Current, former Nova Scotian teachers discuss classroom reality

Published on February 1, 2017

Although classroom instruction is continuing during an ongoing labour dispute between the province of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, extra help at lunchtime, before and after school isn’t available for students as part of work-to-rule action. Teachers say issues that need to be resolved include unsafe classrooms, too few resources such as textbooks, too much clerical work for no value, and not enough help in classrooms for students who need additional support.


PICTOU, N.S. - Jim Ryan is viewing the negotiations between the province and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union from a unique perspective.

He was a teacher for 21 years, followed by 13 years as principal of Pictou Academy.

Now retired and serving as the mayor of Pictou, he said he’s been closely following the ongoing labour dispute.

Because his memories of the classroom are still fresh, he understands the issues facing teachers that have led to the work-to-rule partial strike that began in December.

He said in recent years, teachers have had a lot more on their plate to deal with, such as inputting data, and changes in the way students can be disciplined or handled if they don't successfully complete course material.

Ryan said at Pictou Academy, they found the data collection particularly time consuming, and something that kept teachers from doing what they love to do and were trained to do in the classroom.

“We’re spending so much time entering it. I think teachers are finding difficulty to find the time to actually use it,” he said.

The approach also fails to see the uniqueness in schools, he added.

“I really think a big part of that is that they want every school and every teacher and classroom to be the same,” Ryan said. “There’s no room for any flexibility.”

Another issue that has been raised during the dispute is inclusion, which means having all students included together in classrooms regardless of whether they have special needs.

Ryan said he’s a believer in inclusion and said it has good components, but he added it can be taken too far and lead to a result that is neither helpful for the students with special needs or those without.

Rather than leaving those students without the support they need and putting a strain on classrooms, he believes those students need to get individualized attention to help them succeed.

Ryan addressed motivation in the classroom, stating that he believes in some cases, it would be better for students to be able to fail a grade, not to punish them, but to give them more time to learn the material they need to before moving on.

“There are kids that would benefit from another year at the same level and we should accept that,” he said.

Related stories:

Nova Scotia teachers going back to work-to-rule

McNeil has lost the trust of teachers: Baillie

Work-to-rule to end: NSTU and government reach tentative agreement

Five Nova Scotia universities launch legal action against NSTU

“For anyone who hasn't been in a classroom lately, they can never get a true picture of our reality today.” Cape Breton teacher


Caught in the middle

A teacher from Cape Breton who agreed to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity said teachers feel like they are caught in the middle of the negotiations.

“I am one of the frontline people who know what's happening in the classroom, but it's frustrating when I, and the other teachers, can't have direct input on what's happening, but I know that's how the bargaining process works. We make our concerns known to our union, and we just have to hope they can continue to articulate them to the

government,” she said. “Although, whether those concerns are even addressed depends on whether or not the government chooses to listen.”

She said this is her first experience being involved in a labour dispute, and she describes it as very divisive. While most people in the community are supportive as school events are cancelled and salaries have been published, she said she hasn’t been greeted as warmly.

“Close friends and family understand, but for people who don't have kids in school, the issue for them is pretty black and white—they think we're overpaid and we have it pretty easy, so why don't we just settle and move on,” she said. “For anyone who hasn't been in a classroom lately, they can never get a true picture of our reality today.”

For people who do have kids, they may be a little more sympathetic, she said, but sometimes that's also lost if their kids were involved in any of the extra curricular activities that were cancelled.

She said work-to-rule has taken some time to get used to, but she’s found it’s given her a lot of time back at home with her own family.

“I didn't realize that, although I was physically home, I wasn't always mentally present for my kids. My own son said he kind of liked WTR because I was around more, and we got to do things together.”

Even after this is over and a contract is eventually reached, she has promised herself she won't go back to the way things were.

“I will continue to do the ‘extras’ at school that I enjoy doing, but I won't be saying ‘yes’ to everything.”

Another teacher from an elementary school in Shelburne County said because of work-to-rule, they’ve been able to focus on the students.

“My biggest concern about work-to-rule is the negative comments about my profession and personal attacks,” they said. “The misinformation that is being spread without anyone correcting the sources snowball into what people think are facts and it is just wrong.”

They hope a contract will be negotiated soon that will bring more help in the classrooms for all students, less data collection and no new initiatives.

About the labour dispute:

The last agreement with teachers expired on July 31, 2015.

Two tentative agreements have been reached between the province and the NSTU that have been rejected by teachers.

Work to rule began Dec. 5 after teachers voted against the second agreement.

During work-to-rule action, teachers continue to instruct students in classrooms, prepare and implement lesson plans and maintain contact with parents and guardians of students who are at risk or who have special needs.

During work-to-rule, teachers are not entering information in Power School, are not supporting or participating in extra-curricular activities, and are not providing extra help to students, among other tasks.

A third agreement was reached in January, with work-to-rule action suspended beginning on Jan. 23.

Work-to-rule was reinstated Jan. 30 when the NSTU said it lost trust in Premier Stephen McNeil.

Voting on the latest contract offer is scheduled to place  Feb. 8.

Nova Scotia has about 9,000 public school teachers.


With files from Amy Woolvett, TC MEDIA