It’s approaching 4:30AM. I’ve been up since 1AM due to an attempt at an early and full night’s sleep gone wrong, and also being awoken by a pretty massive overnight rainstorm. But now I’m lost in thoughts, mercilessly scrolling through my Facebook feed, and I’m completely dumbfounded by what I’m reading.
Those of you who might consider yourself regular followers, likely remember a very frustrated rant about my previous time “home” in Canada. Now, it seems, I need to have another lengthy discussion with my beloved home… but a little more narrowed in its direction.
For as long as I can remember Nova Scotia (my home province, which many of you have probably never even heard of…), has struggled to maintain the contracts and considerations of two of the most important jobs in the province: nurses and teachers. Over the years, I have witnessed government after government try to tackle the fickle balance of fair pay and what makes sense, financially (meaning, what the province can afford to spend on these essential services). And, almost every time, the government wins.
Now the business, fiscally responsible side of me, sees, what I hope to be, the government’s point of view. It has to make sure it’s not spending beyond its means. I mean, we’re so far in debt now as it is, it hardly makes sense to continue to grow that amount. BUUUUUTTTTTTT, on the other hand, I appreciate my free education and (basic) healthcare. So, anytime these situations begin to resurface, I become more and more thankful that I am not a member of the government. (Note: the entire teacher's situation is not so much based on money, rather than improved support services that will allow them to provide better education to their students... or at least that's my understanding.)
Recently tensions have been brewing, yet again, between the Province and its teachers. And just like all the other times this situation has surfaced, several people seem to be up in arms about how outrageously overpaid they are (considering they get summers off!), how they don’t care about the children they’re supposed to be educating, and my personal favourite – calling them overpaid babysitters. Now, anyone who has ever gone through the public education system and had at least one good teacher can tell you, this is pretty ridiculous. But, it’s justified because they are threatening to take action. The ‘they’ being the teachers.
When I was in my final year of junior high, this same scenario was taking place. The government at the time was dealing with the headaches of contract negotiations, and they weren’t going as planned. Myself and many of my fellow students decided to take action of our own, and staged a walkout. When the bell rang to start the day, instead of heading inside, we marched to the high school (which was clearly the logical thing to do) in protest. It was my one and only public protest, and likely will remain so, because in all honesty we accomplished nothing except for losing a day of classes and preventing the very people we were trying to support from doing the thing they were fighting to do.
Back to present day. As a form of protest for all the extra time teachers give from their day and away from their families, instead of striking, they made the decision to enact a form of protest known as Work-to-Rule. This means that teachers would arrive at their respective schools, teach their classes, use their free period to prep for the day/week/whatever and correct assignments, etc., without doing anything beyond the minimum. The cost of following through with this is that lunch time extra-help or after school recreational activities would not be attended by the teachers, amongst a much longer list of things that they actually do aside from teach. Makes sense to me. It’s fair. …or at least as fair as this situation provides. I mean, what other public sector position goes beyond the 9-5 hours it boasts? I can’t think of many. Mine certainly didn’t.
But the Province wasn’t pleased with this. It decided that children would be in harm’s way, and that their safety was important. So, instead of allowing students to attend classes, as usual, and get some amount of education, they decided to close all schools across the province. Oh, but only to the students. Yeah, teachers are still required to report for duty, as usual. And, this is slated to take place until the teachers decide to back down, causing the government to win, yet again.
The funny thing, is that yes, money is an important issue here, and overspending is bad. BUT, doing this is only hurting the students (you know the tiny folks the government claims to be concerned about!). How is keeping them out of school better than having them in school, with limitations? Yes, I understand the argument of the potential lack of supervision, but surely the myriad of parents who are standing behind these teachers would volunteer an hour or two a week, or any number of community members could just as easily help out.
I get that this is not a simple issue. It’s complex. Like… VERY complex. If the government gives in, then something else has to budge within their jurisdiction. But, is it really fair to ask these individuals – these hardworking, passionate, caring folks to set aside their personal lives, their families, their wellbeing, just to give the government a helping hand?!
In the same way I was thankful to not be a participant in the recent US election, I’m am really glad I am not one of the decision makers behind this difficult, yet troubling situation. If I were, I honestly wouldn’t know where to start. The teachers I have had in my life have directly shaped who I am today. Sure, not all of them were splendid, but the ones who were extraordinary made up for them. And there were many in the latter category. They supported and encouraged me, they helped me hone my creativity and imagination, they challenged my way of thinking and built on my curiosity, and they somehow even made mundane topics interesting (or at least tried to!). I’ve had numerous teachers push me to explore my writing talents (and all pretty much told me to work on my editing skills, which applies just as accurately today!) and chase my then musical dreams. I’ve had teachers come to concerts, fundraisers, and other extracurricular events (and I’m not just talking while I was their student, either). I had the overwhelming experience of having several of my favourite teachers attend my mother’s funeral to support me, even though I hadn’t been their responsibility in years (many, many years!). I had a teacher in high school, who took my passion of “Africa” to a whole new level (as in, more than just the Lion King, or lions more generally!) and is a good part of why I eventually took the direction I’m currently headed on. I even had a teacher who prevented me from making a permanent and desperate decision. Who could have looked the other way, but didn’t. Who got me the help I needed. And every day I have lived since, I am thankful he didn’t let me follow through with that act (even though I hated him for it at the time). Also, my amazing step-dad happens to be a retired teacher…
Teachers are one of the most important and influential people in our young lives. One teacher can change everything. One teacher saved my life, a good number afterwards helped to keep me that way. We can’t give up on them. We can’t treat them as any less important than any other crucial role in society. We need to sort out a compromise. Because without them, that ‘everything’ can quickly become nothing… and we’ll all suffer.
So, I ask that you rally behind these amazing folks. Show them your support. Even if you don’t have children in the system, if you’re from Nova Scotia, you likely were a product of it. Write to your MLA, the media, or the big guy, himself (as in the Premier, not the other big guy!). Tell them this isn’t acceptable. Tell them you want to see change. Tell them a balance, a compromise, needs to be found. And then maybe, we won’t have to go through this ever couple of years. And maybe we’ll reap the benefits down the road, in the form of young, hopeful minds, who are passionate and critical, and can write in cursive writing, with good grammar. We need this.