NLTA ELECTION 2022
Questions and Answers
for Vice-Presidential Candidates
QUESTION 1 from Thomas Sheppard
What strategies should the NLTA pursue to deal with the working conditions for teachers that are negatively impacting them?
ANSWERS to Question 1
To be prepared and meet challenges in the future, strategies cannot just be dropped in the laps of individuals and the expectation be that we make it work. Teachers need support and strategies to aid in meeting these ever-changing demands, so that teachers can continue to do what we love and are trained to do – Teach. I have often read that teacher working conditions are student learning conditions, so we must ensure that we take care of ourselves before going to work! How do we do that one asks? The NLTA needs to continue to educate its members on their rights and responsibilities. Members need to know that they have an avenue to go for advice, support, and direction. The NLTA also needs to educate the membership more on the rights and responsibilities of the employer. Often, members are afraid to speak up. I truly believe that when we all know our professional rights and know the responsibilities of the employer we will have confidence in questioning more, saying “No” more and being proactive in our own well-being. Over the course of my teaching career, I have availed of the many services offered through NLTA. I will admit, services and avenues of help, I didn’t know existed until I really needed them. The NLTA has provided me with valuable knowledge to be informed, confident and proactive in my teaching career.
A work environment that is unhealthy can lead to diminished performance and poor employee morale. I will continue to advocate for more professional development, encourage more collaboration and advocate for more district personnel to enter our classrooms and help out! Talking the talk is one thing but walking the walk is another!
Strategically speaking, as an Association, health and safety conditions are best addressed by continuous application of occupational health and safety legislation and ensuring that our employer fulfills their obligation in providing a safe, working environment. Given the professional aim of the NLTA, most of these objectives can be attained by working directly with the employer through the Administrative Officers. Should this approach not be successful, public advocacy and support for our professionals is paramount.
We have a Collective Agreement that gives us certain rights and privileges. It also protects us in our time of need. It is important for teachers to know vital parts of the Collective Agreement. NLTA needs to reach out to our teachers in order to educate them about our rights and protections. I cannot stress enough that our Collective Agreement is only as strong as we are willing to stand up for ourselves when needed. Teachers need to call NLTA when they have a question or concern. The more we help ourselves the better we can help one another. All teachers need to speak up about their concerns to NLTA for advice and possible action and solutions. Remember, there is strength in numbers.
Teaching conditions are our students’ learning environments. Under the NL Schools Act (1997, cS-12.2 s20) it states, “A parent of a student attending school may request that a teacher or the director consult with him or her with respect to the student’s education program and that teacher or director shall comply with that request unless the request is unreasonable in terms of frequency or other circumstances.” We need to be truthful and realistic as to our student’s education programs. Are there any positive changes in our education system since the 2017 CBC release of “Inside the Classroom “series? Possibly it is time for a five year follow up series.
One of the most stressful times for our teachers is the start and the end of the school year. Some questions and concerns that come into our Administration Officers at NLTA are due to miscommunication or misinformation circulating. Please encourage colleagues to make the call to NLTA in order to ask questions or seek answers. Many directives for teaching and learning vary from one part of the province to another. Teachers want consistency where everyone receives the same information and understanding. Relationships are crucial for positive change. Teachers need to feel supported in order to give support and have the confidence to face daily challenges.
Secondly, I would like to see time allotted during all meetings of Association members (including Branch, Special Interest Councils, Provincial Executive, Joint Council, and BGM) to brainstorm possible strategies/initiatives which the Association could undertake to help with advocacy efforts around on-going areas of concern for members which could then be brought forward by way of a motion and debated upon their merits. This would afford all members a greater say in the direction of the Association. Over the years, I have found that we have always done a great job of identifying our issues, but I do not think that we have always tapped the knowledge and creativity of our members to help us find means addressing our members’ concerns.
Next, I would like to see the NLTA conduct exit interviews for retirees and for those who choose to leave the profession early. During these interviews, members could be asked if there were any workplace factors that caused them to leave the profession. This anecdotal data could be used by the Association to lobby our employer to make positive changes in our workplace which could help with member retention.
Finally, I feel that we need to create a public awareness campaign (similar to Teachers Change Lives) which highlights the working/learning conditions in our schools. It could focus on class size, lack of staffing, SmartFind issues, internal coverage, and doubling up of classes among others. This, and an increased media presence, should drive home the point that schools, students, and our members, are suffering.
QUESTION 2 from Thomas Sheppard
What can be done during the bargaining process to stop the contract stripping for younger members?
ANSWERS to Question 2
It is always important to remember that our union plays an important role in protecting the rights of teachers in the overall context. The history of teacher unions in Canada and indeed, in Newfoundland and Labrador has shown that unions have had varying levels of success in collective bargaining. Our greatest power is in numbers, we must stick together and educate all members on the ramifications of our decision for all members. It is unfortunate that, over time we have seen some of our benefits erode with collective bargaining in Newfoundland and Labrador, but we have seen some gains as well. But collectively our members vote, and it is essential that each of us is educated in what we are voting for. Changes are hard to make after the process has come to fruition.
We understand the complexities of our province, but the cost of continuing to do business or even trying to balance the financial books should not come at the expense of teachers and especially not our newer teachers. Young teachers have demonstrated their commitment to education, to the province and to the profession-they are here and want to stay here. Now is not the time to be stripping anything if anything we should be engaging new teachers with retention and retaining bonus to stay in this great province. In our last round of Collective Bargaining, we successfully secured three family leave days. It was accomplished when most said it would not. It is important for our employer to realize that our residents need to stay in our province and grow our economy, not drive them away. If different ways and means can be found to entice and retain other workers in other sectors, then young teachers deserve this too.
At the end of the day, the ultimate decision on a contract offer goes back to the entire membership, and the Association has no control over how individuals vote. That being said, I feel that members should never feel pressured to vote one way or the other but should consider all the implications for the entire membership, and future members, before voting on any contract offer.
QUESTION 3 from Thomas Sheppard
How can we address the serious issues of mental health amongst our members? How can we improve measures and make Teacher Health and Wellness more of a priority?
ANSWERS to Question 3
If we don’t take care of ourselves, who will?
- Mandatory paid Health and Wellness Professional Development. There needs to be a focus on daily strategies that can help all teachers deal with the daily stress within our schools. We need to have a safe and caring environment for all, including teachers.
- As we know, teaching has evolved far beyond the three R’s. With the complexities of today’s society, teachers are challenged daily to provide our students with social emotional learning first and then the curriculum. As we have learned, “SEL is the plate”. With all the daily demands and stressors, teachers are concerned about their wellness. The Health and Wellness of our teachers need to be “on the plate”. Teachers need to feel supported in their own Wellness in order to support our children with strong, positive relationships that many so desperately need. The Employer needs to address the Social Emotional Needs of teachers, especially due to the change in society challenges. A strategic plan is needed for Teacher Mental Health and Wellness with all stakeholders involved.
- Our teachers’ mental health and wellbeing will improve when teachers feel they have support and the proper resources. The amount of students coming to school with personal care needs, anxiety and various other learning concerns is at an alarming, increasing rate. We need early detection for our students with specific needs in order to have the correct resources. For many years, the Public Health Nurse came to our schools and would discuss the needs of each child coming into Kindergarten. This has ended for some time now. However, we need this back, so we know the support each child needs coming into the school setting. We need more Education Psychologists in our schools to support our Program Planning Teams with the best possible plan for student’s complex needs. Guidance Counselors play a key part of the team approach for all our students. Our students seek out help from Guidance whether its relationship issues or mental health. Guidance allocation for our schools should be a ratio of 1:250 and 4:1000. Guidance Counselors also has a heavy load of assessments to complete and have meetings for in a year.
- The increase in use of the Employee Assistance Program has been tremendous. The EAP Program is cost shared with the employer. We need a third EAP coordinator to be dedicated to Health and Wellness PD for teachers. We need more outreach to check on our teachers so they can feel they are supported and that someone is available to answer questions about how they can help themselves.
- Teachers need mandatory uninterrupted daily breaks so they can practice mindfulness and have the opportunity to take care of personal needs. Mandatory prep periods need to be a focus and addressed in our Collective Agreement.
- Many teachers and students are exposed to Traumatic events and sometimes this happens on a daily basis. The Fight vs. Flight mechanism is in use quite often and is having a negative effect on our teacher’s and student’s mental wellbeing. How can we teach and students learn in these situations? Debriefing and support is needed for all involved. We need a Traumatic event protocol developed and implemented for these situations. This is causing many to feel that they are not safe in our schools and adds to overall anxiety. We have a Safe and Caring School Policy but we need stronger language in the Collective Agreement that will support our teachers in dealing with such incidents.
- The need for non-discretionary paid leave days are crucial due to the many challenges of our profession today. The rigorous daily challenges wear on our Mental Health. It is important to have a break away from school and the school environment.
First of all, I would support examining the feasibility of hiring two additional EAP Co-ordinators (for a total of four) which have been historically cost-shared with the employer. This would bring the total to four and would afford them the opportunity to jumpstart the outreach programs for members across the province which remained dormant for much of the pandemic. Taking preventative measures through these outreach programs would hopefully result in better mental health outcomes for our members.
Secondly, our workplaces have never been more stressful. As such, there is a need for improved leave provisions in our collective agreement to allow our members to address mental health issues. In the next round of negotiations, I would certainly support any proposal which improved sick leave provisions or even created a new clause under “Leaves” to allow members leave with pay to address/receive treatment for mental health concerns.
Finally, I would like our Association, more specifically our EAP Co-ordinators, to create, develop, and pilot a mentorship program with the Retired Teachers’ Association of Newfoundland Labrador (RTANL) and their members. This program could offer current members a “sounding board” for their workplace issues, like classroom organization and management, which they may not be comfortable discussing with school colleagues. A program such as this would give retirees an opportunity to share best practices, from their own careers, with current members, and, hopefully, decrease work-related stress for those who choose to listen to the experienced voices.
QUESTION 4 from Matthew Sheppard
As we all know, the hiring process is very detailed and complicated. Teachers often find themselves not getting jobs because they lack a double major, or a job is advertised for a major/minor combo when they may have the opposite of that. The way we are hiring in Newfoundland and Labrador is unimaginably different from other Canadian provinces and territories. As a specific example, the employer only advertises special education positions for candidates who graduated from MUN’s special education program, when in fact they do also accept several other programs (they just don’t publicly state this), yet those who have credentials for special education from different universities are told that they need to email HR every single time they apply to a position to remind them and their qualifications are equivalent and acceptable. What is your plan to advocate and ensure change in the hiring process to ensure it is more realistic, reasonable, rational, fair, and transparent?
ANSWERS to Question 4
In order to ensure that hiring is better in the future I will continue to advocate that the NLTA ensure that the employer is adhering to the Collective Agreement. We have to continue to work with the employer and ensure that the lines of communication are open and mutual respect is given. If this isn’t happening, action on correcting it needs to happen sooner rather than later. Being efficient in the hiring process, jobs need to be posted and awarded in a reasonable amount of time. Timelines and dates need to be adhered to. Ensuring that the hiring staff have the skills, experience and tools to do the hiring in an efficient, timely and fair manner is no big ask! I would advocate that the selection process be fully documented, and the process include the rationale for the decisions made. I strongly believe that a committee be formed with representatives on both sides whereby hiring reviews be conducted on a regular basis to ensure best practices were conducted. I would also advocate that the employer collect and share data on the hiring processes that they have in place so that the hiring framework, policy and procedure could be reviewed so that improvements could be made.
The answer to advocating for change in the hiring process begins through the insurance of clear collective bargaining language in future agreements. Mutually agreed upon terms and conditions need to be explicit and limited to clear and concise interpretations. Attention to details is critical in working towards an agreement with the employer. My current role on the collective bargaining team will provide an excellent experience in developing a skill set that would serve all our members well from 2023-25.
- Earlier start to the hiring season with a clear outline to the hiring process. Hiring during the first week of school leads to chaos for everyone.
- We have many qualified teachers in our province. During the past hiring season, the employer has been advertising for double major credentials. The list of teachers qualified with double major credentials for the past 3 years can be counted on two hands. Some teachers are then denied a permanent position because they don’t meet the requirements. Double majors are not a requirement for Education degrees in this province. Permanent positions should be awarded based on the predominant subject area for the advertisement.
- The Hiring Process needs to be inclusive. We should respect teachers’ credentials from other universities. The employer needs to make a list of places where they find it acceptable to receive credentials and make this known to all.
- We need to explore ways in which permanent status can be awarded. There are many qualified and experienced teachers who deserve to have permanent teacher status. Permanent Teaching status needs to be studied across Canada and see if we can create a similar model. A suggestion could be to have permanent status after 5 years of Replacement experience. I will be bringing this forward to the Canadian Teachers Federation through the Advisory Committee on the Teaching Profession this Fall.
- In the last round of negotiations, we were able to secure seniority hiring for our Permanent Teachers. We have to respect the qualifications and experiences of all teachers during the hiring process.
For many years, our members felt that nepotism was rampant, and the general consensus was that getting a permanent position in the most “desirable areas” of this province often required members to “know” someone involved in the hiring process. Hence, the desire for a seniority hiring provision (6.11a) in our collective agreement which was achieved several years ago. However, with the reduction of school districts to two, competition for many vacant jobs amongst members in continuing contracts increased significantly. I feel that, since then, our employer has begun to narrow the prospective applicant pools by imposing qualification restrictions like “double-majors,” unique major-minor combinations, restrictive special education requirements, and, one could argue, the exclusivity of DELF requirements for French positions. Given that the districts remain in control of qualifications for positions in this province through clause 6.03a, “The basic criteria for the selection of teachers shall be competence, suitability and qualifications as assessed by the School Board,” we are always trying to “catch up” to imposed practices when it comes time to collective bargaining, only to see more changes created shortly thereafter. I feel that it is imperative that all stakeholders sit down and openly discuss the problems which currently exist, for there is no sense in schools continuously opening each September without their full complement of professional staff in place, as has become the norm in recent years. This practice benefits no one! Furthermore, the changing of position statuses from permanent to term because no candidates could be found to meet the “unicorn qualifications,” is disingenuous, and does not serve anybody well. It only contributes to continuous staff turnover in our schools and decreases the trust and morale of our membership. Common sense must prevail!
In terms of a plan to advocate for changes to hiring practices, I see the broadening of the seniority clause (6.11a) as a focal point to obtaining a fair and transparent process which provides hope to all members of, eventually, securing a permanent full-time position. Our members need to feel that their time worked at perfecting their craft is valued by the employer and is creating a clearer pathway to permanency. I would be open (but not limited) to discussing any of the following with our employer:
- All hiring (except in unforeseen circumstances) for the upcoming school year completed prior to the end of the current school year. (This would involve starting the hiring process earlier.)
- For all vacant permanent teaching positions, all things being equal, I would be in support of a broadening of the seniority provision to include all time worked as an NLTA member in this province.
- For term/replacement positions, all things being equal, I would suggest a broadening of the seniority provision to include all time worked as an NLTA member in this province.
- If the expansion of the seniority provision could not be achieved, as another option, I would seek, as part of the hiring process, the use of a more holistic scoring system which includes scores/rankings for each of the following areas: qualifications, seniority, references, school evaluations by administrators, and interviews. (I would be open to discussing the percentages attached to each category provided the interview had the lowest and seniority the highest.)
- The inclusion of school administrators in the seniority provision for hiring based upon years of service in this province in the advertised position. (Time as a principal would count for either principal or assistant principal positions.)
- The inclusion of the seniority provision for hiring of regular substitutes (not retirees) based on job specifications/qualifications.
- For those members in permanent contracts, “suitability” should include subjects/courses taught in the past 5 years.
- The immediate suspension of SmartFind for the hiring of substitutes until all technical support errors are corrected and all members have been properly trained in its usage.
- The removal of all “unicorn” qualifications from job postings.
- The ability of the employer to offer a “conditional permanent job status” until members could upgrade (2 year maximum time limit) to the desired qualifications. (DELF certification, as an example)
- Meaningful consultations between the employer and the NLTA to address the impact of any proposed changes to job qualification requirements.
I know that this question asked for a plan to ensure a “more realistic, reasonable, rational, fair, and transparent” process, but, as a candidate for Vice-President of this Association, I will not make promises that are dependent on the co-operation of our employer. However, I will ensure, if elected, that our position on hiring is clearly stated to our own membership and it will be understood by those seated at the other side of the table.
QUESTION 5 from Matthew Sheppard
The partial positions we have here in NL are unheard of in other provinces and territories (especially less conventional percentages). Do you think part time teaching positions should be abolished altogether? Explain why or why not.
ANSWERS to Question 5
I have advocated and will continue to advocate for full time educational floaters. Localized areas have teachers that can be shared. If our employer wants us to be creative with our teaching, they need to be creative with hiring and maintaining staff. Teachers deserve full time jobs, and the system can definitely use them. No question!.
In my role as SAC President, I took on a very active role in soliciting viewpoints from all stakeholders in the educational field so that the Teacher Allocation Review Committee received valid and authentic data to help us move forward as a province. I regularly contacted fellow Administrators directly to make sure they completed surveys and got involved in focus groups. I took the lead on producing a written report, along with my SAC Provincial Executive Team. I was also very vocal with the members of the committee in sharing insight I had gained through these processes. I am hopeful that the findings of this team will help alleviate some of the struggles associated with partial teaching units. A shift from a population-based allocation scheme to one that addresses complex student needs would help offset some of the partial unit challenges. At the very least a needs-based model should provide numbers that create more manageable schedules so that teachers can earn a decent living as a full-time teacher and have a work life balance that meets the needs of their family.
Teachers cannot financially support a family on a partial position salary. Hence, this is another reason why we have our qualified teachers either leaving this province to teach elsewhere or leaving the profession. There are no incentives anymore to accept a partial position. Due to SmartFind, most partial positions are no longer being topped up within the school. Partial positions are a waste of a teacher’s potential in serving our children in our communities..
I do not take this position on partial positions lightly, coming from a small school where any extra allocation was always appreciated. However, in light of the recent refusal to “top-up” our members who hold partial positions, I can not support any employer practice that ensures nothing but poverty for some of our members.
QUESTION 6 from Speech Language Pathologists SIC
Research shows that individuals with speech and language exceptionalities have an increased chance of developing mental health disorders as well as an increased chance of incarceration. With adequate intervention, SLPs can make a long-term impact on individual lives. How would you advocate the government to increase the allocation of SLPs assigned to the schools in this province?
I will continue to advocate the government for services provided by the SLP’s in our schools. Educating government officials is something that I strongly believe in. The decision makers need to be continuously aware of what is happening in our buildings, with our staff and with our students. They need to hear about the issues such as the need for more specialized services and they need to see and hear the deficits teachers and students face. I have taken many opportunities to educate those in government and anyone else who will listen. I feel it is important that the government, school staff and the general public be made aware of the consequences that speech language development delays have on not only academics but their ability to navigate through their lives in terms of community living, overall involvement and their ability to interact with their family and friends.
Some individuals who have communication disorders act out are often misunderstood and punished wrongly in school and beyond. Oftentimes it is an SLP who can get to the root of the problem and assist the student, their families and the school. SLP’s can provide the much needed services to students but also educate many people on the unique behaviors and needs of children with communication disorders. SLP’s could be very influential in policy and legislative changes that may be needed for all to understand the overall complexities of dealing with individuals with communication disorders.
It is also important to have like minded stakeholders and interested parties on the side of advocacy. Each school is required to have a School Council. Having School Council members educated on the role of SLP’s would be another great avenue for advocacy. Connecting and forming alliances with other non-profit organizations such as the Newfoundland and Labrador Stuttering Association, the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Learning Disabilities Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Canadian Association for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing- just to name a few. By forming alliances and advocating together we could pool our resources and lobby the government as a collective group that has similar goals. It is also important to remember that as an advocate for more SLP’s in the system we are advocating for services for children/families who are often the most vulnerable and sometimes cannot advocate for themselves.
Advocacy with the government for an increase in SLP allocations will necessitate the achievement of a thorough understanding of work and caseload issues amongst our current employees. This will involve intense conversations with the Speech Language Pathologist Special Interest Council, Department of Education and studies of the most current trends that are impacting our young people. Revisiting previous work by your Special Interest Council on helping achieve an understanding of the role from 2020 will provide the terms of reference and guidelines for these consultations. Moving forward the NLTA needs to remain active in the area of SLP advocacy as the areas of reevaluating financial remuneration in light of training and qualifications has to be explored. Furthermore, the implementation of caps needs to be explored on case and workloads. In an effort to recruit we need to allow for extended advertisement time for jobs which extends beyond the Job Opportunities website. We have to look closely at this specialized role and the function that it serves on early literacy development for our young people.
The new Teacher Allocation Review has recommended that the Department of Education emphasize oral language development in English Language Arts instructional time for kindergarten children and recommend that at least 50% of the kindergarten English Language Arts instructional time be dedicated to oral language development. The SLP can work closely with teachers to develop appropriate oral language activities for all children and targeting students with specific needs. However, for this to happen the workload of SLPs will be increased and they will not have the time to service students in other grades. This will be one of the main reasons why we need more SLP support in our schools. Government has acknowledged the importance of oral language, now they need a plan for SLPs to work closely with teachers to implement a Professional Development Plan that will reflect students’ needs. We need to educate our decision makers and point out some of their own data and recommendations that will be needed to help in oral language development throughout our education system.
The lifelong implications of speech-language exceptionalities can be devastating to the individual including their mental health and wellness and the ability to be the best they can be in our communities. We need confident and positive citizens who will contribute to the lives of people they care about. Having early and consistent support throughout the school years will help to address the speech and language needs of our students. We need to share stories of successful Speech Language support stories with everyone and especially the decision makers who allocate resources.
As a former elementary classroom teacher, I often completed the referral process for my students who encountered problems in Language Arts due to speech-language deficits in areas like articulation, only to be frustrated by a lack of contact time for my student with an SLP. In my current role, as a part-time administrator, I have been an active member of our Service Delivery Team, and have continued to find that “consistent” access to SLP services for students in remote areas of the province is challenging. This is in no way a condemnation of Speech Language Pathologists in this province, but it does speak directly to the need to increase the allocation for SLP’s in Newfoundland and Labrador. I can certainly bring a “rural school” perspective to the table in terms of the Service Delivery Model to justify an increase in allocations for our SLP’s.
According to the recent Teacher Allocation Review Committee Report (2022), there are 45 SLP’s providing support to over 3 700 students in our province. Given the events of the past few years, with schools operating in the midst of a global pandemic, this need has undoubtedly risen. While the TARC report seeks to maintain the current allocation at 45, “to allow time to develop a different service delivery model.” (p. 132) I feel that an increase in SLP’s is justified right now to address the growing demand for their services. While waiting for the creation of another service delivery model, more students will continue to go under-serviced, thus exacerbating the caseload problem. As Vice President, I would seek the assistance of the Federation of School Councils to aid in a joint lobbying effort directed towards all government members for an additional five SLP’s, in the interim, to decrease case load size and ensure that students receive regular visitations. Of the five additional SLP’s, I would advocate for two of these positions, to have virtual consult responsibilities which would be provincial in nature, and these individuals could also be called upon to provide in-person services to students in the absence of any of the other 48 SLP’s. (This would ensure continuity of service for students when SLP’s are absent for valid reasons; a feature lacking in our current system.) According to the TARC report, there appears to be a desire to integrate more technology as an attempt to decrease transportation issues; such as cost to the employer and member fatigue. While this idea may prove useful for consults with teachers and other professionals, I would caution its use as a means of service delivery for students in rural areas, as many approaches require in-person sessions, and could lead to program ineffectiveness for students.
Along with decreasing the case load numbers, there must be an allowance within the numbers to account for the significant travel that many SLP’s will continue to endure based on the geography of this province, as this also has a negative impact on contact time with students; not to mention a direct impact on the mental health and wellness of our SLP members. For this reason, I would strongly advocate for a “leave in lieu clause for work-related travel” which would be applied to situations in which extensive travel time is required. (It should be noted that I would seek this “work-related travel clause” for all NLTA members, as well). Above all, contact time with students must improve significantly, for, just as class size matters for teachers, case load size matters for SLP’s.