Friday’s announcement that the Nova Scotia Teacher’s Union strike has — for now — been averted has generated a share of mixed feelings and uncertainty.
Cindy-Lee MacLean, who has a son and two grandchildren in school — spent Friday protesting on East River Road in support of teachers and students, only to hear the announcement that work-to-rule conditions would be phased out beginning this week.
MacLean said that while the return to previous norms at school is a relief, with the ratification vote set to take place on February 8, she has some reservations.
“My understanding is the teachers have to vote on the eighth of February,” she said. “What I don’t understand is why they ended the work to rule but yet an agreement hasn’t been settled. Is it going to start all over again in February? I just find it very confusing.”
MacLean said that should February not pan out well, she’ll be on the streets again to protest.
“I have not given up. If they need more support I’ll be there.”
Work-to-rule measures have, for some students at least, had not only an impact on their education but have shaken up the natural order of things.
At North Nova Education Centre, many students opt to spend their lunch period in classrooms, however with these spaces out of bounds outside of class time, it has revealed that the cafeteria doesn’t really accommodate the entire student body.
For Deanna Mann, a Grade 11 student, the end of work-to-rule means she can return to spending lunch with her friends in their usual haunt — the school’s band room.
“I’m in all the bands and choir,” Mann said, “so I was in there for most of my day and then all of a sudden I could only be in there during class time. And I was really sad, I was forced to eat in the cafeteria and I hate it. A lot of people felt that way … it made people uncomfortable.”
Mann said there were worries as well that the school’s upcoming musical based on the Addam’s Family would be cancelled.
“It was on the verge of getting cancelled,” she said, “and that would have been a really big disappointment for a lot of the people involved.”
Ben Coleman, also a Grade 11 student at NNEC, said the loss of the musical would have robbed the newcomers — the Grade 9s — of the experience of being in a theatrical production but it would have also impacted funding for music programs.
“The musical brings in a lot of money towards the band programs,” Coleman said, “and if that had of been cancelled who knows what the repercussions would have been?”
Mann meanwhile said the athletic groups faced similar hardships in that they’d passed up community-based sports in favour of focusing on school teams.
Lauryn Cameron, also an
NNEC Grade 11 student, said the work-to-rule measures meant her final exam for vocals wasn’t able to take place because students were unable to have a final presentation in front of a large audience, while “choir stopped.”
Work-to-rule didn’t just impact extra-curricular activities, and that’s what concerns Cameron the most.
“I care more about the education I’m getting and the quality of education,” she said. “I don’t really care about where I spend my lunch hours. A lot of students suffered for it and in a lot more significant ways than not being able to sit where you normally
“It also cost me my grades,” Cameron said. “My grades suffered from it because you couldn’t go and get extra help from teachers at breaks, or lunch time, or ever. And I wasn’t able to check my marks.”
The end of work-to-rule has also divided student opinion.
“I think no matter what offer is given there’s improvements that could be made,” Coleman offered, while supporting a non-strike stance.
Mann, meanwhile, expressed support of a strike should better options fail to present themselves “I think the union,” Mann said, “at this point — if the government doesn’t want to work with them — I think at this point they should just actually strike because the work-to-rule is just painful for everyone. The teachers want to be able to stay after school and do work and be able to help their students and they don’t get to. And the students want to have their extra-curricular activities and they don’t get that, it just sucks for everybody.”
Cameron took a similar stance, but was also displeased about the timing.
“I wish it would have happened earlier,” she said, “instead of a day before exams are taking place. I think that the teachers should have just gone on full strike. It would have been a lot faster if there was no education for any of the students in Nova Scotia. You can’t really ignore that as easily as you can ignore the students not being able to get extra help.”
Cindy-Lee MacLean said the students in her household are “happy, to a point.”
“Things will be restored,” she said, “but for how long? They didn’t give any indication that things are going to be better for the teachers or that things have improved for the students.”
“Hopefully the government has realized this is something you can’t play with,” MacLean said. “This is these young people’s futures.”
No details on the agreement between the government and the Teachers Union have been made public. A ratification vote is scheduled to be held February 8.
Cindy-Lee MacLean, left, and Ron Wray were the first two people to take part in a protest
over the prolonged labour dispute between the province and its school teachers on East River Road in New Glasgow on Friday. (Goodwin photo)