Surrey Teachers’ Association calls on Surrey School Board to protect elementary school library services  

JATINDER Bir, President of the Surrey Teachers’ Association, on Thursday urged Surrey school trustees and local MLAs to put the brakes on a Surrey School Board decision that will significantly reduce library services in elementary schools.

She said it is a mistake to pull teacher-librarians away from their core duties to give classroom teachers the prep time they are entitled to—instead, the Surrey School Board should be investing in recruiting more staff.

In their last round of bargaining, the BC Teachers’ Federation negotiated a 10-minute weekly increase in preparation time for elementary school teachers, bringing the weekly prep time to 120 minutes, which is still well below the national average.

Prep periods are used by classroom teachers to plan and prepare lessons, while their classes are taught by specialist teachers such as music teachers, French teachers, or teacher-librarians.

The additional funding for staffing the increase in prep time will be allocated to all school districts, including Surrey, by the Ministry of Education starting in September 2023.

The Surrey Teachers’ Association advocated for the additional 10 minutes to be added to elementary music teacher staffing, in order to enhance music education for their young students.

Instead, the Surrey School Board decided teacher-librarians would cover the additional prep time for all primary classes, without increasing staffing levels for teacher-librarians.

Bir said these additional duties for teacher-librarians will be devastating to the level of library service they can provide for the entire school population. The losses will be particularly felt in intermediate classes for students aged 9 to 13, who face losing their only access to collaborative time with teacher-librarians in school libraries.

If the Surrey School Board goes ahead with this decision, students will lose out on far more than simple book exchanges; they will lose out on integral learning opportunities.

A reduction to teacher librarian collaboration time means losses to learning opportunities such as:

* A safe space for diverse and marginalized learners, where they can see themselves reflected in curated literature,

* Applied Design, Skills, and Technology opportunities such as working with robotics or other innovative technologies,

* Essential lessons on digital citizenship, fake news, media literacy, and the safe use of online tools,

* Deep dives into inquiry and research skill development through project-based learning, and

* Class work in collaboration with teacher librarians on District equity initiatives such as race, ability, and gender.

Surrey Schools Library Learning Commons won a prestigious national award from Canadian School Libraries just this fall, in recognition of teacher-librarians’ innovative, creative and collaborative work in their schools.

“It is very disappointing that this incredible work by our teacher-librarians has been recognized nationally but does not seem to be valued by our school board,” said Bir.

She added: “The district told us they are making this decision because finding additional music teachers would be challenging. The truth is that many qualified music teachers in Surrey are not currently teaching music because they cannot find full-time music assignments.

“Increasing music teacher entitlement would make the position of elementary music teacher much more appealing to qualified music teachers. Retention must be about more than just numbers; it must also be about creating positions that teachers want to be in.”

The Surrey Teachers’ Association said that there is no doubt that there is a teacher shortage at this time, but this plan is a regressive solution to a short-term problem that will have long-term devastating consequences to their elementary schools. The Board seems to want to move libraries back to a time when they were merely places for book exchanges.

It said that it is astounded that the Surrey School Board would choose to not use the funding that was collectively bargained to support the work of award-winning teacher-librarians. It’s hard to imagine why the Board would have passed up the opportunity to enhance elementary music education and is choosing instead to harm award-winning and innovative library programs, it added.


REACTING to the Surrey Teachers’ Association’s press statement, Ritinder Matthew,
Associate Director, Communication Services, Surrey Schools, told The VOICE in an email that “several options were considered, and after thoughtful review and stakeholder engagement, we selected the option that best fit the needs of our district.”

She added: “If an individual school requires a different approach, as always, we would work with the school to navigate the situation.”

Here is her full statement:

“Teacher librarians are integral to our elementary and secondary school communities and play an important role in supporting education and literacy. Generally, their jobs are divided between two responsibilities – one is teaching primary students while their teacher is on prep and the second is flexible time where teacher librarians work with other teachers to plan lessons, co-teach, or attend to library administration.

“Currently, weekly preparation time for elementary teachers who teach kindergarten to grade 3/4, is covered by core music teachers (60 minutes) and teacher-librarians (50 minutes). For teacher librarians this generally means that students will attend the library or learning commons, allowing the classroom teacher to do their prep work.

“The new collective agreement that was ratified in December includes 10 additional minutes of preparation time for elementary teachers for a total of 120 minutes per week. This September, to meet the requirements of the collective agreement, the district will increase the prep coverage time for teacher librarians by an additional 10 minutes, for a total of 60 minutes per enrolling teacher for kindergarten to grade 3/4 classes. Teacher librarians will still maintain an average of about 50% of their schedules for non-instructional time focused on collaboration and library administration.

“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.

“We currently have 34 elementary teacher vacancies posted, 18 of which are for specialized teachers, like music. We need to balance all of this to ensure we can continue to provide safe and engaging learning environments for our students.

“If an individual school requires a different approach, as always, we would work with the school to navigate the situation.”