Nova Scotia

'Kicked, punched, verbally abused': Teachers tell committee what they face in the classroom

Members of the public delivered a consistent message to politicians about Bill 75 during hours of hearings. If it becomes law, the bill will impose a new four-year contract on the province's 9,300 public school teachers.

Presentations were heard for more than 12 hours Thursday at law amendments committee for Bill 75

People gather outside the legislature to protest Bill 75. (Robert Short/CBC)

Members of the Nova Scotia Legislature's law amendments committee got an earful during hours of hearings Thursday about how bad things are in the classrooms for some of the province's 9,300 teachers.

The committee sat for 12 hours to hear suggestions on how to improve Bill 75, the legislation that will impose a new four-year contract on public school teachers.

But instead of talking about the provisions in the proposed law, teachers gave provincial politicians a taste of what their day-to-day life is like at work. And in some cases the stories are eye-opening.

Former Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Shelley Morse, now vice-principal at Aldershot Elementary in Kentville, told of being assaulted at school just after returning from a leave of absence.

"On my fourth day of work I was assaulted by two different students. Kicked, punched and verbally abused," she told the committee.

A teacher presents Thursday at the law amendments committee. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Morse told the story of a seven-year-old who was sent to her office. He was yelling at the secretary and she told him to stop. She said the child turned around, used the F-word, demanded she call him a cab to go home, and then asked if she was "deaf" when she looked at him stunned.

When she told him he wasn't going anywhere, Morse said he punched her in the arm twice.

"Those are not conditions we should have to work under."

That story wasn't unique. The committee also heard from Annapolis Royal teacher Allister Waden.

'That's what teachers live with'

He told about having to deal with a student who was ordered by the courts to attend his school after being charged with break and enter.

"Last year such a student had a temper tantrum," he said. "Kicked the window of a classroom out. Hitting an [educational assistant] in the back. That's working conditions. That's what teachers live with.

"That very same student caused a lockdown. I was in the office watching him spit at the window because he couldn't get at the principal. That principal was nervous. He felt intimidated. If that door had not been locked we would have been calling an ambulance."

Allister Waden is a teacher in Annapolis Royal. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Teachers told the committee Bill 75 will do nothing to improve those working conditions.

Ron MacIntosh, vice-principal at Glace Bay High School, focused his five-minute presentation on workload, another complaint of many teachers appearing before the committee. Many are frustrated, particularly with being asked to collect more data or do more assessments.

MacIntosh likened it to an old-fashioned conveyor belt, one that is speeding up even as more items are added on. At the same time, he said teachers are expected to document in detail everything that's going, including all failures and what actions were taken.

"It gets to the point where it is humanly impossible to keep on top of it," he said.

Committee didn't hear from everyone

Presentations began Wednesday night at Province House in Halifax after Bill 75 passed second reading that evening.

About 400 people wanted to address the committee, but only about 100 were given the chance. Motions to extend time for presentations past 8 p.m. Thursday were defeated by the Liberal majority in committee.

A request by CBC Nova Scotia to live stream the proceedings was initially turned down. But at midday, members of the law amendments committee unanimously passed a motion to allow live streaming.

The CBC's Jean Laroche also live blogged from Province House.