'It breaks my heart': Kings County NSTU members speak out about strike action


Published on February 17, 2017

Ten-year-old Joe Grant and his eight-year-old sister, Kate, of the Baxter’s Harbour area were out with their mom, a substitute teacher, for picketing duty in Kentville on Feb. 17.

©Wendy Elliott

KENTVILLE, NS – Over 15 hours of testimonials by teachers in Halifax broke the dam on Feb. 16, so the following day, picketing teachers in Kentville were ready to share their stories.

Kings County Academy principal Mike Ouellette was walking the picket line during the one-day strike of the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union. He says the biggest concern he has observed as an administrator is the working and learning conditions in classrooms.

Early elementary teachers come to his office in tears due to a lack of resources that allow them to reach all of the students in a room, he says.

Ouellette said that frustration builds up. Teachers often have seven or eight students in a classroom who need adaptive aids and two or three with major behavioural concerns, but only occasional educational assistants to offer help.

Teachers hold signs in front of the Kentville Fire Department during a one-day strike Feb. 17.

©Wendy Elliott

It’s the kids in the middle get left behind. Dave Harrison, NKEC teacher

When that teacher has to move on with the curriculum due to an agenda set by standardized testing and data reasons, he said, teachers feel like they are caught in a vise.

Dave Harrison, who teaches at North East Kings Education Centre, adds, “It’s the kids in the middle get left behind.”

Teacher Bev Roy, who is retiring soon, says, “We all have our stories. I hate the working conditions, but I love my job.”

Roy says it is only in the last 10 years that conditions have changed radically. She speaks of the trauma in classes that have had to be evacuated due to a student throwing a chair at a teacher or trying to set an educator’s hair on fire.

There are also successful suicides that might have been prevented if mental health supports were there, she says.

“The wait list is the end of March,” says Roy. “It breaks my heart.”

Harrison would like the public to know the challenges faced by classroom teachers. Roughly 100 students a day at his school require breakfast and teachers work to fundraise for the program.

Hope Mailman and Cassie Landsburg wanted to show support for their teachers today, so they painted a sign on the snowbank in front of Mailman’s home, located across from the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board office.

©Submitted

Ouellette adds that the absence and promotion policies began to be abandoned about 15 years ago. Harrison says he knows of students who only attend for half of a course and still pass.

“Where’s the accountability,” he wonders.

Relatively early in Harrison’s career, he also noted that the de-indexing teachers accepted some years ago has left many dependent on the long service award.

“I’m not about to retire,” he said. “I can adapt. But that hasn’t been a piece of the negotiations.”

Bill 75 will likely impose a contract on teachers, despite three rejected tentative agreements by union members in the last 15 months.

Parents and children joined striking Kings County teachers in front of Evangeline Middle School Feb. 17.

©Wendy Elliott

Did you know?

A handful of retired teachers turned out for the Feb. 17 strike action in Kentville to show support. Some brought cookies.

Several called the current impasse “heartbreaking,” but one they felt has been brewing for as long as 20 years.

They spoke of an era when teachers commonly went to the homes of absentee students and picked them up if they were missing classes.