WENDY ELLIOTT : Another impasse between teachers and government

Published on January 27, 2017

Students gather at the corner of Cornwallis and Main streets in Kentville Dec. 4 in a peaceful demonstration in support of teachers.

©Kirk Starratt

The impasse between the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) and the provincial government is hardly resolved.

While Work to Rule was over for a few days, a press release from the NSTU announced it would resume on Jan. 30 due to comments made to the media by Premier Stephen McNeil. Who knows what will happen when teachers vote for a third time on Feb. 8.

I believe the teachers, who feel shackled by paperwork, want to improve education and that the Liberal government has an austerity budget agenda. Hence the conflict.

It is hard to view data collection, standardized testing with little to no purpose, and new initiatives without proper supports as worth fighting over. One of the benefits of work to rule that I heard voiced was that grassroots teachers got to teach.

One senior resident of this area said to me after all the women marching Jan. 21, “I would march for the teachers if I could. Because I know some and they are local women who give their utmost and get slapped down by their unions and government.”

As CBC commentator Graham Steele said last week the teachers “wanted bread and they got crumbs.

They wanted meat and they got soup.”

I, like many others, can’t speculate how the vote will go. To my mind, the teachers’ union and the government have not represented the issues well to the public. Now the premier is practically begging the teachers to talk to him about working conditions. Wasn’t that supposed to be the crux of the negotiations?

The province of Ontario has had its fair share of labour action by its teachers, but British Columbia educators won big time recently. They were overjoyed by a recent ruling from the Supreme Court that should resolve their legal battle going back to 2002. BC teachers fought to restore classroom composition rules, class size rules and specialist teacher ratios required in schools. It appears that now that government will have to hire hundreds of teachers and spend between $250 million and $300 million more each year on education.

I had some poignant conversations with Kings County students during work to rule. One Grade 6 student told me that the daily announcements were sad.

“When they happen, there’s the birthdays and O Canada and nothing else,” she said.

The biggest issue for her as a town kid, who walks to school, is having to wait outside in the cold, while bus students waltzed in on arrival.

The athletes miss their sports and the musical kids wish they could have choir. There was no extra help. Lunches were rushed to allow for supervision to the point that, one parent told me, the food she packed came home again.

I have to give a shout out to the Central Kings students who managed, with the help of parents, to pull off the annual Christmas food drive. No one wanted it to lapse, one of the leaders told me, so an awesome 410 pounds of food was collected.

This Grade 11 student was looking ahead to no Safe Grad and no Prom – a sad prospect.

We don’t know how this educational impasse is going to turn out, but students are bearing a heavy share of the brunt. I hope the union and the teachers will keep them top of mind.