I am not a teacher, I’m not married to a teacher, neither of my parents are teachers, and the closest ties I have to teachers are some extended family members and friends. So I don’t speak for them and I don’t have any insider insight.
When I speak about teachers and the union and job action across the province, I am speaking as a parent only, like one of you.
This has been a very difficult, paradoxically different week than last. Last week, parents were throwing their full support behind teachers. I was hearing yes, they deserve fair compensation. Yes, they deserve fair negotiation. Everyone wanted improved classroom conditions, changes to classroom structure, parents and teachers were demanding an overhaul of a troubled education system, in order to protect and ensure our kids’ future success. Yes, a strike would be disruptive and inconvenient, but it would be for the greater good.
Talks broke down. Karen Casey appeared in an interview on the evening news, poised and prepared, explaining that the union walked away from the table even though the government was practically throwing money at them. The head of the Nova Scotia Teacher’s Union (NSTU) appeared the following night, seemingly unprepared and stumbling a bit in her attempt to explain that the union walked away from a stagnant negotiation that had made no movement whatsoever.
Was either account completely accurate? No, it was interpreted by each party. But it doesn’t matter much because this disagreement between teachers and government is being fought in the media. The public relies heavily, whether or not it should, on the information in those news interviews to formulate an opinion about the situation. Sadly, in controversial matters concerning the general public, facts are not as important as perception. It only takes a few people hearing “we met their demands and they still weren’t happy” to turn that or any other statement into something that’s repeated widely and eventually perceived as fact.
And if this is indeed the case, as I suspect, that round definitely went to the Liberals. The NSTU was out-gunned in the media by Casey’s measured, condescending demeanor. I finished watching that interview feeling a bit like I had watched a debate between the school principal and the head of the student council. Still, I figured it did little to sway people’s support away from teachers. People are smarter than that, I thought.
No, it wasn’t the negotiations breakdown or work to rule decision that changed things – the tide really seemed to turn when people started freaking out about Christmas concerts. There are many issues to be considered when work-to-rule job action comes into play, not the least of which are things like supervision outside of class and suspension of tutoring. Yet the thing a large group of parents glommed onto is the fact that all Christmas concerts would be cancelled. Aren’t these the same parents who pledged their support to teachers in the event of a strike? Did they not realize that a strike would have also caused the cancellation of these events? Why was it okay for the concerts to be cancelled because of a strike but not in order to avoid a strike? I was genuinely astounded and confused at the uproar.
So I listened to the concerns and the arguments, I did. I understand that extra-curricular activities are vital to children for their personal and educational development. I understand that they’ve been practicing songs for weeks and will be disappointed and upset. I understand that it might be their last concert or their first one and they can’t get that back. I understand that it’s unfair.
But I’m sorry, because I also understand that all of those things are not more important than the big picture. They’re just not, no matter how upset some kids will be. Teachers have banded together after years of horrible classroom conditions and other instructional roadblocks, to take a stand and demand changes for your kids. Your kids. My kids, their kids, kids who haven’t even started school yet. And people are going to stop supporting that because of missed Christmas concerts?
I have an elementary school-aged child. He participates in many, many extra-curricular activities, all of which he will be devastated to miss, he needs all of the instructional time he can get, and, like everyone else, a strike will throw a wrench into our lives because of work schedules.
But we have to figure out a way to deal with it, we just do. We have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that this school year will not be what it should, and allow the teachers to fight for the greater good, for what kids and teachers need in the long term. Let’s not lose sight of that.