Teachers hold rally in Yarmouth in opposition to government's plan to legislate contract


Published on February 15, 2017

Teacher rally on Starrs Road in Yarmouth on Feb. 15.

© Tina Comeau

YARMOUTH – As opposition MLAs spoke in the Nova Scotia Legislature against a government bill that would force a contract on teachers, in Yarmouth teachers showed their opposition to the government’s plan with a rally.

As they did in December, teachers lined the sidewalk on Starrs Road waving signs that read ‘Negotiate don’t dictate,” and “Respect the profession, let teachers teach.”

They’ll be back here again Friday as the NSTU is holding a province-wide one-day teacher walkout. In Yarmouth teachers won’t be picketing at individual school sites, but rather they'll be demonstrating collectively on Starrs Road from 8-11 a.m. Some teachers will board buses for a rally in Halifax.

Teacher rally on Starrs Road in Yarmouth on Feb. 15.

©Tina Comeau

I think the biggest issue is teachers are not feeling appreciated. We have been working, so when people say for us to get back to work, they don’t realize we have been working. The only thing we’re not doing is all the volunteer stuff. Teacher Allen Whittaker

At the Feb. 15 rally, Yarmouth County teacher Allen Whittaker said teachers are extremely frustrated.

“I think the biggest issue is teachers are not feeling appreciated. We have been working, so when people say for us to get back to work, they don’t realize we have been working. The only thing we’re not doing is all the volunteer stuff,” he says. “I think that is the biggest frustration teachers have, that and they don’t feel respected.”

Whittaker and others at the rally say the biggest overall issue in this dispute that teachers feel is not be addressed is classroom conditions.

“When violence happens in the classroom and nothing is done with it because the policies are so wishy-washy, the parents can challenge it and the students are back in a classroom 30 minutes later, what’s the point of giving a kid detention or some form of consequence,” he says, noting his wife, a teacher, was kicked in the stomach this school year and she’s pregnant. “Or when a student can miss as much class time as they want and come back and say, ‘I want the work,’ and they get it done the very last day of the course and the teacher has to mark it . . .”

Teachers question what message it sends within the education system when students don’t have to attend class or do the work and they advance to the next grade level anyway. Or, teachers say, sometimes students aren’t academically ready to advance to the next grade level, but they are moved ahead even if they haven’t been able to meet the outcomes of the grade they’re in. And than that can snowball through the subsequent grade levels.

“You can’t fail them on an IPP, you can’t fail them when they’re on adaptions, so there is a no-fail policy,” Whittaker says.

Teachers say there aren’t enough resources in the classrooms – not enough textbooks, not enough technology, sometimes not even desks to go around. Classrooms are crowded with a wide spectrum of students. More manpower is needed. There aren’t enough teacher assistants in the system to meet the needs of students and to provide support to teachers in classrooms, say teachers. More need to be hired.

They say the bill the Liberal government has introduced doesn’t address the needs that have already been identified. Action is needed, not committees and commissions.

Teacher rally on Starrs Road in Yarmouth on Feb. 15.

© Tina Comeau

A lot of areas where the education system is lacking were being pointed to by opposition MLAs in the Legislature on Wednesday, one day after the government introduced Bill 75. As teachers in Yarmouth stood on a sidewalk, MLA Andrew Younger was addressing the House and touched on various problems within the education system from not enough people resources and supports for teachers, to violence in the classroom, to outdated textbooks, to volunteer demands on teachers’ time.

Students want one-on-one access with teachers during class time, he said, but they can’t get it when class sizes are large or when a teacher is responsible for multiple lesson plans for that one classroom because of all of the different student outcome levels.

He said the system isn’t working for teachers, parents or students, “and I don’t think that’s because of work to rule,” he said. “I think that’s because there are issues, which everybody seems okay with putting off for a year or two or three.”

GOVERNMENT’S LEGISLATION

The bill put forward by the government – the Teachers' Professional Agreement and Classroom Improvement Act – creates a contract for members of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, and means the union is no longer in a legal strike position.

"For more than two months, this impasse, and continued work-to-rule strike action, have had a negative impact on our students, our families, our teachers and our communities," said Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Karen Casey. "On three separate occasions, the union and government reached tentative agreements that were rejected by the membership. We want the disruptions to students to end."

The bill establishes the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions, composed of classroom teachers and representatives from the union and government, and invests $20 million over two years to address issues in the classroom. The bill also establishes a three-person Commission on Inclusive Education. The commission’s job will be to engage front-line teachers, parents, and students, and review best practices across Canada. The commission will be launched within 30 days of the bill being passed and will come back with an interim report by June 30 to allow for initial implementation in the upcoming school year.

Current class caps will be maintained for grades Primary to 6. Class sizes, at all levels, will be addressed by the council. The bill provides a wage pattern for teachers, which remains at three per cent increase over four years. Retirement bonuses will be frozen and based on the salary a teacher makes upon retirement, as per the three tentative agreements.

Teacher rally on Starrs Road in Yarmouth on Feb. 15.

© Tina Comeau

SCHOOLS CLOSED FRIDAY

The Tri-County Regional School Board issued a statement Wednesday stating a bit of the obvious by saying that because of the one-day walkout announced by the provincial NSTU, all TCRSB schools will be closed to students on Friday, Feb. 17. 

“Although no students and teachers will be in schools, all non-NSTU staff members are expected to report to their work site on Friday. Bus drivers will receive a specific communication from the Coordinator of Transportation regarding the expectations for their work day,” said interim superintendent Jim Gunn.

The board says the Early Years Centre at Yarmouth Central will be open on Friday to receive children, but all TCRSB “After School Programs” will be closed because students won’t be attending school during the day.

“At this point, I understand that the NSTU walkout on Friday is for only one day.  If I am advised otherwise, I will let everyone know as quickly as possible in advance of next Tuesday. Monday is Heritage Day in Nova Scotia, a statutory holiday.”

Meanwhile back at the Nova Scotia Legislature, the debate over the government’s bill was being turned over to the public on Wednesday evening. The law amendments committee will meet Wednesday from 7 p.m to 10 p.m. and on Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Red Chamber of Province House.

 

Teacher rally on Starrs Road in Yarmouth on Feb. 15.

© Tina Comeau