The rise of the albino moose population

albino-moose

Back in March of 2015, a gentleman wrote a letter to the Chronicle-Herald where he said that teachers didn’t have the guts to stand up for their students. He said, among many other unflattering things, Try to recall a time over the last decade when you heard a currently employed teacher openly comment on issues and problems with the curriculum. That would be as rare as an albino moose.” 

I got my back up, as I am prone to do, and responded to his letter with one of my own. In it, I introduced myself as an albino moose and then went on to defend teachers, noting all of the amazing things we do for our students every day.

Despite all of the things this person got wrong, he was right one point. At the time, it was rare for a teacher to speak openly about problems in the school system. I used to have fellow teachers tell me that they were afraid to speak out because they thought they might “get in trouble”. At the time, I felt like I was one of only a handful of teachers who was willing to talk publically about the good, the bad and the ugly. Those of us who did often felt like that rare albino moose.

Well, my friends, how times have changed.

The albino moose population has exploded and we are all the better for it.

Teachers across Nova Scotia have found their voice and they are using it loudly and proudly.

We are writing letters and blogs and newspaper articles. We are attending rallies, meeting with our MLAs, and holding focus groups in each other’s homes to talk about the issues. We are wearing pro-union buttons, starring in TV ads, and sharing our stories on Facebook and Twitter. We are talking with the media, giving interviews with reporters on TV, on the radio and in the print media. We are making our views public and we are not backing down. We are telling real stories about what actually goes on in today’s classrooms.

And people are listening.

Our parents are backing us up. The Nova Scotia Parents for Teachers Facebook page has more than 20,000 members.

Our students are backing us up. Many of them walked out of school on December 2nd to demonstrate their solidarity.

Our bravery and our strength in numbers is making us a force to be reckoned with.

I know we still have many unanswered questions, and some of us are afraid of what’s to come. But there’s no turning back now.

We have found our courage and our voice and we will never be silenced again.

I have always had the greatest respect for my fellow teachers, but I have never been prouder to stand shoulder to shoulder with my NSTU colleagues than I am right now. 

Stay strong everyone. We’re in this together.

We are NSTUnited.

The frog awakens

There is an old story about a frog being boiled alive because he is put into a pot of cold water and the heat is slowly turned up. If the same frog had been put into the boiling water, it would have had the sense to jump out.

Teachers are the frog and the education system is the pot of water.

What the education system expects of teachers has increased significantly over the last number of years. These expectations have become normalized because teachers care about their students and try to maintain a level of instruction and support no matter what is thrown at them. There are significant deficiencies in our education system, but teachers did not cause them. In fact, if teachers hadn’t been so good at their jobs, they would have come to light much sooner. The efforts of teachers are keeping the education system afloat.

Work-to-rule has helped to highlight what has become the norm in schools. Many teachers rarely sit down during the day. Any extra time they have is spent providing extra help, running leadership or other extracurricular groups, doing paperwork, or just helping out in one way or another. In addition, they spend their evenings coaching and planning to meet the needs of students working at a range of grade levels. Many teachers take time away from their own children to ensure a positive learning experience for the children of others. Work-to-rule is a good reminder of how deep teachers’ investment in children’s education, health, and well-being actually runs. Even teachers benefit from seeing what an integral part of the system they are.

As a teacher and a parent, I have an interesting perspective. I think that there are many things which need an overhaul in our education system because even conscientious, hard-working teachers can only do so much within the bureaucracy of education. As hard as they might try to meet everyone’s needs in the classroom, many teachers feel that they cannot fully meet anyone’s needs. It is simply impossible to be everything to everyone in today’s society. It has become normal to have many students on individual programs, students with behaviour challenges, students with anxiety, multi-age students, students living in poverty, and students with learning disabilities all in one classroom. And teachers support them all to achieve.

The current education system does not fit with today’s society. The only reason it still functions at all is because teachers have been working harder and harder to make it fit. The job action by teachers has caused many people to realize that change must occur in order to best meet the needs of today’s children. Fortunately for my children and yours, teachers are increasingly aware of these growing needs and unlike the frog in the pot are ready to do something. Teachers are trying to push for changes which will benefit everyone’s children. As a parent, think about what you want this change to look like for your child because as a parent and teacher I certainly think about what I want for the education of my own children and the children I teach.

Let teachers do their jobs

I’ve been teaching for just over 10 years and have a precarious relationship with the profession. Precarious, because I feel I am skilled and have knowledge to offer but often find myself frustrated and feeling incompetent as I try to fit into a system that doesn’t work.

I do not see myself staying in the education system until my retirement.  I love working with young people and I love education, but I truly do not like the system.  I’m glad to see the general public asking questions and trying to learn what the issues are, because for a long time I’ve been shaking my head and wondering when people were going to notice the issues in our public education system.   One of the problems I’ve noticed is less and less voice and autonomy for teachers.  So much of the system is a top-down approach from school boards and the Department of Education.  Despite my years of training in the field of education, I often feel I do not have a voice.

With the current situation in the province, friends and neighbours have been asking me what the teachers want and what the problems are.  I’ve created a list and I’ve tried to keep it brief, but this is what I have seen and experienced as some of the frustrations over the years.   The frustration and stress placed on teachers due to the following issues has taken its toll.  Teachers who are close to the end of their careers have said the job is very different from when they started, when they had more autonomy and a true sense of community with their students and staff.  I’ve seen many teachers retire hating the profession they loved and were truly gifted in, and it’s sad to see how stress takes a toll on capable and intelligent citizens.

Prep time & work load:

Tell me which meal sounds more wholesome for you and your family: a drive-through meal from a fast food restaurant, or a made-from-scratch, wholesome, handmade meal?  I choose the made-from-scratch meal.  I use an analogy of the lack of prep time in a teacher’s day leading to teachers being forced to “serve” fast food lessons to their students.  When you don’t have time to cook from scratch (take the time to properly plan and create thoughtful lessons) you grab or use what’s available, and the lessons are not to the high quality that we were once able to with more time.  I understand the province feels they are creating efficiencies by cutting prep time but it’s the absolute opposite- restore prep time to teachers and you WILL see academic standards increase in this province.   There is so much waste in the system spent on consultants and technology  – constantly tossing ideas at teachers and hoping they’ll use it, when in reality all we need is TIME to think, plan, create and collaborate with our colleagues who, truth be told, we don’t even see in the same building now due to lack of time to talk to one another.   Teachers are often asked to give up prep time to cover for each other.  At one point in my career I was asked by the principal to cover someone else’s class 12 TIMES- this is almost 3 days of work I was not compensated for!  The public may think that teachers have preparation time each day but we do not.

Solution: Give teachers the time to teach and the time in their schedule at work to do the tasks required.  Now that we are easily connected to the Internet we are expected to take more and more work home to complete on our own time.  There are very few professions that are expected to take so much work home without compensation.

Lack of seniority and teaching what you know within a school:

In some cases teachers have a say in their teaching assignment and in some cases they don’t; this is up to administration.  There could be a teacher in a building with a direct background in specific courses and due to scheduling, they are not assigned to teach those courses.  Or, a teacher could teach a course one year and not the next- the next year the course is given to a different teacher (who has to sometimes then create/ learn/ gather material) instead of going to the teacher who has already taught the course.  The idea of seniority within a building rarely exists now it seems.  Teachers who are at the end of their career with a year or two left can be assigned brand new courses and material they have never taught, and spend their time gathering, prepping and learning new material rather than teaching what they know best.  Teaching new courses from scratch and knowing someone down the hall is also teaching a new course from scratch (but it’s one you know well) is frustrating and stressful for teachers.

Lack of accountability on the part of students and “credit recovery”:

As I’ve discussed teacher issues and demands with neighbours and friends, the thing they found most shocking is the change in accountability for students.  This also refers back to teacher autonomy that I mentioned above.  Students are not required to meet deadlines for assignments now.  If I assign a paper or project and set a due date, I like to gather the assignment and sit to mark them and return them in a timely fashion so we can discuss and move on and build on this knowledge.  One issue now though, is that students do not have to meet set deadlines. I am required to accept student work up until the last day of the course.  This means someone can bring me their assignments on the day before marks are due, and I am required to assess and mark their material.  This is a logistical nightmare for teachers and also a stressful situation when marks are due.  I do understand that students have situations at home that cause them to miss deadlines and that we need to assess their demonstrated learning, but the fact that deadlines don’t seem to matter is very difficult to justify.

If students fail a course they are sometimes given the option of “credit recovery” which is meant to give them a chance to submit work after the course has ended and to gain the credit.  This is frustrating for teachers when it is offered to students who did not attempt to do the work during the class, when we prepared so much and taught every single day, and they chose not to do the work.  To see them offered a piddly little assignment in exchange for the credit (I’ve seen this happen) is a slap in the face to my morals, values and profession.  The fact that administrators use this more often for students with challenging behaviour problems to get them out of the building is even more of a slap in the face.

Solution: let teachers teach and assess on a manageable schedule, and if students can’t do the work, support them as much as we can but let them try again if they fail.

Demands of volunteering and coaching:

Teachers who volunteer to coach a team do double duty, staying after school to practice and travelling to games, often during school hours and weekends.  Teachers have a lot of paperwork to complete to travel with a sports team, whether it be booking hotels or arranging rides with parents.  We often have to decide whether to use our prep time to prep for our classes or use it to organize the sports trip and the photocopying of myriad permission slips.  This is not something done by administrative assistants, because their time has been cut back to a minimum as well.  If you miss class time because you are away at a game or tournament, you also have to spend time asking your colleagues to give up a prep hour to cover your class.  So even though we may have only 4 prep periods in eight days, we ask someone to give one of those precious prep periods up to cover our classes so we can go and coach (volunteer) the school team.  The weekends away and evenings on the road are absolutely not compensated; we do it because we love sport and our students being active in sports or academic teams.

Supervision:

Some schools and staff take on the role of supervision during recess and lunch, and sometimes this can be well organized and democratic, and sometimes it is not.  Supervision is also extra work in a teacher’s day.   Good leadership within the building by admin will set up a fair and simplified schedule so teachers do not feel overburdened.  Poor leadership by admin means supervision is a very stressful addition to a teacher’s workload.  At one point I was assigned to do supervision every day at lunch for more than half the lunch block (25 minutes of the 35 minute lunch).  On a day without any prep time in your schedule, giving up your lunch break is very difficult.  In a working day in a unionized workplace, having a lunch break should be a given, but this is not so for many teachers who often miss sitting down to eat lunch.   I recall a time when we had entire semesters without any prep time, and some teachers were still given supervision duty despite their lunch being their only break in their immensely busy day.  When I had supervision every day, I had about 10 minutes for lunch.  Most days I had to decide whether to: eat quickly, go to the washroom, OR make a quick photocopy or get organized for my classes after lunch.  How healthy is it to skip lunch?  It’s not something I would want my students to do, so why is it okay for so many teachers to skip lunch due to supervision time or lack of prep?   What really grinds my gears is that we are told we can eat our lunch on our prep if our supervision is at lunch- PREP time is PREP time, not lunch time.

Solution: ensure teachers have a healthy amount of time to take a quiet break in their day. A 30-minute lunch break without supervision and without missing their prep time should be a minimum expectation for a healthy workforce.

Administration and school board accountability:

The issue of coverage and prep time being taken away has to do with some issues at the board level and administration.  There is a lot of great leadership in our schools but there’s also a lot of bad leadership and bad leadership can do a lot of damage to a school community in both the short and long term.  Often it seems the admin is trying to jump through hoops created by school board or Department of Education policies and this leads to stress on teachers.  Many of the expectations relate to data, reporting and also liability issues such as new travel and chaperone policies that have made class trips even more time-consuming and stressful to organize.  Some administrators do not uphold strong standards for discipline and behaviour, and classrooms become difficult places for teaching and learning because teachers are not supported when they ask that a student be disciplined.  Administrators and teachers are equal in the union but not in the day-to-day running of some schools, and when this is not done well, it leads to A LOT of stress on teachers.  I have already described issues of teacher schedules, prep time and autonomy, and this does relate to board-level decisions and administration.  There is no information or transparency on how administrators are evaluated, but teachers do not seem to have a say or a voice in many cases.

Accreditation and other fake “accountability” methods:

The general public should really know how much money and time has been poured into schools’ process of “accreditation” in the past 10 years.  Binders upon binders upon binders of photocopied information done by teachers and administration have not resulted in improvements in schools.  Don’t get me wrong, setting goals and collaborating to improve schools is an excellent idea and good use of time, but the process of accreditation has not been a good use of time or human resources within a school building.  Using teachers’ inservice days for data collection and goal setting only to see the goals reversed, overturned or changed by Boards or the Department of Education has been frustrating for teachers.  Setting goals of collaboration only to realize there is no preparation time to collaborate within a building is also frustrating.  The need for accreditation is also a bit unclear because we have provincially mandated standards to begin with.  If schools are following provincially mandated standards and Board policies, and teachers come from accredited universities and are given the time and the space to do good work, why do schools also need to then become “accredited?”  This goes to the heart of the issue of money spent on bureaucracy and meeting fake goals.  It is incredibly frustrating to be mandated to complete certain types of reporting, knowing that it will not be used, implemented or effective. If a school or board sets a goal of improving technology use, one way they “meet” this goal is by spending money to put technology into the classroom.  A lot of money has been spent on iPads and Mimios and making sure every single classroom has one- so the box that states “technology goal met” can be checked.  It doesn’t matter whether teachers are using the technology or using it well; it also doesn’t matter if teachers do not have proper training to use the technology; the goal is reached if every classroom has the technology installed.  In other words, don’t ask teachers what they need in the classroom- tell them what they are getting, install it and pat yourself on the back for meeting your technology goal.  A sad, sad state of affairs- the emperor has no clothes – but they have iPads and Mimios!!!

Assessment and report card deadlines:

Recently I took a look at some of my own report cards my siblings and I received in high school and I noticed that in the past, report cards did not take a long time to complete.  Calculating marks and averages would have taken teachers a significant amount of time but the report cards themselves were not onerous.  In the past, a report card was one page with the cumulative marks and little or no comments from teachers.  There were a few brief comments if teachers chose to include a comment- one said “More effort required” and one said “A pleasure to have in class.”  The comment section for teachers was OPTIONAL.  Compare that to report cards now, teachers are REQUIRED to write a lengthy comment with details about strengths and what students can improve on for every student they teach.  Along with comments on each and every student in each and every class, teachers also have to fill in a ‘student profile’ section as well.  Teachers in elementary or junior high sometimes have two different formats of report cards to fill in if they teach in both grade levels.  Report cards are now 4 to 6 pages in length when printed.  Filling in the mandatory report card comments takes hours and hours (one veteran teacher estimated it takes them between 20 to 30 hours to complete the report card process, and in my experience 20+ hours is very accurate.) Now that we are using an online program to report more often and in more detail, and are mandated to provide comments, you would assume we would be given time for this additional work, but NO, this is not the case.  Are there any other professions where 20 hours of additional work requirements would be added without extra time given to complete this work?  There is no additional time given to complete report cards- we do it at home in the evenings and weekends and since it’s available online, we are simply expected to do it at home on our own time.  Since report cards have switched to online, the administrative days at the end of term often do not line up with deadlines for reporting, so we do not have admin or “marking days” prior to report card deadlines.  Reporting periods are some of the most stressful times for teachers.

Solution: Set teachers up with marking days prior to report card reporting periods.  Do not require mandatory paragraphs of information by every teacher for every student and DO NOT introduce “new” reporting formats and throw out the old report formats every three years.

Reviewing this summary I notice that I haven’t actually discussed the day-to-day or hour-by-hour activity of the classroom.  I haven’t discussed class composition, class size, or learning needs.  I think the reason for this is my list of issues often takes up a large balance of the stress experienced by teachers before or while they teach.  So much is spent on all of this other bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo that the classroom goal is to “get through it” each day.  Take the work home to try to get through on the evenings and weekends in order to cope in the classroom.  There has been so much money poured into initiatives that don’t last and don’t work- the public should be outraged. As I mentioned above, many, but not all classrooms are relying on a fast food model rather than the wholesome goodness that teachers want to provide and were trained to carry out through their professional training.  Let the professionals be professionals, focus on letting teachers teach and be prepared to teach, focus on education, not on creating a system of data collection or goals for the sake of goals, technology for the sake of technology.  More community- driven voices and teacher voices being heard and less top- down bureaucracy and trusting short term fixes being “sold” to us can go a long way to fixing some of the problems within our current system. Teachers in this province are AMAZING, so trust them and let them do their jobs.

Pride

As a teacher, you get a thrill when a student masters a concept related to your course content. When a child learns to read or solve a math problem or even when they show you that they learned another life skill which isn’t an outcome like kindness and empathy, you get an adrenaline rush because in that moment, you made a difference to that child.
As a social studies teacher, sometimes we don’t get to see the results; sometimes we feel like our contributions don’t matter. We don’t get to see the skills we teach put into action because often, our students are grown before it happens.
When I used to teach grade 9 social studies, there was an outcome related to taking age- appropriate social action. My students would write letters to their local politician to explain why that issue was important to them. The students found it empowering because they had a voice, and because the adult in question was obligated to respond to their letter.
This week, as I looked out my window, I saw a large group of students, standing on a street corner, protesting an injustice. They were using their voices to show their government that they are not happy with their teachers’ working conditions and by extension, their learning conditions. They see that classes are bigger than ever, that they don’t get the attention they needs, that they don’t have enough textbooks, and resources. They see a government who doesn’t negotiate fairly, who tries to demoralize their teachers, who doesn’t seem to really care about their needs.
Today, I got to see the fruit of my labour. I got to hear their voices, their arguments, their desires for a better education system. The young people, my students, my kids, those infamous Millenials, so often labeled as lazy and unmotivated, standing on a street corner calling for change, for fairness for something better. And I couldn’t be more proud of them.

Preparing the Holiday Meal

You know that Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or “insert large holiday” meal? You know, the one that your loved ones spent 3 days before making pies for dessert? And spent the day before calling everyone to make sure they were still coming? And spent the whole day of peeling countless types of vegetables, stuffing, salads and side dishes, not to mention hours cooking and basting the turkey to perfection?
Well that’s the type of lessons we want to prepare for our students.


But here’s what happens:


Someone is allergic to various parts of the meal, so I have to make something different for them, that they will enjoy and not feel left out. Someone else has false teeth, so I have to mash everything for him. Someone else can’t hold utensils, so I have to make sure somebody can feed her. A couple will not show up, but expect me to warm up leftovers the next day. Some will only eat the dessert. Some will complain that there isn’t anything they like and get mad that there isn’t any chicken nuggets. Some don’t recognize the food because they eat different food where they are from. Some get up and leave before the meal is done.


Most just want to come and enjoy the meal. Some are thankful. Most say nothing. One or two tell you how awful it was.


So, no matter how much your loved one prepared, no matter how much time and effort was put into that amazing meal, it just isn’t right for many of the guests.
Well, that’s what planning lessons is like. Hours, days in advance, specific needs, adaptations, IPPs [Individual Program Plans], behaviour plans, attendance, learning disabilities and styles, language barriers and so much more have to be taken into account for EVERY lesson.
That’s like making Thanksgiving dinner for EVERY meal!

 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

On the first day of classes every year, I put my class “rule” on the board. It looks like this:

RESPECT

We then go through what the word actually means.

  1. Respect YOURSELF

For students, this means pay attention in class so you can understand and do your best. It means complete classwork, homework, assignments, etc. to the best of your ability. It means come to class every day on time with your materials and your mind ready to learn. It means be prepared to find some ideas challenging, but be willing to try. It means be proud when you accomplish things that you thought you couldn’t accomplish.

  1. Respect OTHERS

For students, this means listen to others in the classroom; the teacher, your classmates and their opinions, administration and the rules of the building. Be open to listening and learning with others. Be willing to work with other people, even if they aren’t your best friends and if they hold differing opinions, because even if you don’t really want to work with some of your classmates you may learn more than you thought you would.

  1. Respect the ENVIRONMENT

For students, this means take care of your work, the area in which you work, etc.

RESPECT is straightforward and non-negotiable. Today, with the state of teaching in Nova Scotia, it now seems I must listen to my own words with respect to my profession. (NB: The word profession is deliberate… this is not just my job).

  1. Respect YOURSELF

I respect myself enough to expect a cost of living increase in wages.

I respect myself enough to expect to keep my service award that was included in my contract when I started teaching.

I respect myself enough to ask for help when I need it. I need help. I am lucky enough to be a high school teacher in a school that does not have class sizes of 40+ students. However, I spend too much time doing school-related things outside of my prep time. You may ask why. I urge you to keep reading (specifically, under “Respect Others”).

I respect myself enough to constantly write “technology tickets” explaining how the latest software (Gradebook) will not load on my computer. Or to explain how I tried using all three browsers to open a website and yet none will load due to problems with the school WiFi. I have written technology tickets after spending five minutes waiting for my computer to start so that I can simply log in, knowing that the computer that is “new” to my school is actually a recycled computer from somewhere else (with hardly enough memory to use any of the equipment for which my department head fought).

I respect myself enough to tell the government that Nova Scotia’s ACTION PLAN for Education is not working. Yes, some changes have happened. But the government does not always take into account how these changes affect teachers or students. For example, the math curriculum has changed. Sadly, they did not look into how this would affect science courses in high school (which remain unchanged). Math 11 will now be a full year, meaning that other courses, such as technology, arts, etc., will not have as many students registering for them. Math 10 and 11 (academic only) will have a class cap (which sounds awesome, right?). But this means that the other classes will have more students than ever before, because the government will not be increasing the number of teachers hired.

I respect myself enough to make sure that when a friend or a stranger talks about those “greedy teachers,”, I have a response ready that is factual yet friendly.

I respect myself enough to not take what Premier McNeil says to heart every time he states things which I know to be untrue. I get it; I don’t fully understand his job, either – which is why I am not making the same types of inaccurate assumptions he is making in relation to my profession.

2. Respect OTHERS

I respect my colleagues enough to know that if they are saying that students in elementary are not getting anything from the provincial assessments, I believe them.

I respect my colleagues enough to help them when they need someone to walk a student to the office, to stay after school to supervise a part in a concert, or to allow a student who was absent to write an assessment in a quiet space.

I respect my students enough to know that being pushed onto the next grade is doing nothing but causing them anxiety in the classroom.

I respect my students enough to know that having the type of miscellaneous classrooms that we currently have in Nova Scotia are causing all students to lose out. Some students are not being challenged. Some students cannot read enough to keep up. Some students are not being given the proper supports they need educationally, physically and/or mentally. Some students do not have the behaviour skills to manage in a typical classroom. No matter what my colleagues and I do, it is impossible to teach these students given the current classroom dynamics.

I respect my students enough to stay inside at lunch to provide extra help.

I respect my students enough to stay after school to help with extracurricular activities.

3. Respect the ENVIRONMENT

I respect the school environment enough to clean up my classroom after students leave garbage on the floor and in the desks.

I respect the environment enough to remind students to compost or recycle.

I respect the environment enough to keep a smile on my face day after day, even though a strike has been looming for months and no one seems to be listening to anything teachers are saying.

All I ask is that the government shows some of this respect in return. That is all teachers are asking. And again, RESPECT is straightforward and non-negotiable.

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.

_____________________________________________

FIND YOUR MLA

http://nslegislature.ca/index.php/people/member-bios

http://enstools.gov.ns.ca/edinfo2012/