I am asked why I support the teachers in the education reform debate. Actually, I was told I was stupid once, and uniformed, and once or twice, just plain old anti-Liberal. I have a good time with that one. I might be better described as anti-corruption, anti-bullying, anti-corporate capture, anti-a lot of things, but plain old anti-Liberal is not what I adhere to.
I would say too that, I am not blindly in the “I support the teachers” mind set. That may be the biggest divisive and misunderstood element of this fight. What I am in support of is a better and unbroken commitment to the kids in this province with regard to their education, their health, and their futures. My concern is based on a larger scope, but education is a major component. Why? Because I have two little girls, and also because I care about a lot of other people’s kids too. I care about who they all will be someday, when I am old. Will they be able to live here in this province? Will they be doctors and lawyers, soldiers and teachers someday? Will they be looking after me, if I cannot look after myself? Will they contribute to a society that is safe and functioning for folks who are nearing the end of their lives? Will my kids be nearby, or will they move to find work? Will I go with them? Getting them there is the concern I have, and that concern is what I share with teachers. Educating them and giving them tools is essential before all else.
Because I am thinking about the future, and I am considering and often excited about what path my kids will choose for themselves, I am thinking about the larger picture that they will face, when making their decisions. And so I try to understand more about what is going on now from the people who are dealing with the issues, including education. I have learned on my own, not to take the governments’ word for anything. I have experienced the sidelining and gas lighting they will do to folk they wish to undermine. For instance, the last people I would ever have accused of greed are teachers. As well, an insinuation from the top boss in education that the teachers would have left our kids to peril during work to rule, should have given all parents a good jolt as to what the game was here. I have always had a bad reaction to the efforts put into turning the public against the same teachers we expect to inspire our kids every day. So, I go look for the details myself. I open my mind to those who really want the rest of us to understand. And so I implore all of you to try better to understand too.
This week, as was the case a year ago, teachers and EPAs have been sharing their concerns. For the most part, when they are talking on social media or in blogs, letters and so on, they do not get very specific about their fears, just because they don’t want to be accused of violating privacy. But they can tell stories without violating anyone’s privacy. I have been receptive to the truth about some of the issues, because it is important to me, to hear from and accept the truth, so that I can help work toward making things better somehow. And I am able to share some of those stories without violating privacies as well. I don’t need to know the names or addresses of the kids to feel incredibly sick to my stomach about each of their situations.
One of the most concerning elements of the debates around our education system, is the extension of our healthcare crisis that we have been hearing about from numerous angles for years. Mental health, especially in our young people. I heard from a teacher recently, about her greatest sorrow in the changes being made to the education system. Her thought was this:
The McNeil government doesn’t believe that principals and vice principals belong in the union.
They don’t believe that the decision to vote for our voice at the school boards belongs to us, the people and parents of this province.
The McNeil government doesn’t believe the supports desperately needed for students belong in schools.
But he does believe that time out rooms, that resemble cells, and Kevlar bite protection gloves do belong in schools.
Even though there were heartbreaking and terrorizing stories related last winter, he did not make amendments to include proper training and resources for teachers. She explained to me that even though the school is not a trained therapeutic facility, it is expected that the teachers will manage as if it is. I liken this to expecting your dentist to fix a blown tire on your car, while the car is driving 100 kms per hour through a nursing home.
Teachers working with students with trauma are often traumatized themselves. They try to keep their stress and the upsets in their rooms quiet, being discreet about the abuse they suffer, so that that it doesn’t permeate throughout the school. But eventually, it becomes impossible to contain, and instead turns into tears and sobbing in the staff room hiding from the students’ puzzled stares. A teacher told me her school does not have a time out room, and she has been punched by a student for up to 45 minutes at times, because he is too strong to restrain. She said they are “bar room brawl style punches” too. She wears bite protection gloves in her classroom.
Whatever resources and supports do come, answering to the pleas and begging, are cycled around a region and so don’t have the ability to stick around for long enough to fully assess the situation or help institute change. They shuffle away leaving the teachers to return to the desperate situation they are in. I know this is not isolated to one school as many teachers can tell similar stories.
Teachers are the frontline workers who see the sadness of an eroding social fabric and a mental health crisis that the majority of Nova Scotians will never see. Their witness testimonials are likely only rivalled by social workers and first responders. They whisper about compassion fatigue, an inability to do this much longer, with no training and minimal support. We heard from teachers who are resigning or threatening too, if McNeil goes forward with his plan, because nothing is actually going to get better. With what is being implemented, teachers are rightfully expecting the worst.
Like the healthcare crisis, McNeil has forged ahead with a very narrow vision of what he wants to do, never considering what he really could or should do, or what further crisis he is creating. The teachers, who are the eyes and hands on the situation, can outline the changes that need to happen and many of them would still be willing to try to help. Teachers, including support staff like EAs and EPAs, have so much knowledge because they are in the trenches seeing and feeling it from the inside. They hear children asking to die because their trauma is so deep. They have their hearts wrapped around these kids, as if they are their own kids. Teachers will tell you, their tears mix with the children’s tears as, at times, a mutual realization of hopelessness and frustration washes over them. In hearing about the children, I can tell you I get emotional. In hearing about what these kids are dealing with, the behaviour they display, and the impacts on the teachers who are responsible for them, I cry. What about the other kids who are there? I think about how much better things would be, if the right resources and supports are made available. And I think the onus is on all of us, to work together to make things better. That starts with listening. Our Premier should be listening.
But he does not listen. He has taken the role of almighty. He does not consult frontline workers in any field. He does not listen to members of the public. And he will not even consider swaying from his stance. This is not leadership. And while some folk still support him (not too many since only 21% of the voters checked a Liberal option), I tend to believe they just haven’t been listening to the rest of the province either.
Who will look after these kids when the great souls who are there now, can’t do it anymore? If they burn out, or simply through in the towel? If we can’t do more for those who need it most, what will ever happen to them?
This is one reason why I support teachers.