It may just be 15 minutes, but recess has always been a crucial part in the elementary school day.
And when the Vernon School District made the decision to cancel recess during the teachers’ job action, teachers say they and students have had to pay the price. Out of B.C.’s 60 school districts, Vernon is one of six to cancel recess since the job action began.
For Grade 1 teacher Kelli Mazurak, the cancellation of the break makes for a long morning.
“We go from 8:30 to 11:50 without a break for our personal needs,” she said. “We don’t get a break from teaching and supervising.”
Most teachers expressed frustration at not having that time to connect with their students. But they also agreed that recess is an important time for students to be able to have unstructured play time, away from their teacher.
“Many children are still getting a break in the morning; however, it is important to note that it is a structured, teacher-directed activity,” said Mazurak, a teacher with 11 years of experience, who teaches at Silver Star. “This is very different from what recess previously looked like, which was an unstructured time in the day, where children have time for play, creative exploration, socializing with their peers, and physical activity of their own choice. The cancellation of recess is a disservice to children of all ages.”
For Mazurak, one of the big issues for teachers taking this job action for better learning and teaching conditions is to seek an improvement in student support,
“I have experienced dramatic changes in the reduction of student support. This includes learning assistance, counselling, and special needs,” she said. “The general public may not be aware that these drastic cutbacks affect all of our children on a daily basis, not just the children directly requiring these services. I feel very passionate about this particular area of our job action.”
Kevin Bader, a Grade 6/7 teacher at Hillview with 12 years’ experience, said at his school teachers have always taken turns supervising recess on a rotating basis. For Bader, recess is a crucial time for him to connect with his students, either one-on-one or in small groups.
“With more than 90 per cent of Hillview students taking the bus to and from school, there aren’t many opportunities to connect with them outside of teaching time, as they’re either arriving just before the bell rings or rushing off to catch the bus home at the end of the day.
“Lunch time has never been the best time to connect, as they’re usually racing through their lunch so they can get outside and play.
“So for me, recess was ideal. Math ended and it was always an ideal time to be able to connect, to say ‘hey, Jimmy, can I talk to you,’ or for a student to say, ‘Mr. B. I’m not quite getting this.’
“It’s the most important time for me to connect with my students. Lunchtime, on the other hand, is the time I connect with my colleagues.”
The Ministry of Education requires that students get 30 minutes of physical activity a day outside of their regular PE classes and Bader will take his students outside to go for a walk or a game of soccer.
“But on PE day, we go for three hours without any fresh air,” he said. “And kids need to be outside without a teacher breathing down their neck, whether it’s to talk with their friends or to go and play Legos.”
Dave Hobbs is also a Grade 6/7 teacher at Hillview, and a teacher since 1986. He echoed Bader’s comments and said the cancellation of recess has affected the way he teaches and the relationships he is able to build with the kids.
“We usually do math first thing and the kids would often stay an extra five minutes into recess to get help and I allow kids to do extra work for extra grades, but I’m finding less time to allow kids to improve their grades,” said Hobbs. “It’s a time when I used to connect with kids, I could chew the fat, I could talk to them. Now I don’t have that 15 minutes when I’m not Mr. Hobbs the teacher.
“And for the kids themselves, every minute is now structured. I don’t have that free time to work with a kid, to develop that trust, and the kids don’t have that free time to socialize, which is very important in Grade 7, that crucial year before high school.”
Like many teachers, Hobbs’ day begins early, arriving at school by 7 a.m., having been up since 5:15 a.m., when he checks e-mail. He said while teachers aren’t performing administrative tasks during the job action, such as report cards, parents are encouraged to contact their child’s teacher anytime they need for a progress report.
Anita Baturin has been teaching since 1991, at Beairsto since 2002, where she has taught Grades 1 to 3 and where she started the school’s music program in 2007.
As a specialist, she feels the impact more than most, as she has no opportunity to rest her voice during the day.
“Some days I literally will speak/sing from 8:45 a.m. until noon non-stop,” she said. “Each group will come at 30 to-45-minute intervals and each time, I need to have an equal amount of energy and enthusiasm for every class. This is exhausting, and I am seriously concerned about my vocal health. Most work places offer several short breaks for their employees. Why should it be different for teachers? Our job is very different from other jobs. Yes, I agree that in every work place there is a certain amount of stress but working with numerous children all at once all day produces a very different kind of stress.
“I love what I do but I think it is in everybody’s best interest to take time to care for our teachers.”
Grade 1 teacher Donna Allen has been teaching in this district for 30 years, at BX for 15, where she teaches Grade 1.
She said anything that is detrimental to her students’ learning impacts her as a teacher.
“Recess is not just a time to provide a physical break, but an emotional and cognitive one as well. Psychologists who have studied the impacts of recess show that students need an unstructured time away from their teachers to learn more about themselves as an individual. This is a time where they develop friendships and social skills. This also allows time for students to create new social networks with students in other classes.
“At BX, teachers are not providing a break for students, there is a requirement of half an hour of DPA and on nice weather some teachers will take students outside while others do DPA in the classroom with limited space and equipment.”
Allen said recess has generally been a time for her to recharge her batteries, both physically and mentally. With acute arthritis in one knee and a hip replacement, she needs the 15 minutes to rest and get off her feet.
“Since the cancellation of recess I have developed chronic pain in my bad knee and tinges in my good one. A few weeks ago while stepping onto a school bus, my good knee collapsed. Grade 1 is a physically demanding grade to teach and I love teaching it, but now I am at home recuperating from an injury that could have been avoidable with a morning rest period.”
Recess was also a time for Allen to touch base with her colleagues, both socially and professionally. As well, it gave her time to gather materials for the remainder of the morning or to make phone calls to parents.
“The parents who have talked to me about recess notice that their child is more tired and cranky when they get home,” she said.