On Christmas concerts…

So you’re a parent who is upset that their child will no longer have a Christmas concert this year, or at least not for the foreseeable future. You’re very disappointed. How could those mean teachers want to take away Christmas? You supported your child’s teachers before, but this is a step too far. Here’s what I want you to know:

Music teachers are disappointed too. We love Christmas concerts just as much as you do, maybe more. Most of all we love the pride the kids take in their music, their community and their culture. Planning for a Christmas concert is a bit like running a marathon. Almost all of my waking hours have been consumed with preparing for our Christmas concert for the past two months, and that includes many evenings and weekends away from my own children. Now, all of a sudden, just when we are about to reach the finish line, a crew has come in to deflate it. They say that they may put the finish line back up, but we’re not sure when, only that it will be further away. There will be many more miles to run. Maybe the finish line won’t be put back up at all. No-one knows.

I spent a heartbreaking day explaining this news to my students, who, as you know, were so excited, and have worked so hard. The information I presented was very simple, and matter-of-fact. It was age-appropriate, and unbiased. That’s my job; I’m an elementary school music teacher. But what about you? You’re still mad. The kids have worked so hard. What have they done to deserve this? Well, nothing, of course. But here’s what I will say to you, as an adult who is able to access opposing points of view, and to analyze them: The NSTU has a limited number of tools at its disposal. One of them is to ask teachers to do only what they are paid to do. And so here we are. And so, if you want to be mad about something, may I suggest the following:

* The Department of Education has implemented a program of inclusion without adequately funding it. This means that, if your child’s teacher is lucky, an educational assistant placed in a classroom for the benefit of a child with a learning disability will spend most of his or her time assisting in the management of the child with undiagnosed severe behavioural difficulties so that the class as a whole can learn, some of the time. If your child’s teacher is unlucky, it means that there are multiple children with undiagnosed behavioural problems, there is no educational assistant, the class is chaotic, he or she spends 98% of their time managing behaviour, and little learning is taking place. Does this mean that we should not value inclusion? No. It means that it’s not free, and the government needs to put funds in place to ensure all children have the chance to learn.

* The class caps publicized by the government are not real. There are “soft caps” and “hard caps”. The “soft cap” is the number the government talks about as being its cap for each class size. The “hard cap” is the actual number not to be exceeded. It’s still being exceeded in a large number of cases. In others, when it’s not being exceeded, split classes are created. Parents have reported class sizes of 40 and 50 at the high school level. In many schools, there are not enough textbooks for each child. In some, there are not enough desks for each child to sit down. In some cases, parents report that the number of students exceeds fire regulations.

* 38% of food bank users are children

* In 2014, the provincial government cut ALL funding to the Metro Food Bank for the 2016-2017 year.

And if, in fact, any of those things do make you mad, or at least give you pause, may I suggest to you the following:

* Go carolling outside your MLA’s office. Preferably when they’re there.

* Have holiday kitchen parties with your friends and neighbours. Make the price of admission a letter to your MLA and a can of food.

* Get together a bunch of concerned friends and fellow parents and meet with your MLA. Your MLA will come to your house, if there’s enough of you!

* Call your MLA.

… And so on and so forth.

Here’s what you shouldn’t do:

* Spend all that time and energy you could have spent communicating with your MLA that you want them to be responsive to teachers’ concerns, and try to put on your school’s Christmas concert in your community.

Why not? Well, for one thing, your child’s music teacher probably wants to finish that marathon with his or her students. It would be wonderful if the parents of Nova Scotia came together and made that particular Christmas miracle happen.

But also for another, much more important reason: If enough people spend the next few days communicating with their MLAs, we can get back to doing ALL the things outside of our contracts, that we truly love to do. And that includes annual food bank drives and breakfast programs. When 38% of food bank users are children, and the food bank receives no provincial funding, those might just be the most important “extras” of all.






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