Serenity prayer scenario arrives for teachers
Unfortunately, there is no political version of a biblical ha-yobhel or Jubilee year, where sin and debt are forgiven. So, governments must find ways to pay for past sins and debt. A consulting group hired to make recommendations to deal with Nova Scotia’s $16-billion debt, and a declining, aging population, offered two options.
1. Lay off public employees and increase taxes, which government rejected.
2. Get rid of anything government doesn’t need and can’t afford, and initiate an immigration campaign. That led to closing schools and government buildings and terminating lease agreements.
It also meant setting a lean fiscal agenda in contract negotiations, such as salaries/wages and service awards. Nova Scotia is the only province still paying service awards; among the first to have those awards frozen were MLAs, with all public employees to follow, including teachers. Ten other groups accepted those conditions and moved on. But teachers didn’t get past those issues, to move on to what was supposedly their main concern, classroom conditions.
How many hours or minutes were actually spent on proposals to improve classroom conditions?
The Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) wants to negotiate issues like teacher-student ratios. But numerous education ministers have complained that provisions in the NSTU contract made it impossible to make meaningful changes to the education system. The McNeil government is determined not to repeat that mistake, and will not negotiate such issues.
Education Minister Karen Casey has repeatedly stated that many future changes would not be decided by negotiations but by consultation, and government is proposing two such forums. The first is the Partnership on Working Conditions, [Council] which will include teachers. It will have a $20 million allocation, over two years, to cover the costs of implementing classroom solutions.
Teachers say they don’t trust government to implement changes, but do they have any choice. Government doesn’t need teacher participation to formulate and implement policy, but obviously wants teacher participation. Teachers are now in a serenity prayer scenario. They must accept what they can’t change, and change what they can by becoming proactively involved, proposing positive solutions and opposing negative suggestions to create the classroom conditions they need.
Setting student-teacher ratios is a start, but any real solution must address the main cause of the classroom overloading, our inclusion model. Past governments would never consider revisiting inclusion, but this government intends to establish a commission to do so. That’s a bold step and has taken 20 years to open that door. Changes must be acceptable to all parties, not just to teachers. The challenge will be to find ways to integrate those changes, with appropriate checks and balances, to address the needs of all students, without overloading teachers, and within the legal parameters of inclusion.
We are constantly hearing about the needs of classroom teachers, but hear nothing about the needs of the forgotten students in inclusive classrooms. Those students who are ready to be challenged at grade-level, without adaptations, modifications or IPPs. They were swept aside by a wave of special needs, and offered mediocre education standards, at every level. Curriculum and assessment didn’t include the higher performance and proficiency outcomes they needed to prepare them for the higher cognitive demand levels on standardized assessments, or for post-secondary education. But, did anyone notice or care? Al Moore Glace Bay