Prospective Teacher Debate Continued . . .

I expected Paul to respond to my letter to “prospective teachers”. When he did, I texted him: Good piece, Paul. Good points. But did you have to use the term “running the gauntlet“? (I was giving him the gears for using cliches.) He texted me back: My experience and that of many others, has certainly felt that way! 

Firstly, it is a sign of a healthy democracy to be able to have public debate and dialogue. It rests on the premise that no one has a monopoly on truth. Societies where this does not happen don’t fair as well.

I never found this Facebook group particularly open to dialogue, although lately it is improving. Too often, when someone held a different view their NSTU loyalty was called into question. That always seemed unfair to me.

Be that as it may, I have to disagree with some of Paul’s points, although I agree with others. He said it takes 6-8 years of substituting and term teaching to get a permanent job. In the past perhaps, but maybe things will improve. [After posting this article, and reading responses it is clear that a teacher’s chances at obtaining a permanent contract differs from region to region. Rural Nova Scotia seems more difficult than HRM.]

It seems we are experiencing labour shortages across the country now due to an aging workforce. In Nova Scotia, work age residents used to comprise 70% of the population. By 2038 they are projected to be 56% (Stats. Canada). How will this affect our field?

I agree with Paul that post-secondary education is expensive. I was 36 when I finally paid off my student loan. But it was a worthwhile investment. All professions will require an investment. Wish it was less expensive. That’s another debate though.

Regarding getting Masters degrees, Paul said the government, “doesn’t support you with time in your work day to do so like most other employers.” We do get reimbursed for part of the tuition of Masters’ courses, and get raises once we finish. Do you think we should get time off from teaching while we pursue them? That seems like a lot to ask.

Paul claimed the government intends to “seize total control” over our graduate studies’ funds and redirect them “perhaps as soon as June 30, 2018 if the ominous language of Bill 72 is any indication.” Is this a theory or a fact? There’s a huge difference. I would be very hesitant to make that claim without citing a specific source. (Professional development is mentioned three times in Bill 72; I could not make that connection at all.) If funding for professional development was removed, I would strike tomorrow. In my opinion, it would be far worse than losing our service awards.

Concerning pensions, Paul wrote, “more and more of [our] paycheck goes to prop up a fund governments of yesteryear used as a slush fund.” Which slush fund is this? And what part of our paycheck? He seems to suggest government is taking from our pension. That is impossible. They don’t have access to it. Our pension fund is handled by a team of investors we hired. It has not done as well as we’d hoped and it is underfunded, but at this point, it is guaranteed, and I hope that continues. Good dialogue with our employer won’t hurt us here.

Paul also claimed many teachers are leaving Nova Scotia for other provinces and other careers because of “the current realities that stand to be exacerbated by Bill 72.” The article he cites does not make this claim at all. It talks about New Brunswick recruiting some teachers from Alberta, Ontario, P.E.I. and Nova Scotia for French Immersion. And that trained teachers who took other careers are now going back into teaching, NOT leaving. As far as Bill 72, there is no mention of it in the article. How could there be? The article is from August, 2017.

The other major point Paul makes in his grim portrayal of becoming a teacher is that the government has not invested in education. While I don’t agree with many things the Liberals have done, they have increased the education budget by 200 million dollars. Last NDP education budget ($1.1 Billion). Last Liberal education budget (1.3 billion). I will get accused of promoting the government by citing these facts, but truthfully, I have voted for three different parties in provincial elections. I am not affiliated with any party. And this brings me to my last point.

Paul believes that, “because of Bills 75 and 72 classrooms have been politicized in a way they have never been in our history.” I don’t know what he means by this, but I feel most teachers have been able to just teach, and leave the students out of the political fight.

Thanks for your input Paul, even though you found my letter to contain “woefully selective content.” But more importantly, thank you for your hard work on NSTU’s Provincial Executive, along with the 21 other members who have helped us navigate some rough seas, by showing when compromise can work.

In terms of context, it is worth pointing out, I am halfway through my 2 year term on the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions. It has allowed me to work with people at the EECD and the NSTU, and has completely changed how I view colleagues I previously would have negatively referred to as “bureaucrats”. Surprise: These people also deeply care about education; they are people with children in our schools. Dehumanizing them is harmful.

It is important be critical, but there is more to express besides the views that our system is underfunded, our teachers are stressed out, and we hate our employer. What teachers express about public education affects how all Nova Scotians perceive it. We have to be as accurate and thoughtful as possible in our critiques.

If a friend was moving to Nova Scotia and asked you whether they should put their child in public or private school here, what would you tell them?

I believe Nova Scotia’s public schools are still effective, and that it is still worthwhile to become a teacher, despite its numerous challenges. I also understand we don’t all agree on this.

Sincerely,

Michael Cosgrove

 

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