On Professional Development

Two teachers’ thoughts on professional development:

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In 2015, I made use of Article 60 of the Teachers Provincial Agreement for the first time to apply for an out-of-province conference. I wanted to attend a conference on social justice education. The conference takes place every two years in July and moves to different cities to cover different regions of the U.S.

In order to receive funding for the conference, I had to submit an application to a joint committee of school board staff and NSTU members. I had to explain what the conference was about, how my pedagogy and classroom practice would benefit from it, how my students would benefit from it, and how I would share the information I learned with colleagues. Preference is given to conferences that align with the board’s current priorities.

With my application, I had to submit a budget that included transportation, accommodations, registration, and meals. I was eligible for up to $1700, and my budget came in under $1600. I was allowed one night’s stay before the conference began and one night’s stay after.

During the conference I took courses on class, the intersectionality of privilege, and how to seek and use data sets that challenge a status quo that upholds a supremacist system. I heard from teachers who had lost their jobs when Arizona got rid of ethnic studies, a teacher who was blacklisted for allowing her students to write letters to a person who was incarcerated, and a Grade 10 teacher who had a Black student who was shot by police in a case of mistaken identity.

The conference opened my eyes to the systemic inequalities that exist not just in our education systems, but in many of the institutions that have been developed in both Canada and the U.S. as a result of colonization. To my knowledge, there is no such conference for educators in or near Nova Scotia.

Since returning from the conference, I have shared what I learned with colleagues via an email newsletter as the NSTU school rep. I have read books that challenge the dominant White Eurocentric narrative of Canadian history, which has given me a foundation to help my understanding when my principal gave our staff a PD session on treaty education.

Perhaps most importantly, the conference was a direct cause in me seeking a Master’s program in culturally relevant pedagogy, in which I am currently enrolled, and which aligns with my school board’s top priority in its current business plan.

I am currently having the best year I have ever had since I began teaching 13 years ago. I could say that it is because I have great students (and it’s true, I do), but I have always had great students. What has changed is me, and who I am as a person and a teacher. It is a direct result of the program in which I am currently enrolled, which I arrived at because of that conference. Opportunities for professional development are important, and their impact ripples beyond the teachers who are engaged in that learning.

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So eleven out of ten thousand went on a conference in Hawaii , and now fighting for better classroom conditions and a better working environment is too much to support? A basketball tournament is cancelled and classroom sizes and adequate resources are no longer of concern?

International conferences host people from around the world and focus on specific areas of education with world-renowned experts in the field. Such a conference would never be offered in this part of the world because we don’t have the means to host it. Something tells me if it was held in Bangor, Maine or North Dakota, nobody would care. We are contractually allowed to attend professional development that is not offered to us in our province or country. Does it look bad? Of course it does! Should the union have foreseen the bad optics and asked them not to attend? Maybe. But to be fair, this is the first job action of this kind in this province, and things are going to be learned along the way. Would I personally have gone or would I have forfeited the thousands of dollars? Who knows. It would have been an agonizing decision for sure. One thing I do know is that Karen Casey, whose budget indirectly funded each of these conferences, made these remarks to turn public support, and clearly it has worked.

It occurs to me that some people don’t realize that Work to Rule is job action. We are technically ON STRIKE. When any union takes job action, people are inconvenienced. This is no exception. I am a parent. My own kids have been affected. But they have adjusted far better than I thought they would. They go to school, learn, see their friends. The important things are still happening. Everyday I see people say “I wish they would just strike. The kids are suffering.” I don’t understand why people would prefer we withdraw ALL services by walking out. Sports, clubs, recommendation letters….all of that would still be disrupted. But so would learning. Then we would be the bad guys because people needed to find childcare. The only other alternative is to roll over, accept the state of our education system and let things continue the way they are. Is that what most people want?

Does it suck that Coal Bowl is cancelled? Of course! But are we going to give up the fight for better education for future generations over a basketball tournament? No. And are the teachers who volunteer their time to put on such events with an open heart going to do so in the future after being called every nasty name in the book? Today’s personal favourite is “selfish, greedy bottom feeders who live on tax-payers’ dollars.” I have a feeling that when this is all over, teachers who volunteer their time will have a hard time forgetting how people really feel about them…”

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