The Ugly Divorce in the Nova Scotia Education System

When something is broken, you fix it. When it’s a marriage, you do what you can make amends.

However, when pillars can no longer support and bridges collapse things can get ugly, especially when money and kids are involved. The ruthless ones will use the kids as pawns. The children unknowingly becomes players in a game in which they have no voice. Both sides trying their damnedest to make the other look like an unfit parent. When both sides are throwing mud and words the only ones who get dirty and hurt are the kids.

We are now into the second week of a province wide work to rule teacher strike. I’m pretty sure the only ones who have noticed anything change are the teachers, parents, and the few kids who participated in extracurricular activities. Otherwise, it’s been business as usual for the kids.

Except it hasn’t been.

You see, when the announcement was first made that the teachers would strike as a “work to rule” my first thought was that teachers’ job are about to get significantly easier. No more supervision. No more after school activities. Teachers arrive 20 minutes before school starts and leave 20 minutes after it ends. No more data entry – mandated testing, attendance, etc…

My second thought followed close behind. This isn’t going to make teacher’s jobs easier. In fact, it will be the exact opposite. Planning a day for 20-25 five and six year olds (or any year olds, for that matter) takes longer than the allowed 20 minutes. Teachers are discouraged from planning at home as they normally would. Being a teacher, I know first hand what can happen if you don’t have a lesson plan ready. It’s not pretty. Suddenly, it’s no longer teaching. It’s just keeping students busy so they don’t find other ways to entertain themselves that could potentially be destructive – self or otherwise. Reining them back in once they’ve lost focus is difficult indeed. Without the proper planning, students may not be receiving a proper education because they can’t do all the extras a teacher would normally plan.

The students who need a bit of extra help before a test, whether science, math, social studies, won’t receive it from the teacher who knows best. The senior working so hard on the sports team in an attempt to receive a sports scholarship to help pay for university is no longer being coached. They’re sidelined hoping their day comes before it’s too late.

Teachers are fed up. Hence the reason they have taken a stand. It’s the first time this has happened here in 125 years. Classes are too big, there is insufficient support, and teachers are doing far more than they are required to do. Has the government listened? When they found out that teachers wouldn’t be supervising students any longer, they deemed schools “unsafe” and locked students out. During the first and only day of the lockout, the government then said, “Our bad. We didn’t know schools had already taken measures to ensure supervision and student safety”. Again, the only ones who are being hurt here are the kids. I don’t think the government understands the irony of their lie. It’s the extras, the stuff teachers aren’t getting paid to do, that keep our students, our children, safe.

The only news I’ve heard from the government was about a bill they were going to try to force through legislation to impose a contract on teachers. That’s not negotiating. That’s not fair bargaining. That’s being a bully simply because you’re bigger. That’s being the parent who says, “Because I said so.”

I don’t know how long this work to rule strike will last. I doubt anyone does, really. It could be weeks, it could be months, it could be all year. At this point, I don’t think the government minds. To my knowledge it’s no skin off their backs. Other than looking bad by not working with the teachers to improve our education system, what’s it to them? They’re still getting paid. They’re not inconvenienced in any way. The government seems to be in no rush to resolve this.

This won’t affect our children today. Today they’re okay. It will most definitely affect them in the days to come. If we’re not careful many of them may become buried in the fallout and will be left behind. They will slip through the cracks of a broken education system. No, this isn’t hurting today. But it will hurt the future.

Our children are not pawns to be used to to make the other side appear to be the ugly parent. This isn’t a battle over custody. It’s a battle for what’s best for students. In my opinion, the ones in the classroom, the ones who know our students’ needs best, are the ones we should be heeding, not the absent parent.

The Order of the Phoenix

Any Harry Potter fan knows this story. The ministry denied that He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named had come back into power. Harry himself had seen otherwise and Dumbledore, the headmaster of the famous Hogwarts, believed him. What ensues is a major conflict between the school and the ministry with many forced decrees and rules imposed by said ministry.

It seems, though Voldemort hasn’t returned to Nova Scotia, there is still a battle raging between the ministry and schools. More specifically, between teachers and Karen Casey the education minister and Steven McNeil the premier.

Teachers and their Order (aka Union) have been trying to settle on a contract for 18 months now. Teachers need things in the classroom to change, yet the government is not willing to negotiate “working conditions” into the contract. The government doesn’t want to negotiate things like class size, data recording, individualized program plans (IPPs), smartphones in the classroom, standardized assessment, lack of preparation time, lack of specialists or supports for the classroom teacher.

The Order has proposed it’s set of beliefs that will change the education system to what it should be. They estimated their proposal to be $508 million. The Ministry said no. How about $41 million instead? The Ministry isn’t even willing to discuss working conditions.

The Ministry is so against this, they locked students out of school yesterday. Teachers reported to work as usual, but not one student stepped foot inside. Teachers voted to work to rule because they didn’t want to disrupt students learning. They still wanted to teach. The Ministry said too bad. If all teachers are doing is teaching, then students will not be supervised during lunch and recess and therefore won’t be safe.

That was a bold-faced lie.

The Order told the Ministry that schools were working to implement supervision to keep students safe. Teachers made it their number one priority to ensure student safety before the strike took effect. Yet the Ministry claims they didn’t know so they closed every school across the province. This forced parents to scramble to find child care and make arrangements for their kids while they were at work.

Voldemort fights dirty and does what is needed to rise to power and stay in power. He doesn’t work for the good of the future, he works for the good of himself. Denying his existence doesn’t make him go away.

Ministry, this is not a game we’re playing here. This is our future, our students, our children, who are affected most. Let the teachers teach and let them do in the best way they know how.

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Where Would We Be?

Imagine a world without teachers. What would our world look like without classrooms, without schools, without the teachers our children adore?

This is the path Nova Scotia has found itself wandering along. Our teacher’s union has been in negotiations for over a year trying to bargain for better classroom conditions, better pay, and to save their long-service award – a bonus upon retirement for serving 25+ years. The union’s proposal would an cost an estimated $508 million. The bulk of that, $340 million, would be put towards a better working conditions. The province has countered with a $41 million proposal. That’s a difference of $467 million. I may have been born in the morning, but it wasn’t yesterday morning. I compare solving the the education problem with $41 million to buying a new car with the change you can find in your couch cushions.

After a year with no progress, after a year of the government saying things will change without changing anything, after a year of empty promises and no action teachers have taken a stand. They’re standing up for our kids, our children and their own, for a better place for themselves and for our most precious commodity. Our future. 9,300 teachers voted. An outstanding number of them, 96% to be precise, have voted in favor of a province wide strike. Teachers want to be heard. Teachers need to be heard. The government says they’re listening, but they’re not doing. The government says they’re already putting money into classrooms. However, it’s either so little it’s unnoticeable or it’s putting it in the wrong places.

When was the trust between the government and the classroom lost? When did those who are now removed from the classroom working in administration higher up lose their faith in teachers’ abilities and opinions? Does the government not realize how thin teachers are spread and understand their desire to simply teach again? As it stands, elementary teachers are required to test and track their student’s abilities in reading, writing and math. Report cards can take weeks to complete. Reading assessments for each student takes time away from teaching, not to mention time to evaluate them, score them, and assess their development level compared to how they tested previously. All this while teaching 25 other students.

Teachers work in the public sector and that seems to be the Premiere’s argument because he doesn’t want to treat employees within the public services differently. Aren’t teachers so much more? Teachers come in early and leave late. They take their work home with them. They spend time after school in clubs, sports, bands and countless other activities. Now teachers are taking a stand and demanding to be heard. A “work to rule” strike begins next Monday. This means all the extras are gone. Teachers are to enter school and leave school at the times depicted in the contract, 20 minutes before students arrive and 20 minutes after they leave. No clubs. No sports. No bands. No extra curricular activities. This saddens me because it means my youngest son misses his first performance in his first Christmas concert- there will be no Christmas concert. While I will miss it greatly, I completely understand it and fully support it.

I perceive this to be the next step of negotiations. Teachers have had to take a drastic measure to be heard by the government. However, this isn’t worst case scenario. There is one more step. A full shut down. A full strike that would close schools entirely. A world without teachers.

None of us would be where we are today without someone teaching us, without guiding us to enlightenment, without broadening our horizons and deepening our understanding. If teachers aren’t heard by their government soon, if action isn’t taken soon, a world without teachers will become a reality in Nova Scotia.

To read further please visit Teachers of Nova Scotia.

From left: Kate Ervine NS Parents for Teachers, Liette Doucet NS Teacher’s Union President, Stephen McNeil NS Premiere

Questions I Asked My Kids About School

Just as a foreword, these questions were asked at totally separate times. Neither one saw each other’s answers. Yet their answers are very similar. Who doesn’t love gym, though!

1 What was your favorite part of school today?

Crash: Gym
Bang: The gym

What is one thing you learned about today?

Crash: Filling out stuff (he filled in a hundreds chart)
Bang: I learned a new game in gym

3 What did you eat for lunch?

Crash: Ham/cheese/turkey wrap, Goldfish, strawberries, Oreo crackers (Thinsations)
Bang: Cheese, butter crackers, granola bar

4 What is your teacher like?

Crash: Extremely nice (he needs strict, not nice)
Bang: She is kind.

5 What’s one thing you want to learn in school this year?

Crash: Division or how to do a backflip in gym
Bang: Play new games

6 Did you or your teacher read any books today?

Crash: I did. I read two chapters of Geromino Stilton The Journey Through Time “Midieval Mission”
Bang: The Kissing Hand

7 What’s your favorite thing to do in school?

Crash: Math (This is shocking, actually. He used to hate math)
Bang: Play in the water table

8 What did you play at recess?

Crash: All I can remember is that it was two friends and I. All we did was walk around.
Bang: I was playing train and saying “All Aboard!” and I was climbing up to steer the train.

9 Did anything funny happen at school?

Crash: One friend did something funny (I don’t remember what he did) and another friend said “real funny friend”
Bang: My teacher read one book that was funny. I don’t remember what book it was.

10 Did you have any dreams?

Crash: Yes. I was getting a newspaper from the dumpster and then I fell in. Then the recycling truck came and it threw me in the back into the stinky garbage. It went to the dump and that’s when I woke up.
Bang: Nope.

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Teacher’s Kids

What’s it like having two teachers as parents? Kelly over at Bustle knows pretty well it’s like.

Crash and Bang have the advantage (curse?) of having not one teacher parent, but two.  It has its advantages – access to parts of the school other kids don’t get to see, get to be in school when there is no one else there, get to have mom or dad as a teacher (this is both a pro and a con). On the other hand, it also has some disadvantages – you get mom or dad as your teacher, every teacher in the school knows who you are, you have to stay after school when you’d rather go home, and expectations are set a bit higher.

So far Crash is still pretty excited to see me in school. Even as his substitute teacher. I’m hoping it stays this way, but I’m certainly not expecting it to.

Right now I’m only substituting. However, this still gives me access to the school as if I were a full time teacher. I use the teacher’s lounge. I can enter and exit through the staff doors. I am the first one in and last one out of the classroom. This means that Crash can do these things, too. Though, I keep him out of the staff room if there are other teachers in there. It’s not a place for sensitive ears. If I’m subbing for the gym teacher he gets to use the whole gym. To himself. Show me a kid who doesn’t want full run of a gymnasium and I’ll show you a kid who probably doesn’t like gym! This is true of the classroom, too. It’s something different for a kid to be in their teacher’s classroom all by themselves.  The quiet. The empty desks. The cleanliness.

Then there’s being your kid’s teacher. I’m not sure exactly how he feels when hears his classmates tell him “Your dad is our teacher!” He knew this before he even got to school. Now he has to hear it over and over as each classmate realizes this. Over and over. And Over.saint

Then there are the expectations. Stereotypical teacher’s kids are held to slightly higher standards than the general population of the school. Being teachers, we know how students should behave in school and we therefore start teaching this to our own kids at birth. Also, as teachers who love to teach, we begin teaching our own kids while still in the womb. I know I was reading to DW’s baby belly for both of our sons. So teacher’s kids are not only expected to behave, but also be smart.

Every teacher in the school knows who Crash is. Or at least every teacher who knows me and DW (also a teacher). Therefore, there are eyes on him at all times. I know about things he’s done before he knows I know about them. One day he’ll tell me I was always spying on it. S’okay, though, it’s for his own good. And I do spy, by the way. If I’m subbing at his school I will, at least once, peek through his classroom door at him to see what he’s up to.

peeking

It’s not so bad being a teacher’s kid. Except, this evening, Crash was complaining about having to practice math. “I have to do math for like two hours in school. Then, I come home and have to do it for 15 more!” Sorry kiddo. Not everyone gets to have a teacher mom and dad. But you do. So lets get ‘er done and make ya fast at addition and subtraction so we can do some multiplication! HA!

Science on youtube

There are a couple Youtube channels I keep an eye on. They’re both science related.

One is Michael here Stevens of Vsauce. While not strictly science, his videos are highly educational and entertaining. He answers everything from why “bad words” are bad to “Is the Earth really flat?” With 9 and half million subscribers, He must be doing something right.

The other is Derek Muller’s Veritasium. Born in Australia, moved to Canada as a kid, then moved back to Australia to do his PhD at Sydney University. His videos are all based on science and engineering and are also very educational. He understands how we learn and his videos are conducive to the methods he studied in his PhD.  He has a following of nearly 3 million. He covers everything from the truth of the swirl in the southern hemisphere to explaining the magnus effect.

Crash and Bang are currently obsessed with Minecraft parodies. These silly songs are all about minecraft, however, they’re sung to the tune to currently popular songs. Like Maroon 5’s Animal becomes “Craftable”. Or Eminem’s Friends with a Monster becomes “Friends with a Creeper”. We (meaning I) put a few of them on the cell phone so the boys could listen to them in the truck. The tough part is checking them to make sure they’re okay. None of these songs have swear words. There was one song (The Creeper Rap) that sings of blowing up blocks like Al Qaeda and being a suicide bomber. That’s what a “Creeper” is in minecraft, but the boys don’t need to be hearing about such bombers. There’s a ban on that song in our house, now.

What do you watch on YouTube? Is there a particular channel you follow? Are you on YouTube? Feel free to leave a link to your channel in the comments for us to check out.

Our Little Geek

Today is report card day. I am always impressed by how much work goes into these things here. In Virginia we simply put the student’s grade and comment or two from a drop down menu. Talks too much. Pleasure to have in class. Needs to turn in more homework. Great job! That kind of thing. Not here. Here, there are paragraphs written about each subject that was studied. It’s a three page report!

Crash’s first report card last November was shining. All A’s and one B. He also nearly had straight C’s (C is for constantly which means he was able to do the task all on his own). Though he did have one P (which would be for prompting. He was able to do what was needed after being asked to do it a couple times. Fortunately, he only had the one P because if he were like me he would have had A LOT more). I wonder what what kind of grades his teacher will give him he will earn this time around? Check back this evening and I’ll let you know.


For those checking back, the report card has arrived. We have tried to set high standards without applying too much pressure. I think we’re succeeding. He doesn’t seem stressed about it at all. Then there’s that consistent B in speaking and listening. He’s 7, he doesn’t listen to much of anything other people tell him unless it involves video games, farts, or the Lego Movie. On the flip side, his interaction with others – being positive, resolving conflicts, and working collaboratively – is outstanding. He’s a people person who strives to please. Room for improvement? Of course. Are we proud? As punch.

A Reptile Adventure

Little Rays Reptile Zoo is a rescue Zoo. You can read their blog here. Most of the animals they have are unwanted pets. Pets that people gave up, had illegally, or were rescued. They have an outreach program where they bring the zoo to you, show you the animals and provide some fascinating facts. Not wanting Crash and Bang to miss this opportunity, we opted for the first show at 6:00 because we figured the second show at 7:15 would be too late for Bang who is usually in bed at 7:30 (as is his brother). It was pretty busy and they were excited. As were all the other kids who were up running around and couldn’t keep their voices to a dull roar so we could hear the presentation. The teacher in me was going berserk! Who brought the monkeys to the reptile show?

Anyway, back to the show. We got to see some animals we wouldn’t otherwise get too see. She began the show with this little furry critter…

Chilli the Chilean Tarantula

Chilli the Chilean Tarantula

It was tough to get a good picture of him because she wouldn’t hold still long enough. But you can see here he’s about the size of the palm of your hand. Poisonous? Yes, but not really to humans. She said Chilli’s bite would ruin your day, but it surely wouldn’t kill you. In our household, we like spiders. But this “little” guy takes it to a whole new level. She then brought out a scorpion. I don’t even have a blurry photo of it let alone a good one. Again, it was poisonous, but not enough to kill you. She told us it would have to sting you ten times to equal one bee sting.

Coaster the Tortoise

Coaster the Tortoise

Afterwards, she showed us Coaster, the tortoise (I forget exactly what kind). He’s named Coaster because when he was born, that’s how big he was, the size of a coaster you would use on a coffee table. When he’s full grown he’ll be the size of the coffee table. He’ll live to be about 100 and weigh 250 pounds. Coaster is currently the size of a soccer ball.

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Mooshi – The bearded dragon

Then she moved on to show us the reptiles. First was a bearded dragon name Mooshi (Mushi?). I love bearded dragons and used to own 2 once upon a time – Shadow and Ezmeralda. *Note: fireflies are toxic to bearded dragons. I learned that first hand.* He was a fair size dragon and, of course, made me want to get another. They are extremely friendly, docile pets. Mine would curl up under my blankets to sleep when I would let her. Mostly, she just loved to hang out on my shoulder. They eat crickets and meal worms and tons of fruit and veggies. If crickets and meal worms were easier to come by, we’d have one!

Things wound up a bit more when she brought out a 6 foot albino rat snake.

Albino Rat Snake

Albino Rat Snake

Normally, these things are black. But being albino, he’s not. Obviously. I didn’t catch much of what she said about it as every kid in the place was oohing and awing. She did bring four kids up front to hold him. *Side note: this is where the teacher in me became frustrated. Did she pick kids who respectfully raising their hand from where they sat? No, she picked the ones who were jumping and shouting.*

Cayman

IMG_0921 Cayman

Lastly, she brought out this little fella, a cousin to the alligator and crocodile, a cayman. He’s only about four feet long at the moment, but full grown he’ll be six feet. When first born they are often preyed upon by anacondas of the Amazon. However, those roles are reversed when the cayman is an adult.

Here, the show ended and the kids were allowed to come touch some of the animals. However, Crash and Bang missed out because instead of letting them rush the presenter with all of the other kids, we held them back in hopes of getting to touch and see them with less frenzy. She put the animals back in their travel containers and announced that the next show would start in about 5 minutes. Nearly everyone from that show had cleared out and seeing a smaller crowd coming in we opted to go ahead and stay for the next show as well as Crash and Bang were fairly well behaved. We are glad we stayed.

The second show had a smaller crowed and Crash and Bang got front row seats. We saw the tarantula, the scorpion and the turtle again. However, this time she brought out a new lizard. Instead of the bearded dragon, she had a green iguana named Izzy.

Izzy the Green Iguana

Izzy the Green Iguana

She said he wasn’t as green as usual because he was looking for a mate. His tail is used as a whip and if used properly will send you to the hospital for stitches.

Lastly, she brought out the snake. Only this time it wasn’t the rat snake from the first show. This snake, when born, was only as long as a pencil and as big around as your finger. Full grown he’ll be 300 – 400 pounds and as long as school bus. A reticulated python. I’m guessing this one was about 8 feet long. But he’s only 3 years old – same as Bang.

Bang petting the python

Bang petting the python

The Value of a Teacher

Our school year has 10 extra day built into it to accommodate for snow days. Teachers are paid by salary so they make the same amount whether those snow days are used or not. As of this writing, we have used 8 of those 10 allotted days and school boards are scrambling trying to decide if those missed days need to be made up. If they decide yes, then they need to figure out how. Continue reading

The Teachers…

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In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Teacher’s Pet.”

apple for teacher

Do you remember your first grade teacher? I do. Mrs. Rosemere. I wish I knew where she was now so I could tell her I’m a teacher now. I had a bad year of school the year before we had moved from Pennsylvania to Maryland. So here I was in a new school, in a new state with a new teacher and new kids to make new friends. While I don’t remember anything specific from that class 30 years ago, mom tells me I would have walked through Hell in a gasoline suit for Mrs. Rosemere. She helped me learn to love school.

Then in 3rd grade I had Mrs. Burton. My greatest and favorite memory about Mrs. Burton is that she made me feel good about myself. Each week she handed out what she called a “Super Sprout” award. It was basically a picture of a plantman for us color and she would hang on the bulletin board outside her classroom announcing to the school who her favorite best student was that week. Before lunch she told the class, “It’s someone who is not expecting it”. Of course, during lunch we’re trying to guess who it would be. No one guessed me. I didn’t guess me, either. So you can imagine my delight to find out it was me!

Then in high school I had two teacher I really looked up to, though neither one was my teacher. They were my coaches. Mr. Frey and Mr. Melchior. They both coached soccer and Mr. Frey coached wrestling. So every day after school for about 6 months of the school I’d spend 2 hours with either both of them during the soccer season or one of them during wrestling season. They demanded a lot from us but they did it in such a way that we’d look forward to it. They didn’t make us do anything they couldn’t themselves. Unfortunately for us, they could do A LOT!

Then in university, after enduring two years of undergrad requirements, I entered my field of study, teaching. Here I met my last two favorites, Dr. Ornstein and Dr. Bingman. It was a class of about sixty and they knew everyone by name. They took the time to get to know us. Nothing was sugar-coated, but they weren’t mean by any stretch of the word. Together they taught me to be the teacher I am today.

Lastly, though Crash has absolutely adored all of his teachers, I feel I need to mention his first “big kid school” teacher, Mrs. Kennedy. Others compared her to Mary Poppins. She would do pretty much anything for her students. If it was pyjama day at school she would wear her pajamas, bath robe, curlers in her hair, and the whole works. She created a superhero “Zero”, who helped the kids count to the hundredth day of school. Zero would drop off math assignments for the kids to complete. Then on the hundredth day, her husband would dress as a “Zero the Superhero” and come into their class.

As a teacher, I’ve gotten to work with some pretty amazing teachers. Who was your favorite?