Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia teachers reach breaking point with workplace concerns

With a strike vote scheduled for Oct. 25, some Nova Scotia teachers are starting to speak out about workplace concerns they say detract from their ability to teach.

Lack of resources to address increasingly complex demands hinder the ability to teach

Halifax West High School teacher Nancie de la Chevotiere says the demands on teachers far outstrip their ability to address the challenges students face. (CBC)

Teachers in Nova Scotia don't usually speak about their workplace concerns, but Nancie de la Chevotiere says it's time for that to change.

De la Chevotiere teaches English and drama at Halifax West High School. She and her 9,000 colleagues will vote Oct. 25 on whether or not to strike after rejecting two contract offers from the provincial government.

Demands on teachers have dramatically changed since de la Chevotiere started teaching 20 years ago, and she said the support for those changes hasn't kept pace.

Violence, not enough books, complex needs

"We shouldn't have to worry about violence in the workplace," she said. "We shouldn't have to worry about not having enough books for our kids.

"We shouldn't have to worry about students in our class who have post-traumatic stress disorder because they've come from different experiences, students who don't speak a word of English and everyone immersed in one room without all the supports needed."

Wally Fiander sees the same challenges. Fiander has been a science teacher at the high school in Yarmouth for 20 years and his experience is very similar to what de la Chevotiere describes.

In a classroom of 30 or more students, Fiander is routinely confronted with issues ranging from mental health to behavioural and learning challenges and a variety of personalized learning programs.

Data entry detracts from teaching time

"I'm not teaching just one piece of curriculum, I'm teaching four or five different pieces of curriculum to different students," he said.

Fiander, de la Chevotiere and other teachers also lament the increasing amount of paperwork and data entry that have become daily job demands that ultimately detract from the time they have to teach and prepare for classes.

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet said the problems are symptomatic of there not being enough support for teachers in the classroom.

Government investments not enough

Education Minister Karen Casey on Wednesday said the province is waiting for the conciliator to file a report.

Premier Stephen McNeil has repeatedly touted his government's investments in the classroom, including hiring more teachers and boosting support for math and reading skills. 

But Nova Scotia teachers are on the verge of their first strike ever, in part, because they say those supports simply don't go far enough.

They also question the commitment of clauses in the most-recently rejected contract offer that attempted to deal with workplace issues because there simply wasn't enough teeth to them, said Doucet.

Union members and the government also part ways on the question of compensation.

The government has made the same wage offer to teachers as to all other unions (a three per cent increase over four years) and phased out the long-service award. It's the latter point that particularly bothers teachers, who say the award supplemented the lack of indexing on their pension.

'You can't meet all those needs'

De la Chevotiere said the increased demands on teachers ultimately come at the expense of students, and that's difficult for her to accept.

"Every day you feel like, 'I didn't get to somebody; there's somebody I missed.' You can't meet all those needs without supports. One person to teach four, five, six different levels of a course at a time — it's impossible," she said.

"So that's where we are right now. Teachers are ready to take action because what is happening in Nova Scotia in education is wrong."

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