Teachers detail problems
Schools under staffed and stressed, committee told
Nova Scotia teachers described scenes of violence, neglect and crammed classrooms Thursday as they spoke out against a government bill imposing a collective agreement on them.
“The rise in student mental illness issues is overwhelming teachers. Where are the supports for these most vulnerable of our students?’’ high school science teacher Timothy MacLeod, his voice breaking as he told politicians about helping his pupils cope with the grief of losing a classmate to suicide.
MacLeod told the law amendments committee that he has up to 30 students with vastly differing abilities crammed into an aging lab designed to hold about 20 students, performing experiments with obsolete equipment.
MacLeod and other presenters argued the four-year contract being imposed on teachers fails to address deteriorating classroom conditions.
The 48-year-old educator said if he and other teachers at Millwood high school in Halifax had more time, they may have been able to help prevent suicides or a high-profile case where two students were arrested for allegedly transporting weapons in a duffle bag early last year.
“This legislation attacks the collective rights of workers. This will lead to a court challenge that will cost millions in taxpayers dollars. Money that could go into classrooms, my classroom,’’ he said.
The government’s imposed contract would include creation of a council that will invest $20 million over two years to address classroom conditions, which MacLeod said isn’t enough.
Liberal House Leader Michel Samson says the government recognizes the teachers’ concerns and will work to improve the classroom problems and may consider additional funding.
“We’re going to let our actions speak for ourselves and the teachers will see we were listening and we are going to make changes, we are going to address the concerns they have raised,’’ he said in an interview outside of the hearings.
The teachers are planning a one-day strike today — the first time the educators have walked out since the union was formed 122 years ago.
Premier Stephen McNeil has said his negotiators have tried to secure an agreement for 16 months and continuing talks after members rejected three separate deals simply permits ongoing disruption in the classroom.
The law — which the government is hoping will be passed by Tuesday — will bring an end to the teachers’ work-to-rule campaign, which began Dec. 5. The rules of the campaign stipulated that teachers should only report for work 20 minutes before class starts and leave 20 minutes after the school day ends.
In a speech Wednesday to the Chamber of Commerce, McNeil described the need to maintain a balanced budget, arguing the days of accumulating debts for future generations must come to an end.
Cherie Abriel, a resource teacher in a junior high school in Bible Hill, told the committee McNeil’s arguments are unconvincing at a time when basic services to students with learning disabilities aren’t being met.
“Many of them need life skills support, social skills support. I have students in my classes who masturbate,’’ she said, adding she has difficulty finding time to come up with plans to help alter behaviour problems.
“We have no special education classroom in our school. There’s no teaching program to help with those students. As a teacher focused on literacy and learning, I’m suddenly focused on life skills for these students, some of whom are non-verbal and some who are blind.’’
Students and parents protest outside the legislature in Halifax on Dec. 5, 2016. Nova Scotia teachers testified Thursday that classroom problems ranging from student violence to the neglect of students with learning disabilities will worsen if the Liberal government pushes through a bill that imposes a collective agreement.