autism · Education · Politics

One Parent’s UPDATED UPDATED Opinion of a Possible NS Teacher’s Strike

I just watched the Premier’s little Facebook video about the looming teacher’s strike in Nova Scotia and I threw up in my mouth a little.  A disingenuous piece of propaganda aimed at creating divisions between parents and teachers.  This Government isn’t stupid… it knows that it will require public support to weather this disaster. Step one: blame the Government that came before; Step two: tell parents, “we are on your side, but the teachers are difficult and don’t care about your children.”

Well this parent will not be fooled and I am urging parents across Nova Scotia to stand by our Educators as we get deeper into this.  This Government, as we have seen it do time and time again, has dug their heels in and refuses to listen to the only experts on the topic of the Education System – the teachers, the parents and the students.

I listen to the Premier talk about wage packages and awards in an attempt to paint teachers as greedy and unreasonable; I hear him tout investments in Mental Health services for students and claim to be “focused” on students’ well-being, and I can’t help but wonder if they actually believe they are doing a good job managing one of the most important resources in the province.

There is so much evidence to support the claim that a well educated society is a healthy, safe, strong and prosperous society.  But how can we get there when we treat the people that are charged with delivering a well educated society as mere pawns in the game.

The teachers are swinging back, and thank goddess for that. Because they are the ones on the ground trying to work in seemingly impossible classroom conditions; attempting to carry out The Department of Education’s misguided vision of a wholly inclusive and individualized learning environment for all students, in a system that also requires standardization of practices and offers limited resources and training to adequately meet the needs of all students.  In an effort to be heard they are telling their stories on a unique blog about the challenges they face and why they will continue to fight the Government in  these negotiations.

Parents want to be heard too, and in a meaningful way, not through poorly designed surveys and rigged consultation meetings.  Because along with teachers, parents are the other experts Government isn’t listening to.  This is particularly true for parents who feel like their kids are the ones falling through the cracks; those students with diverse learning needs who are not easily assimilated into this poorly designed and managed public school system.

And then there are the students themselves, who are supposed to be at the center of it all.  There has been absolutely zero attempt to find out what students themselves need to engage with the system in meaningful ways.  So while the Government might think they taking a “student focused” approach, it is a far cry from what this system actually needs – a “student centered” approach.

But this Government, as we have seen it do time and time again, is acting like they are the only experts on what is needed in our Public Schools.  They believe they know best on how to keep their employees (teachers) and customers (students) happy.  They refuse to take an evidence-based approach, or listen to the stories and truly understand the classroom crises faced on a daily basis.  If they think all they have to do is cap classroom sizes and hire a couple more psychologists to resolve these crises, they are not only negligent in their governing role; they are also responsible for creating dangerous and sometimes traumatizing conditions for the most vulnerable students in the system.  Will it take a tragedy to make them listen?  Will we continually be reacting to tragedy rather that proactively making the necessary changes to keep all of our students healthy and safe?

In an effort to be heard and contribute to the conversation about what is actually happening in Nova Scotia public schools, the second episode of a Podcast I co-host with retired HRSB Autism Specialist Jan Keddy (Parents as Partners) is dedicated to discussing some of the challenges faced in a system with “Inclusion” as a philosophical pillar of it all.  Certainly Inclusion as a value system is one we want at the forefront, however, Inclusion as a practice is incredibly difficult, especially given the classroom conditions and lack of resources schools have at their disposal.

We offer this episode in solidarity with the Nova Scotia Teacher’s Union, and refuse to allow our Premier and his Government to drive a wedge between teachers, parents and students.   And even though a strike has the potential to create difficulties and inconveniences for families (especially those with neurodiverse students); it is not the Teacher’s who are to be blamed for that.  It is the Government.  We need to be heard.

***UPDATE NOVEMBER 26***

With the news of talks breaking down, yet again, between the Government and the Teacher’s Union, and with this blog making the rounds again… I feel like I have to add a caveat to this opinion. They have a great opportunity to make real, significant and meaningful changes to the system, and frankly, both sides appear to be blowing it.

First of all I would like to point out that $500 million dollars is a steal for improving the public education system. In fact, in my estimation, to completely update and modify our public school system in a way that was in step with the economic, political and cultural realities they are facing and being trained for, it would cost way more than that.  The Nova Scotia Government has a history of giving away far more money than $500 million dollars to corporations like Irving and Emera.  From my understanding the teacher’s ask was broken down into about $1.4m in salaries and $3.4m in classroom conditions. Even though teacher’s are among the highest paid professionals in Nova Scotia, it is of my opinion that, if they are doing their jobs right, they kind of should be. The impact that teachers have on our society is enormous, maybe the most important.  And given that we use salary as measure of importance in this society, it stands to reason that teachers actually should be among the highest paid professionals in our society.  For all of those reasons, the $500 million ask is not an unreasonable investment to me… but….

And there is a big but here.  The Teacher’s Union is getting a failing grade in communications about the specifics of what they are asking for, and keeping parents and students in the dark about what “job action” is actually going to look like for them.  My updated opinion is incomplete without being able to analyse and judge the specifics of what that $340 million in classroom conditions means.  As a parent, trying to decipher this whole thing, I can’t tell you how confused I am about what “classroom conditions” are except an abstract bargaining chip in negotiations.

Both sides are playing politics with this situation.

I need to make a distinction between the Teachers themselves and the Teachers Union, because I have always been the type of person to be more People oriented than Organization or Association oriented, be it Government or Union.   And in my opinion, for what it is worth, the Teachers themselves should be allowed to talk, openly, and with confidence, to parents and students, about what is happening and what the students… who they care so deeply about… can expect will happen on Dec 3… which, I might add is less than a week away…

It is also extremely unfortunate, that the Government has connected the Teachers to the civil servant sector as a whole, by making this negotiation relevant to all civil servants under the province.  Now I will be the first to admit that I don’t completely understand the ins and outs of union negotiations and labour legislation… but it seems to me that Bill 148 is a piece of legislation intended to keep civil servants in line.  That, if any single union gets out of line, and asks for too much, the government will freeze it all.  But apparently, as Stephen McNeil pointed out, it goes the other way too… that if they were to actually give teachers what they are asking for, they would have to do it across the whole civil servant sector.

I have a great deal of difficulty understanding how and why what the Teacher’s Union negotiate will and should impact all unionized civil servants.  Which, I view as a communications problem on both sides.

I feel the Government is getting the upper hand in this political drama, and the Teacher’s Union is kind of giving it to them.

I continue to support NS Teachers, but this parent is also getting exhausted by the politics of it all…

**UPDATED December 15, 2016**

Well since my last update, a whole lot has happened with this whole Teacher’s Strike thing.  Let’s see, the Teacher’s Union did, indeed, become more transparent and forthcoming about what their job action would look like.  They gave parents and the government a full week’s notice to prepare for a work-to-rule.

Then, something completely crazy happened.  On Saturday December 3, two days before the work-to-rule was to start… the Education Minister decided to close schools to students, citing “safety concerns” but also in preparation of legislating them into a contract that they didn’t bargain for.

It was a completely boneheaded move by the Government, and one which will likely hurt them in the next election.

The parent and student response was brilliant.  It was such a perfect case study of large scale, grassroots organization and mobilization of regular folks.  For me, it proved something I long have believed about civil uprisings… it takes a direct attack on people’s lives to get them riled up and angry enough to stand up and say… “Oh hell no” for them to take action and participate in the democratic system. It was a beautiful thing.

But now, the kids are back in school, and it is back to the bargaining table both sides must go.

I have been writing and posting and commenting on this issue from one angle only… and that is the angle of a parent which has had her fair share of fights to keep life relatively stable for her autistic boys.  Much of the emotion for me in this case is a result of being utterly exhausted at having to fight for what we, as a family, are theoretically entitled to as Canadian citizens…  Tim Bousquet described it best in his analysis on the Halifax Examiner :

“It was like the German army overrunning Belgium on its way to Paris, the people of Belgium becoming the hapless victims of someone else’s war. Why was McNeil suddenly attacking students and their families?”

I hope the teacher’s get a fair deal… and I hope that it includes some real honest attempts at fixing this very broken system… I will continue to speak out as a parent, and try to be a part of the solution, instead of the problems…

 

 

 

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