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January/February 2018

As we approach the midpoint of another school year it becomes apparent once more that the pace and intensity that are present in our schools has never been greater. We all know it, we all feel it. Earlier this fall a number of our Branch Presidents indicated that many of our members are already feeling exhausted and stressed. For this to be the case at such an early point in the school year clearly indicates the degree to which teachers are overtaxed and overburdened. With this in mind, I once again remind all of you that in order to be good to your students you have to start by being good to yourselves. Regardless of how great a lesson plan is, or how many collaborative learning sessions are held, there will be little benefit if a tired, overworked, and overburdened teacher is trying to deliver or participate. For every extra endeavour that is undertaken there may very well be a benefit, but there may also be a cost that must be considered. Is the cost to personal health and wellbeing worth the benefit that is being gained?  Is the time I don’t invest in myself worth the gains that I attain from taking on this task? We all have a responsibility to our schools and our students, but let’s not forget that we also have a responsibility to ourselves and our families. To be a good teacher should not mean having to be less of a husband, wife, partner, father, mother, friend or colleague.

In the coming weeks, government will deliver its provincial budget. For the past two years we have heard a lot about the state of the provincial economy. We have been exposed to a barrage of information that in essence states, “She’s gone by she’s gone!” And while there are groups in the province that have made the case that the cure to the province’s fiscal problems runs through a cut in public services, we know that education is an investment in youth, in their future and in the future of the province. To build a strong economy we need to start with giving our youth a solid foundation on which to build. We have once again presented a submission as part of the pre-budget consultations. I will, on your behalf, continue to make the point that to strengthen the province we need to, like all projects, start with the foundation. That foundation is the quality of the education that our students, our children, receive and deserve.

There are other avenues that we have to assist in moving towards improvement to the province’s education system. Last July the Premier’s Task Force Report was released. And while it would be fair to say that not all of the recommendations are viewed favourably by your Association, there are a number of them that have promise and could move to addressing our concerns. I have always stated, and firmly believe, that in order for any plan or initiative to be successful we need to consider and utilize the advice and expertise of those who know the issues best. With regards to education, that expertise lies with teachers. I am pleased that we do have representation on a number of committees attached to the Task Force. The greater the extent to which our members are involved, the greater the likelihood of success. We will continue to insist that the positive changes that are needed cannot come at the cost of other parts of the system. For example, in order to gain units for reading specialists there must not be an increase in class size numbers. We have all seen firsthand why that does not work. Class sizes and composition are already creating problems. Class sizes, if anything, need to be reduced. Changes in how our students with exceptionalities are supported is imperative. As I have often said, the question that is most relevant is not can we afford to make this investment, but rather, can we afford not to? Our students are too important not to, our province’s long-term success is too important not to.

Since my December Up Front there have been several stories from various media outlets about incidents that have stemmed from mental health concerns and how our province has been handling this issue. One of these arose from an incident in my home town. Let there be no mistake that the loss of any individual is tragic, but when the loss is of someone who by all accounts was an advocate for herself and others dealing with mental illness, it becomes a loss that rings very loudly. The young woman in question was active in her hometown and was making a difference to those around her. Unfortunately, we have had many other similar stories in this province. I, for one, believe that a proactive approach to the issue is far better than a reactionary one. Provision of adequate counselling services at the school level would be one effective way of providing these services and supports. In order to move to assisting those students it is imperative that the allocation of school counsellors and school psychologists needs to be improved. Moving to meet national standards, or at least that which was recommended by government’s own Commission so many years ago, would be a place to start.

Until next time…