be interested, that would be inclined, but that's just speculation at this point."

Last year the district spent approximately $10,000 on May Day, with $6,200 going toward the cost of substitute teachers.

Meanwhile there are rumblings that teachers at other schools aren't pleased with the spring celebration, which has been held in New Westminster for 142 years. In a recent parent advisory council consultation at Lord Kelvin Elementary, the majority of teachers noted that they considered May Day a low priority for the parent advisory council spending. One teacher's comment was: "When will this end?" said a write-up trustee Lisa Graham brought to the board on Tuesday night.

Another May Day concern is the high absenteeism rate of Grade 6 and 7 students on the day of the event.

"On May Day, there were some fairly substantial spikes in absenteeism on that particular day. May Day is not a non-instructional day. It is an instruction day," said Woudzia.

"I know one of the issues has been for the older students, where their main involvement has been the relays at the end of the event, and three of the last four May Days we've had rain, so we haven't proceeded with the relays for safety reasons. It's been an issue that the students really don't have an area of involvement, so that's been a contributing factor. That's one aspect of it we can't control."

In her notice of motion write-up, Graham noted that at a recent Tweedsmuir parent council meeting, parents were told that the school had scheduled a field trip for grades 6 and 7 students on May Day.

Calls to Tweedsmuir to confirm this hadn't been returned at press time.

All of the controversy has Graham - who cherishes May Day and believes it is worthwhile to learning outcomes - calling for the board to consider a motion to hear public feedback.

Graham's motion is expected to come before the board at its next meeting on Tuesday, April 3.

nhope@royalcityrecord.com