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Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes. –  Maggie Smith

March/April 2017

Something remarkable occurred in February. To quote CBC’s Ramona Deering, “It’s something that never happened before in Newfoundland and Labrador.” Thirty teachers participated in the CBC’s Inside the Classroom and told their stories and the stories of their colleagues throughout the province. While nervousness was evident in some of their voices, they spoke candidly about their experiences. And, for the first time, Newfoundland and Labrador parents and the public had an inside view of our province’s education system, the realities of the classroom, and the challenges teachers face in meeting the needs of their students.

For three consecutive Mondays in February Inside the Classroom forums explored inclusive education, student behaviour, math education, and full day kindergarten. Teachers discussed the effect of class size and class composition on instruction, the impact of full day kindergarten on the rest of the school system, and the consequences of the lack of human resources. We heard stories of classroom violence, the effects of technology and social media on student behaviour, and money spent by teachers on classroom supplies.

What was clear in everything the teachers said was their passion for a profession they deeply loved and their students.

Reaction from teachers and the public was overwhelmingly positive. I received emails from teachers and non-teachers alike expressing respect for the courage of the teachers who took part. One teacher said it best, “I just wanted to say Inside the Classroom was fantastic. Everyone spoke so well! I’m proud to have been represented by such a wonderful group.” The series was eye opening for parents and the public. Teachers felt it was about time.

CBC further explored the issues raised by teachers in online articles, on its various radio programs, and on Here and Now. The public discussion generated by the series and the subsequent media coverage was extraordinary. Just as significant was the discussion among teachers. For the first time in a very long time, we had a thorough airing of the challenges facing our schools.

Even more remarkable for me, were the teachers who did interviews on air and presented publicly to the Premier’s Task Force on Improving Educational Outcomes. They articulately stated the issues and offered their professional insight into the changes that need to be made if our education system is to meet the needs of all students.

Probably one of the most surprising outcomes was the spectacle of the Minister of Education admitting in an interview with CBC that inclusive education was not resourced the way it needs to be and that further cuts to allocations would only happen “over his dead body”. Nothing of what was said in the interview was new to me or your Association. I heard it from my many school visits; we heard it from the many teachers who contacted us. I would like to think, however, that our message is finally starting to get through to Minister Kirby and to the NL government. It is clear that teachers’ voices are being heard.

While Minister Kirby had to eat some of those words less than a day later, both he and the Premier stated there would be no further changes to the allocation formula. Not quite what our schools need. But think for a minute. When was the last time you had a minister or a premier make such public statements? It was a rare moment indeed.

The question for all of us is, “How do we keep this conversation going?” There can be no more hiding behind the fear of being “slapped on the wrist.” Our schools are too important for the discussion to end with Inside the Classroom.

Minister Kirby has stated he wants to hear from teachers. Email him or call his office. If the Minister visits your school, make sure he hears from you. Tell the Minister of your school’s successes, but also educate him about the resources you need to deliver quality education to your students.

Also, make sure the Premier’s Task Force on Improving Educational Outcomes hears from you. The report of the Task Force will be used by government to develop an education action plan to be implemented for the 2018 school year. What do you want to see in that action plan? Make sure you help shape it.

If you have an issue over which your school district or the Department of Education has control, bring it to their attention. Call the NLTA office for advice, and we’ll guide you.

In less than a month, over 140 teachers from across the province will gather in St. John’s for the Biennial General Meeting to elect the next provincial executive, approve the budget, and determine Association priorities. If you wish to be a strong voice for change through your Association, find the time to read the Convention issue of The Bulletin. Learn about the candidates and the resolutions being put forward. Take the opportunity to inform the delegates representing your branch of where you stand on both. Most importantly, advise them in setting the direction of your Association for the next two years.

Some of my suggestions will cause discomfort for many of you. In many ways, we are like thermostats; we all have a comfort zone. The teachers who participated in Inside the Classroom were well outside their comfort zones. But that’s how change happens. I’m asking you to step outside your comfort zone so we can dial up the heat on government and bring about the changes we need to do our jobs. Our voices may shake, but we will be heard.

Jim