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.

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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