Teach­ing a les­son

Teach­ers march on leg­is­la­ture protest­ing im­posed con­tract

Cape Breton Post - - CAPE BRETON/PROVINCE -

Nova Sco­tia’s pub­lic school teach­ers walked off the job en masse Fri­day and staged a noisy protest out­side the provin­cial leg­is­la­ture, where politi­cians con­tin­ued a marathon de­bate on leg­is­la­tion to im­pose a con­tract on them.

Hun­dreds of teach­ers and their sup­port­ers filled a city block, chant­ing, clang­ing bells and wav­ing plac­ards as mem­bers of the leg­is­la­ture dis­cussed Bill 75, the dis­puted gov­ern­ment bill many ed­u­ca­tors say does lit­tle to ad­dress de­te­ri­o­rat­ing class­room con­di­tions.

An­gela Scott, a Hal­i­fax high school teacher, said she wanted to join the protest on the planned, one-day strike to send a mes­sage to Premier Stephen McNeil and Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Karen Casey.

“We’re not happy with the way our schools are be­ing run to­day and we’re not happy with the way stu­dents are be­ing treated,’’ she said on a clear, but crisp day. “I came here to try to have a voice be­cause Stephen McNeil and Karen Casey are not lis­ten­ing to us.’’

In­side the leg­is­la­ture, McNeil said in an in­ter­view that it is a “chal­leng­ing day’’ for him per­son­ally, in part be­cause he has rel­a­tives who are teach­ers and re­tired teach­ers.

He said the spec­ta­cle of hun­dreds of teach­ers on strike out­side the house of assem­bly is the fall­out of failed ef­forts on the part of his and prior gov­ern­ments to prop­erly tar­get investments to im­prove class­room teach­ing con­di­tions.

“We’ve missed the mark on those investments,’’ he said.

McNeil said after the leg­is­la­tion is passed his gov­ern­ment will fo­cus on a com­mit­tee for class­room im­prove­ment that will have an ini­tial $20 mil­lion to spend on im­prov­ing class­room teach­ing con­di­tions.

“We need to lis­ten to teach­ers about investments we need to make in class­rooms. The one place I was in­vest­ing ev­ery bud­get was in class­rooms. And ob­vi­ously it didn’t work. The frus­tra­tion here is real.’’

Sherry John­ston Sperry, who teaches high school fam­ily stud­ies, said teach­ers are so over­bur­dened and given lim­ited re­sources that they can’t prop­erly in­struct stu­dents, par­tic­u­larly those with spe­cial needs.

Sperry, who has been teach­ing for 13 years, said in one year she has had up to 15 stu­dents with so-called in­di­vid­ual pro­gram plans that re­quire more at­ten­tion, and classes with 30 stu­dents. She says that means she can­not pro­vide stu­dents with the proper at­ten­tion, even work­ing ex­tra hours.

“I have two young chil­dren and I feel I’m ei­ther ne­glect­ing them or my stu­dents,’’ she said. “I strug­gle with that and it’s got­ten a lot worse over the last five years.’’

The union has said coun­cil’s com­po­si­tion of four gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives, one union cochair and nine class­room teach­ers se­lected by school board su­per­in­ten­dents doesn’t give the NSTU enough say.

NDP Leader Gary Bur­rill said the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of teach­ers’ griev­ances ul­ti­mately led to the strike - the first for the prov­ince’s 9,300 teach­ers since their union was formed 122 years ago.

“The McNeil gov­ern­ment’s treatment of the peo­ple who teach our chil­dren, and who of­ten serve as the back­bone and life blood of our com­mu­ni­ties, is un­jus­ti­fi­able,’’ he said in a state­ment.

“To­day’s his­toric strike is an­other cry from teach­ers that they are drowning.’’

The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment is ex­pected to con­tinue push­ing the bill through the leg­is­la­ture after the law amend­ments com­mit­tee heard tes­ti­mony from teach­ers and mem­bers of the pub­lic Thurs­day.

Teach­ers de­scribed scenes of vi­o­lence, ne­glect and crammed class­rooms as they spoke out against the bill.

High school teacher Tim MacLeod said the rise in stu­dent men­tal ill­ness is­sues is over­whelm­ing teach­ers, while other ed­u­ca­tors said they can no longer cope with class­rooms where stu­dents with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties aren’t re­ceiv­ing enough sup­port.

CP PHOTO

An ef­figy of Nova Sco­tia Premier Stephen McNeil is hung out­side the leg­is­la­ture in Hal­i­fax on Fri­day as teach­ers took part in a one-day, provincewide strike

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