FALL RIVER: A Fall River teacher says he and his colleagues are becoming overwhelmed with their classroom conditions, but it’s looking more and more like the provincial government may force them to go on strike before their concerns are heard.
Ron Nugent is a Guidance Counsellor at Georges P. Vanier Junior High in Fall River. He was one of the 96 per cent of Nova Scotia Teachers Union members that voted for strike action after two tentative agreements with the province were rejected by them.
Now a possible strike looms—as early as Dec. 3. Conciliation talks broke off in early Nov. with the province and NSTU pointing the finger at each other for the breakdown. The NSTU has asked for a mediator to be appointed.
“I think it will take an outcry from the public for the province to act,” said Nugent. “We are interested in educating our kids. We are interested in better education for this province. We are interested in a safe work environment, and we are interested in getting each kid to their potential. The public needs to know that.”
The NSTU says teachers want better teaching conditions, along with better pay.
Nugent said those conditions aren’t just impacting the students learning.
“I look at my colleagues here and they’re overwhelmed,” he said. “I empathize with them. My role is a guidance counsellor and providing emotional needs to the students, but the staff needs it too because they’re completely overwhelmed and it’s not because of the kids.”
He said that can only be rectified if the provincial government offers up more funds to hire new teachers.
“They keep saying they’ve hired all these new teachers, but all they’ve done is brought the Early Childhood department under the Education umbrella,” he said. “We’re top heavy with supervisor, math and literacy coaches, but the teachers are getting more and more piled on them.
“If the class sizes are not capped down smaller in junior high, these kids aren’t going to get the valued education that we need them to have for our future.”
He said most teachers are more than just that—they’re parents as well. Nugent himself, a Wellington resident, has a son in Grade 7 at GPV.
“The last thing we want to do is interrupt their school year,” said Nugent. “They’re just starting to balance out for the school year, and here we are on the verge of a strike which is going to disrupt all of these kids different levels of learning.
“It’s going to get disrupted because our government will not provide what we need. We need money to hire more teachers.”
Nugent said being in a school with 400-plus kids he’s seeing classroom sizes expanding and expanding.
“There are several grades in the school that are over 30 students, some as high as 34/35 kids, and one teacher no Educational Program Assistants (EPA) in the classroom with them,” he said. “There are so many different types of learners in one classroom, teachers are preparing four or five lessons for the class.”
One of the troublesome parts causing this is that teachers are spending a lot of time inputting data. Nugent said inputting data—which teachers don’t know what it’s for—takes time away from teaching.
“Sometimes the information is not always available, so these programs don’t let you move forward until you get that information to do these documentations,” he said. “Instead of me getting 30 kids in a week to be seen, I can only see 15-20 because the rest of the time I’m pumping in data from my notes.”
He said a salary increment and long-term service awards are important to some, but most of the issues the teachers have center around classroom conditions.
Nugent said the teachers don’t want to go on strike, but the government is giving them no other option.
“The government is bullying us,” said Nugent. “We just want better education for these kids.”
He said he’s really disappointed in Education Minister Karen Casey.
“She’s the biggest let down of all. We know she is just a messenger for Stephen McNeil, but at the same time this is her department.
“I would say that the majority of teachers would like to see her resign her position. She has not represented the best interest of our students.”
Nugent, who said he voted Liberal but will never again, took aim at Casey and other MLAs saying they only make good photo-op appearances.
“They only go into schools for photo opportunities, They don’t go in to help with the classroom, to see the everyday activity. They’re not seeing realism at all.”
He said the possibility for a strike is already impacting the student population.
“In the last two weeks I have had kids worried about their Christmas concerts, their extra curricular activities if teachers go to work to rule which all sports teams shut down,” he said. “These kids will lose out if that happens as we teachers have to stand united because the government is bullying us.”
The length of any potential strike is in the hands of the McNeil government, Nugent said.
“That would be all up to them,” he said. “I really do feel we’re inching closer and closer to a strike.”