RYAN LUTES, BEN SICHEL & ANGELA GILLIS: Nova Scotia teachers at the end of their rope

Posted: Dec. 11, 2021

Originally published by the Chronicle Herald

A Teacher in the classroom during the pandemic.
“Teacher fatigue and stress are at an all-time high, due partly to the pandemic, but also to recent subtle and not-so-subtle decisions by educational authorities that have increased teacher workload,” write Ryan Lutes, Ben Sichel and Angela Gillis. – 123RF Stock Photo

Ryan Lutes, Ben Sichel and Angela Gillis are teachers in Halifax and members of Educators for Social Justice — Nova Scotia.

It’s always amazing how quickly the school year goes. In typical school years, September starts with a breath of optimism and excitement, and then in the blink of an eye, it is time to take a break for the holiday season.  

However, most teachers in Nova Scotia would agree that the stretch from September to December of this year has been exceptional.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult on many, and our school communities are no exception. The pandemic highlights pre-existing holes in many systems. As the education system demands more and more from teachers, those holes are quickly becoming chasms. 

One of the most telling symptoms of the crisis in our education system is the substitute teacher shortage currently affecting our province. Teachers are burning out faster than they can be replaced.

Teachers in Nova Scotia have been on the front lines fighting for better education for our kids for years. You may recall the dispute between teachers and the Liberal government in 2016-17, when teachers were campaigning for more supports to the system. Teachers rallied, spoke to our MLAs, advocated, and poured out our hearts to anyone who’d listen. We pleaded for more time to plan for our students, more human resources to support inclusion, and increased mental health support for children. We spoke about our lived experience — classes that were too large, needs that were too great, and too little time to support the diverse needs of our kids. 

The government of the day promised teachers that it was listening, and said improvements would come outside of the collective bargaining process. The Progressive Conservative party under Tim Houston, then in opposition, was quick to come to the teachers’ defence, indicating they’d address these education issues when they formed government. 

It’s time for these improvements to come. Teacher fatigue and stress are at an all-time high, due partly to the pandemic, but also to recent subtle and not-so-subtle decisions by educational authorities that have increased teacher workload.

In 2021, after many years of teachers advocating for more preparation time, high school teachers in HRM were assigned an additional class to teach. The resulting staffing shuffles mean that there are approximately 75 fewer teachers in our high schools — 75 fewer caring adults looking out for your child’s academic, social and mental health needs. The changes also mean that schools have virtually no teachers to do hallway/cafeteria supervision or work in student support capacities. This lack of supervision has led to more students out of class, increased vandalism and increased suspensions. 

Throughout the pandemic, politicians and educational authorities have said many kind words about teachers working in increasingly challenging circumstances. These words ring hollow, however, when they are coupled with actions that only add to teachers’ workload.

Of course, this also means more courses to prepare and more students to provide feedback to, with less time to do that planning/assessing. The result is less engaging lessons for your children, and less feedback to help guide their learning. Teachers have less capacity to provide extra help, leaving students to access private tutors (if they can afford them) or relying on online support (if they can access it). 

In junior high, teachers have been given a renewed curriculum with new courses to implement. While these curriculum changes may be positive, they could not come at a worse time. Asking teachers to learn a new curriculum in the middle of the pandemic when they should be focusing on meeting their students’ needs is simply not reasonable.   

At elementary, instead of spending their time focusing on reading instruction, teachers are being asked to spend too much time formally testing and reporting data on their students. Workload increases, yet preparation time has been reduced to a bare minimum, resources are limited, and additional meetings are required. Improving our students’ literacy is a worthy goal; however, asking teachers to continually assess their students without sufficient support is not a good use of time. It would be far more worthwhile for teachers to focus on teaching reading, instead of constantly administering standardized assessments.

Throughout the pandemic, politicians and educational authorities have said many kind words about teachers working in increasingly challenging circumstances. These words ring hollow, however, when they are coupled with actions that only add to teachers’ workload.

Teachers are running on empty. We are tired of decision-makers adding to our workload without ever removing anything. We are tired of not being able to meet our students’ needs due to a lack of time. We are tired of continually being asked to do more and more in a system that will not provide us what we need to support our students.

Nova Scotia’s children deserve a first-class education. Teachers love your kids and will continue to advocate for them, but we cannot support them as effectively as we could last year, or even four years ago. Our system is full of caring adults who wake up every morning to do right by our students. Let’s provide them with the time and resources needed to provide our kids the education they deserve.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s