Toronto Sun: As teachers at a Fredericton High School bent over backwards this spring to help Syrian students only to have some of them harass and bully both teachers and other students, a school vice-principal suggested the federal government should help.
That vice-principal is right. Misbehaving students is, sadly, an all-too-common problem in our country’s schools but most of the time educators have (or ought to have) the tools to deal with these problems.
But when the offending student is part of a wave of recently arrived Syrian refugees — unable to speak English and at odds with Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance — extraordinary help from Ottawa is required. The teachers are saying so themselves.
New Brunswick’s capital had accepted about 450 Syrian refugees since last fall and 29 of them became part of the student population of 1,900 at Fredericton High School (FHS) early in the new year.
Most of the Syrian students were eager to learn. A handful were not. The teachers described how some bullied younger students and were insolent and disrespectful to teachers, particularly female teachers. One told a teacher that rocket-propelled grenades was his “hobby.”
“Our team have been accommodating about seating plans, gender, prayer, respecting refugees, etc. I was very disappointed to think that this was not being reciprocated by some of our Syrian students,” one teacher wrote to vice-principal Robyn Allaby.
“This complexity needs to be discussed at the federal level,” Allaby wrote back to her frustrated teachers.
The e-mails were among hundreds unearthed through an access to information request made by the news site TheRebel.media that paint a picture of eager and admirably committed teachers bending over backwards to help refugee students only to discover that, for a handful, good intentions were not enough.
One teacher observed an older Syrian student bully a younger Jewish student and, with almost trademark Canadian naivete, wrote: “Obviously this is a cultural and political scenario that runs deep and while I like to think we can transcend it all in our classrooms, so far it doesn’t look good. While I would like to simply say they are in Canada and they have to deal with their new reality, it may not be so simple.”
Indeed, it may not be so simple.
In fact, just before rising for their summer recess, MPs were getting an earful from educators about how complex a problem it has become for many on the front line to integrate students who may be illiterate in Arabic, let alone English, into Canada’s school system. Representatives of school boards in Calgary and in Toronto testified at a House of Commons committee that they needed more federal government funding for “the complex needs” of these students.
For the Fredericton teachers on the front line, it wasn’t just money they needed. They scrambled to obtain all kinds of resources, from Arabic language books to information about Syrian education curriculum, to help their students.
Watching Canada Day celebrations, it was encouraging — heartwarming even — to see many Syrian refugees join in and celebrate the country that is happy to adopt them and give them new chances at new lives. As U.S. President Barack Obama told the House of Commons last week, Canada has “inspired the world” with its acceptance of refugees. We should be proud of that.
But the example of Fredericton High School should remind us to be clear-eyed and practical about the difficulty that many Syrian refugees will have coming to terms with Canadian culture and values. And those e-mails should be required reading for legislators — provincial and federal — considering funding requests from those front-line teachers.