It is a stressful time for teachers in Nova Scotia. Really, all the time is a stressful time for us, and report card time just adds to it. This November though, it’s been dialed up a notch. That might be an understatement. It’s up at 11. With the rejection of the provincial contract offer, 9000 teachers, at an amazing 96%, voted in favour of legal job action. Regardless of how individual voted with regards to the contract, many of us felt we were left with little to no choice.
None of us want to strike. No one. We do not want to be out of our classrooms. We do not want to compromise our students. We do not want to compromise our way of life. We want to continue to teach, to coach, and run committees, and organize food and gift drives for the Holidays. (If we strike, or if there is a work-to-rule, gymnasiums, normally full of food and gifts at this time of year, will be empty.) We want to be in our schools, working with our students, giving them the best learning experience we can. But here we are, and if it has come to this, there is a major problem.
I, personally, feel a little sheepish about this. When this government, whom I have supported in the past, gutted the Film Tax Credit, I tried to understand both sides of the argument. I even blogged about it. I may have even ticked off and possibly hurt some of my friends, whose lives were impacted with my trying to understand government reasoning. Now, here I am, ready to potentially take job action as a teacher, under the same government, asking people to understand our position.
It is an odd feeling, and very isolating. I’ve tried to explain what our lives are like as teachers here in Nova Scotia. I try to explain how bargaining and consultation with regards to our own responsibilities and contracts is not something we experience, and how more and more is downloaded onto us without time and resources or proper understanding of logistical applicability. I try to tell them about the learners and personalities in my room, and how I come home completely drained at the end of the day, only to have to log back in to correct, log marks, complete Individual Program Plans and prep before I get to go to bed. I had a friend tell me I made him feel awkward, (when the appropriate response would be “I’m sorry – this is an unfortunate situation”). I had an acquaintance post that we should be going to discuss working conditions, even after the Minister, again without consultation, decided to cancel some of the assessments before the committee even met. “DO IT FOR THE KIDS” he said. We do everything for the kids thankyouverymuch. We always have, we always will, and we are now. We’ve been adapting and doing more with less for years, giving of our own time and money. We changed practices without question at the whim of the department. The union has said no to those meetings because of the fact that this cancellation of the assessments was again done without consultation and is indicative of our established relationship with government in general. They left the table because of a government who decided to balance the budget on the back of its workers by eliminating a bargaining process. This all in addition to the rhetoric of people telling us we make too much money, get too much time off, and are undeserving of our ‘generous’ pension etc.
As I said before, it’s incredibly isolating and disheartening. Social media can make contract negotiations tricky, while making the spread of (mis)information, opinion, memes, commentary etc. incredibly easy. It can be an overwhelming place, where one, in today’s Trumped-up world, can seemingly forget civility, and personal value.
No other profession is as susceptible to public scrutiny and commentary than teaching. Everyone feels qualified to comment because they went through a school system at some point in their lives. We are accountable not only to our employer and to the students, but to the parents, to the public, and to people who rant that their tax dollars pay our salary. They feel free to question why we do or do not do things in whatever way without an ounce of training or insight into best classroom practice, all while misunderstanding the nature of our classes, duties, workdays and benefits. If I had spent my 8 years of post secondary education going to med school or law school, no one would ever publicly, and maliciously question my salary or the way I choose to run my classroom. Instead I chose a profession that makes all others possible.
For me it comes down to value. Does the government and the public value teachers? Thus far, this government, the Department of Education, and the boards have made so many major, logistically unsound decisions for the 9000 teachers who deal with the futures of over 118 000 kids in this province. I know that the government’s line is that they redirected $65 million back into Education, which had been taken out by the previous government. They soft-capped the elementary classes, and hired a few mentors. They’ve given us Google Apps For Education, but not enough computers to run it, and no time for training. There are more acronyms, data collection initiatives, and meetings than I can keep track of. (PGAP [Professional Growth and Appraisal Program] sounds like something I need to go to a specialist for, hoping they warm it up first.) I know the financial situation of the province. I also know how politics and government works. I know that our job action will have a precedent-setting cascade through other unions. However, if so much hadn’t be foisted onto our shoulders over the past few years in “initiatives” and responsibilities and mandates, etc., etc., while at the same time taking away from our classrooms and us as workers, maybe we wouldn’t have been so strung out and cranky so as to reject and fight an unfair contract. We can’t and won’t roll over anymore. Does an ad campaign instead of a mediator demonstrate value for teachers who foster an educated public? I don’t believe so. Should a government seemingly go to war with the people who educate their citizens? Probably not. Does the public value and understand our jobs and what we do for our students enough to support us? I hope so, but I’m not so sure.
Here we are on the brink of job action, and I have no idea what will happen. I am incredibly uncomfortable and lonely in my augmented stress. I do not want to withdraw the additional support and program we provide students. I do not want to be on a picket line when I could be helping and preparing kids for the future. However, I know that at this point it is necessary. As I say to my students, in whatever I am teaching, there is no change without challenge. In this case, I value my students and myself enough to challenge for change.