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.  

Educators for Social Justice – Nova Scotia Calls for Concrete Plans to Eliminate Child Poverty

KJIPUKTUK/HALIFAX – Educators for Social Justice – Nova Scotia is calling for Nova Scotia’s political parties to lay out their plans for eliminating child poverty during the current election period. As education workers, we see the effects of child poverty every day. Giving children the things they need to thrive early in life is an investment.

1 in 5 children across this province live in poverty. This figure is 1 in 3 in Cape Breton, and 1 in 4 in the Kentville area.
 
“Every year the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Nova Scotia releases a child and family poverty report card, complete with specific recommendations for reducing and eliminating child poverty” says Angela Wyllie, an elementary teacher in the Annapolis Valley. “It makes headlines for a few days and then is mostly forgotten.”

Wyllie added, “Teachers work closely with these kids. We want them to thrive in school and beyond, which they can’t do if they’re dealing with the physical and emotional stresses associated with poverty.’

The CCPA-NS 2020 report included recommendations such as the creation of a Child and Youth Advocacy Office, raising the minimum wage, and funding and building a high-quality early learning and childcare system that is child-centred, play-based, seamless (all day, full year), affordable and accessible.

“Governments have been promising to address child poverty for over 30 years. In 2015, I travelled with students to Ottawa as part of a project to remind politicians about the commitment that was made in 1989 to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. It’s now 2021 and the problem is getting worse, not better,” said Diane Lewis, a high school teacher in Cape Breton.

“We know what the solutions are to this problem,” says Dr. Lesley Frank, Tier II Canada Research Chair in Food, Health, and Social Justice at Acadia University and co-author of the CCPA-NS report. “We need to see that those running to govern the province have the will to implement them.”

ESJ-NS is hosting a Zoom press conference this morning at 9:30 a.m. with further information. Details to join are below. As well, ESJ-NS is encouraging educators to ask provincial candidates on their party’s plan to implement the CCPA-NS’s recommendations to reduce and eliminate child poverty. To see short versions of these 11 recommendations see esjns.com

To arrange an interview please contact Cole Wild, at 902-292 6220.

PRESS CONFERENCE: Educators call for concrete plans to fight child poverty in the provincial election
Date: Friday, July 30, 2021Time: 9:30 a.m.Zoom linkhttps://us06web.zoom.us/j/81999245343?pwd=ZytmSGRBUkVpelJTZ2g1M1hOSXZHQT09

Speakers

  • Angela Wyllie, elementary teacher, Annapolis Valley Regional Centre for Education
  • Dr. Lesley Frank (Acadia University), co-author, Child and Family Report Card 2020 – Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Nova Scotia
  • Diane Lewis, high school teacher, Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Centre for Education
  • Alec Stratford, executive director, Nova Scotia College of Social Workers
  • MC: Cole Wild, junior high school teacher, Halifax Regional Centre for Education

Department of Education and Early Childhood Development should follow through with plans to purchase book for Nova Scotian schools

In April, Nimbus Publishing was contacted by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD). The Department inquired about doing a special run of I Place You Into the Fire, a book of poems by acclaimed Mi’kmaw author Rebecca Thomas, past poet laureate of Halifax, for schools across the province. However, the DEECD asked that the author remove 6 poems from her book, including one about being the child of a Residential School survivor.

Nimbus reached out to the Department to ask why they requested those poems removed, but received no response. Thomas said in an interview that she did not wish to erase her history and culture in order for these books to appear in schools. She even expressed a willingness to work with the DEECD in order to create a teacher’s guide on how to deal with some of the more difficult language and themes in the book.

An author should not be made to re-write or sanitize her work in order to sugar-coat Canada’s history of the genocide of Indigenous people. The DEECD should recognize this and renew contact with Thomas and her publisher to continue forward with a bulk purchase of her book in its original form.

We encourage educators and parents to contact the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development and ask them to continue working with Nimbus and Ms. Thomas in order to purchase copies of her book. 

Statement of Solidarity With the Mi’kmaq Fishery

Educators for Social Justice stands in solidarity with the Mi’kmaq who are asserting their inherent and treaty rights to fish in their own unceded and unsurrendered territory of Mi’kma’ki. For those of us who are settlers, we do this in recognition of our treaty obligations to ensure that the Mi’kmaq “shall not be hindered from, but have free liberty of Hunting and Fishing” (1752 Treaty of Peace and Friendship).

We condemn the racist violence they have been facing from white settlers.

As educators, it is clear to us that a lack of understanding of the Treaties of Peace and Friendship plays a significant role in the longstanding denial of Mi’kmaw treaty rights and the current conflict. We call on the provincial government to increase funding and support for comprehensive Treaty Education professional development for all public school educators, which must include proper compensation for Mi’kmaw Elders and Knowledge Keepers working with educators. We call on the federal government to take immediate action on all Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2015), especially those related to education and the full adoption of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007).

Finally, we call on settlers in Mi’kma’ki to learn what it means to be a Treaty person in Mi’kma’ki, with the guiding principles of relationship, respect, reciprocity, and responsibility to the Mi’kmaq and the land of Mi’kma’ki, and to fulfill our obligations as Treaty people.