Frustrated and demoralized: Letter from a Nova Scotia teacher

The following was written by a resource teacher in Nova Scotia and a version of this first appeared at Teachers of Nova Scotia

For the first time ever Nova Scotia teachers may go on strike. And while a cost of living raise and a retirement award is a factor for some of the teachers who voted 70% to reject Stephen McNeil’s second contract offer, these were not my main concerns. For me and many of my colleagues it is our complete demoralization created by a system that makes it impossible to actually teach the children. nstu-labour-day-300x200

I’m a resource teacher at my school for the past five years. The kids here deserve a school where professionals are able to do their job in a way that does not feel immoral. All “my kids” deserve that too – but it is not possible given the realities we face today.

My mother always said to “cut your coat to fit your cloth” and for the past five years I’ve been trying to do just that. Every day I work my guts out trying to meet the needs of my students and teachers. My “coat” has steadily shrunk until now it is barely a vest. My days are spent scrambling to see as many children as possible to help them meet the provincial curriculum outcomes or individual program goals. I have 15 out of 100 students on IPP (individual program plan) and another 35 on adaptations. Our school results on provincially mandated standardized assessments are consistently well below the average, and yet I know our classroom teachers work at least as hard as I do. I also know how hard our kids and families work. So what is wrong you may ask? Teachers are prevented from actually teaching because of all the non-teaching jobs that have been deemed essential by school board and Department of Education administrators.

This fall all the Gr.1 and 2 students were mandated to be assessed …one-on-one in literacy and math respectively. Teachers were not able to teach while they were assessing individuals. In addition all the Gr.3 and 4 students were also given standardized assessments. While they were assessed I supervised the Gr.2s in my resource room while also teaching my groups and supporting students’ behaviour programs.

All of this required hours of teacher prep and or inputting of data onto the provincial electronic systems. Prior to doing the assessments teachers were also required to develop and upload adaptation documents for students who required them.

Our school is a particularly high needs population for a wide variety of reasons. All our classes are split 1/2, 2/3, 3/4, and 4/5 – only the Primary is a straight grade. Each of those classes has three or four students on IPP and an additional six or seven who require adapted programs. We have three EAs (educational assistant) to support these classes. It is not NEARLY enough. Our system is based on numbers – not need. A straight Grade One class of 19 students able to meet the curriculum is much different than our Gr.1/2 class.

The “experts” tell us that all of this data collection and corresponding “school success plans” will ensure that our students receive a better education. As professionals, we aren’t buying it. We know it serves best the businesses who produce the next new and improved program for literacy or math. We know that the best thing for our kids is more time with a caring rested teacher who is able to teach without constant fear that some bean counter is going to decide that something else needs to happen.

I could sit here all night trying to explain in detail so much more about this broken system. I could tell you that on Wednesday and Thursday of this week I will have 15 one hour meetings with parents and teachers of children who require specialized programming in order to meet with some success at school this year. I can tell you that we have been working to meet their needs and create these programs prior to these meeting and that for the rest of the year we’ll be doing everything possible to stretch the meager cloth we have been given to do this. I can also tell you that our work will be hampered by our exhaustion brought on needlessly but the onerous burden of over-documentation and bureaucracy that does nothing to enhance learning.

Stephen McNeil will tell you about the $65,000,000 that has gone back into education and how his government is “listening” to teachers. Maybe somewhere in this province there is evidence of this – but not at our school. In 2011, we had 30% of a teacher devoted to early literacy intervention – now we have 10%. Karen Casey brags about Reading Recovery being brought back to school – not here. In order to get 20% more resource support, we had to trade a much needed 50% Educational Assistant. We do not need any more consultants, mentors, reading materials or experts. We need time from real teachers in front of our students.

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