Education: A Nova Scotian teacher's perspective
The second in a series of opinion pieces written by the public during the election campaign
It is the beginning of the school year here in Nova Scotia and for the first time in a few years I don’t have a teaching job.
I was offered a job in China. I turned it down. I was offered a job in France. I turned it down. Then I was offered a job in Bangkok and I even signed a contract. I planned to go. I was excited to go. But then I got home to Nova Scotia, to the salty fog and clean water, and decided I needed to stay. The pull of the province where I was born, raised and educated was too great.
The deal was cinched when I started to cough up what I had breathed in China’s "fog." I could not leave again.
So here I am now, with bills and no class of my own to teach.
The other day though, the NDP government said it was going to hire more teachers to teach Grades 4 to 6. Hallelujah! That’s my specialty! But alas, it will not be until next year. And it’s not unless they’re elected.
I know how these things work: they had to slash the education budget in the name of declining enrolment. Young families don’t have a baseball team full of kids anymore, plus a large number have left for the land of milk and oil in the west.
Simple math says that fewer students mean fewer teachers. It also means fewer educational assistants (who do more for the students and schools than many realize), librarians, administrative assistants, custodians — everyone.
However, this does not take into account the ever changing demands and structure of a classroom where teachers have a multitude of learning styles, abilities, personalities, technologies, expectations, outcomes, etc. to manage, coupled with the 25-plus sets of eyes looking at you for educational, emotional and social guidance.
Then the government says they’re going to spend more on education because they value the formative years of youth, plus those other pressing issues like literacy, numeracy and, unfortunately bullying.
We knew these were issues before, so then why were there cuts in the first place?
Looking for work
I’m having trouble getting excited about this announcement of extending the class cap to hire more teachers. It seems more reactionary than proactive. It was an election promise under the guise of a government announcement. Also, perhaps rather selfishly, because it’s not affecting me right now.
Last year at this time I was in China. Although I love this place, as a young, working Nova Scotian, I feel little loyalty to the economy here, mostly because I’m underemployed and want full-time work. I also felt the angst in the schools after the first and second rounds of cuts, when we were sure that we were going to lose our librarian.
As a young Nova Scotian, who was extensively educated in Nova Scotia, who made a conscious decision to stay where I’m comfortable and happy, I need a job in my field or I will probably leave. I will have a hard time NOT looking at jobs that pop up overseas because I know that even though the pay will be a little lower, the cost of living will be much lower still, and I can effectively pay the student debt I coincidentally owe the province and the Canadian government.
If I stay, even though there may be more jobs next September, where will those jobs be? And because there are so many great substitute teachers now, would I even get one?
I know I’m not the only one. I have friends who subbed for years who have left for work and adventure. And why wouldn’t they? They see the world and still have money left over to throw at student loans! Many of my co-workers in China didn’t even bother trying to teach in the province.
'I will be here to vote'
I also have friends who have worked consistently, who don’t have anything this year and could lose their accumulated seniority. These teachers owe the system nothing because the system does nothing for them. Why start again at the bottom here (where it can and often happens in a horrible, vicious cycle of lost seniority) when Alberta will pay more and give them a job right away?
With this upcoming election it will be very interesting what the all parties say. I have memories of cuts and controversies from almost all the parties in all sectors. I know that cuts need to be made. I know that the province is in debt. Perhaps, in the long run, drastic cuts will have been what we needed to restructure the system and enact positive change.
But the reality of the situation is, right now, for me personally and for many others, frustrating and upsetting. No one owes me a job. I have no entitlement nor am I different than any other Nova Scotian. I’m just frustrated.
I’m going to look long and hard at the candidates and parties before I vote in this election. I may have leaving again on my mind, but I will be here to vote.
Kate English is a 29-year-old teacher, educated in Nova Scotia, who has already been forced to leave the province for work. She's hoping to get a teaching job in the province.