Category Archives: Teacher Unions

Teachers unions can win. Let’s get to work

As teachers in Nova Scotia mull over their bargaining team’s third attempt at a tentative agreement in just over a year, here are a few observations about the dispute, and about teachers’ and workers’ power in general.

1) Teachers have a new idea of what is possible. Many of the issues teachers have raised over the last year – overcrowded classrooms, insufficient supports for students with special needs, excessive amounts of time spent on clerical tasks – have worsened fairly slowly over the past 10-15 years. Change happened gradually enough that opposition to it was weak, and a general sense of resignation slowly set in.

parents-for-teachers
Parents and supporters rally for teachers in downtown Halifax, February 5th, 2017 (Photo: Meg Ferguson via Facebook)

As the contract dispute has progressed, teachers have started to think big. Class sizes of 35-40 are no longer thought of as inevitable. (New Brunswick has class caps of 29 even in upper grades.) Teachers are speaking out against endless “improvement plans” and “accountability” measures that never seem to result in actual improvements or accountability. The impossibility of meeting the growing diversity of classroom needs under constant cost-cutting budgets has become a serious topic of discussion.

Governments for decades have sold us on the idea that “we can’t afford to do this.” Teachers are now sold on the idea that “we can’t afford not to do this.” Continue reading Teachers unions can win. Let’s get to work

There is no substitute for solidarity

Teachers in Ontario found reason to celebrate recently.

In 2012, the Ontario Liberal government passed the “Putting Students First Act,” a bill which imposed contracts on teachers and effectively took away their right to strike.

This April, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that this act (also known as Bill 115), had violated teachers’ constitutional rights. Teachers, like other workers, are guaranteed the right to negotiate the terms of their work collectively and to have these negotiations be meaningful. Bill 115 had made this impossible.

gavel

Teachers and many other public-sector workers across the country welcomed the ruling, seeing it as a precedent which protects against current or future governments trying the same kind of legislative trick.

But is it? Continue reading There is no substitute for solidarity

Teachers and the fight for 15

Three public school teachers wrote an op-ed in the Toronto Star last week on their support for the Fight for 15 and Fairness campaign.

The campaign centres on raising the minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour and securing basic benefits like paid sick days for all workers.

NS Fair Wage hi-res
Members of the Fair Wage Coalition protested for better wages outside McDonald’s on Spring Garden Road in Halifax on Friday, April 15th. (photo: David Etherington)

The teachers (Kate Curtis, Jason Kunin and Seth Bernstein) drew connections between the challenges they see some kids facing in their classrooms and the precarious, low-wage work available to those kids’ family members. Continue reading Teachers and the fight for 15

Who should be the next president of the NSTU?

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union will elect a new president later this spring. Six candidates are attempting to replace Shelley Morse, who is completing her second two-year term in office. (NSTU rules state that no president can serve for more than four years.)

What should members be looking for in a leader?

NSTU Labour Day

In no particular order, here are my thoughts on what I think is important for members to consider when making their ballot choice on May 25th.  Continue reading Who should be the next president of the NSTU?

Nova Scotia can afford to respect its public-sector workers

One of the best parts of being a teacher is when students let you know they appreciate the work you do.

It happens more than you might think. Despite the common, timeless sentiment that kids-today-ain’t-got-no-respect, students do express their appreciation in lots of ways: a thank-you in passing, a question that shows interest in what they’re learning, a compliment delivered via a parent at parent-teacher, the occasional goodie or card at holiday time.

Any teacher will tell you that appreciation coming from the kids is a great motivator. But it’d be nice if we also got it from the government that employs us.

Along with other public employees, teachers in Nova Scotia recently had our wages frozen for two years, and retirement benefits rolled back, through legislation by the provincial Liberal government.

Teachers and other public-sector workers rally at the provincial legislature on December 16th.
Teachers and other public-sector workers rally at the provincial legislature on December 16th. (Source: Facebook)

A few weeks before, negotiators from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union had actually worked out a tentative new contract with the government, one that even included the same wage freeze (with below-inflation raises in the following two years). Continue reading Nova Scotia can afford to respect its public-sector workers

Teachers’ unions need to keep close to our social-justice roots

Poverty. Racism. Democracy. Aboriginal rights. Climate change. Many of us explore issues like these in our classrooms. It’s our responsibility as teachers to see that our students become caring, engaged members of society.

Teachers in Burnaby, BC make the connection between social justice and education funding in 2012. (Photo: Burnaby Teachers' Association blog)
Teachers in Burnaby, BC make the connection between social justice and education funding in 2012. (Photo: Burnaby Teachers’ Association blog)

In our unions, we also advocate for progressive change on issues like these. One of the my own union’s core beliefs is that promoting quality public education for all requires working for social justice.

Overall, how are we doing with that?  Continue reading Teachers’ unions need to keep close to our social-justice roots

What is, and isn’t, in the minister’s report on Nova Scotian education

The panel reviewing Nova Scotia’s education system has released its report. Disrupting the Status Quo: Nova Scotians Demand a Better Future for Every Student makes 30 recommendations for overhauling P-12 education, based on an extensive survey completed by 19,000 people.

Photo via flickr.
Photo via flickr.

When I first heard about the plan for an education review, I got my guard up. In the U.S., education “reform” led by wealthy interests has wreaked havoc on public education for decades now, overemphasizing standardized testing, narrowing the curriculum, funnelling public money to semi-private charter schools, and generally creating problems when it purported to fix them. The six-person panel hand-picked to conduct the review didn’t set my mind at ease.

The report released in Nova Scotia last week didn’t fully follow the U.S. formula, which is a good thing. It contains some very positive conclusions, such as the acknowledgement of how teacher workload issues affect student learning, and the need to focus on students’ physical and mental health.

Some of the report’s other conclusions, however, are more problematic, as are some elements that are left out. Continue reading What is, and isn’t, in the minister’s report on Nova Scotian education