An Open Letter to the Candidates of the 2013 Provincial Election in Nova Scotia

**Hello friends! Thank you all for the overwhelming support with regard to my open letter. As this continues, please remember that my letter was about effectively managing financial resources in our education system. The bullying booklet finally pushed my frustration levels high enough to speak out about how we could better address issues in the classroom. I am not an expert on anything but my own life and I am just trying to speak my own truth. And FYI, I am not affiliated in any way with any political party. Nor am I “aligned” with anything other than my own personal beliefs about what is right and what is wrong. I am just a mommy who loves all kids and is annoyed by all waste.  Thank you again.**

Dear Candidates,

My name is Amanda.  I am thirty years old.  I have been working (and thus paying taxes) in Nova Scotia since the year 2000, and am currently employed as a permanent classroom teacher for the Halifax Regional School Board.  I live in HRM.  I have been married for almost ten years, am a parent of three beautiful, intelligent, kind, honest, sweet, little children, the oldest of which is in grade primary.  I am grateful for the many blessings I enjoy and benefit from, and I thank you for your commitment to protect them by endeavouring to promote a standard of living that I believe every Nova Scotian deserves to have within their reach.  With that being said, I find myself becoming more and more disillusioned as the standards set by our provincial government continue to decline.  In this time of uncertainty, “A Better Future for Today’s Families”, “Change That Works”, and promises to put “Nova Scotia First”, are all lines that I desperately want to believe but am unable to.

Today I am writing specifically in response to a document that was sent home with my son from school on Thursday.  I am currently on Maternity Leave and so I did not see the document prior to that afternoon, nor was I aware of its existence.  I am referring to the 58-page booklet entitled “Bullying and Cyberbullying: What We Need to Know (A Reference for Parents and Guardians)” that was sent home in the back-packs of Nova Scotia’s public school students.

When I first saw this document, I was exasperated.  The more I read and thought about it, the more my sense of frustration grew.  And today as I write this, I am angry.  Let me explain why.

First, please understand: I am glad that the provincial government is attempting to communicate to students and parents that bullying in schools is a matter of concern.  As a teacher, and as a parent, I agree wholeheartedly that bullying is a serious and very relevant issue that requires our time, attention, and yes, even our resources.  The children of Nova Scotia deserve a learning environment that is nurturing, safe, and effective.  My colleagues and I have lost students to suicide.  We love our students, we want change, and we are prepared to work hard to help bring it about.  Despite all this, I fail to see how sending home a “reference” will do anything to help solve the issues our children actually face with regard to bullying at school.  I have read the document myself.  The information within it is not bad or incorrect, but it is nothing new.  Nova Scotia is, after all, the home of Rehtaeh Parsons, Jenna Bowers, and Courtney Brown.  Nova Scotians are familiar with bullying, how and why it sometimes happens, and the potential consequences for the victims.  It is a problem, there are ways parents can talk to their kids about it, there are appropriate channels to follow when reporting it, and the NS Department of Education does not condone bullying in schools.  We get it.  But to be perfectly frank, all I saw when I looked through this glossy, color printed, and expensively-produced booklet were more words, and no action.  I am deeply disappointed by this.  I am also deeply disappointed in the lack of wisdom displayed by this flagrant waste of resources which will no doubt be proudly referenced in speeches, press conferences, and the like, as a shining example of how the NSDOE has met the truly difficult and complex issues head on, in a meaningful way.  This is simply not true and as a parent, teacher, and tax-payer I find this very, very frustrating.

Combating bullying in schools must be a priority.  But hiring (and paying) who-knows-how-many consultants, graphic designers, printers, publishers, panels, editors, reviewers, and writers to produce this project and distribute it to the masses (who, by the way, used it to line their blue bags on Friday morning) is not a responsible, reasonable, or efficient way to accomplish this.  (And since I mentioned efficiency, or rather a lack thereof, I would also like to point out that sending the booklet home with four children from the same family, when their parents are both public school teachers, was simply stupid.)

As a teacher, I would say that the most important way in which I strive to combat bullying in my school is by communicating to each child I encounter that they have value.  They are worth spending time with.  They are worth spending time on.  They are worthy of my respect.  They are worthy of my best efforts and my best ideas.  They are worth all the meetings, program plans, phone calls and emails, coaching on sports teams, chaperoning at dances, personalized feedback, time away from my family, and kindness I can give them.  I see them every weekday, and I truly believe that those are the best things I can do to educate them in the fight against bullying.

You may not see the students of Nova Scotia every day, but you can still show them that you believe in their worth by your actions.  You can teach them that the other students in their school also have value, and are therefore to be respected.  And the best way to do that is not by giving them pink t-shirts, water bottles, bracelets, and 58 page reference guides like the ones you asked the teachers of Nova Scotia to distribute last Thursday.   Our students may be young, but they’re not stupid.  They understand that all the “free” pink stuff in the world won’t help them in the hallway tomorrow.  Again, combating bullying must be a priority, but it can not be, nor appear to be, the only priority.  That alone will not make students feel valued by those whose role it is to promote and facilitate lifelong learning.

Let me tell you what I firmly believe will.

Start by giving them enough teachers. 

Then give every teacher a classroom.  Then give each student a desk that has not been recovered in Dollar Store floor tiles that their teacher had to buy with their own money.

Fix the microscopes in the science labs so they can experience the wonder of biology.  The real thing is way cooler than the virtual online microscopes, especially when they have to take turns on the computers.

Give them guidance counselors whose only job is to counsel children, not coordinate all the standardized assessments, attend meetings, and fill in at the main office.

Make it easier to provide real-life, hands-on learning experiences, outside of the school building.

Give them policies that will allow teachers to describe their progress in words they actually understand.  Let us tell them when they are bright, helpful, friendly, respectful, and self-motivated.  Let us put it in an official report so that they have physical evidence which states they are good at something they learned at school.

Give them standards to uphold.

Give them ideals to strive for.

Give them the opportunity to experience consequences.

The current platform of the NDP promises that if re-elected they will “give our kids a better start by focusing on what matters most.”  The Liberals claim that “education isn’t a line item in a budget, it’s our future.”  The PC party guarantees “the very best classroom education for our children.”

 It’s time to put your money where your mouth is.

As my colleagues’ jobs continue to be eliminated, as our class sizes continue to grow, as our students are continually cheated out of a high-quality public education, largely due to a lack of both financial resources and wisdom in curriculum development and assessment methods, and as teachers continue to be crippled by the provincial government’s lack of financial foresight, the production and distribution of  “Bullying and Cyberbullying: What We Need to Know (A Reference for Parents and Guardians)”, is a proverbial slap in the face to us all.  I have great respect for my colleagues and for the many efforts they make to provide their students with the best education it is within their power to provide.  I am one of them, and we all do our best.  We love our jobs, but we no longer trust you to help us do what you hired us to do.  And on a personal note, I want you to know and fully understand that if I had access to the resources, I would happily choose to educate my three children privately.  They deserve better than what the NS Department of Education is permitting their teachers to offer them.  I am tired of expensive words that end up lining recycling bins.

Respectfully,

Amanda Winsor

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87 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Candidates of the 2013 Provincial Election in Nova Scotia

  1. I visited classrooms for 20 + yrs. All across the Maritimes. Even ” back in the day” it became clear that many teachers put up and shut up about the bullying in their classrooms because they did not have the support of their principals or Boards. Oh the stories that could be told! And what has changed? Absolutely nothing!

    • Yes, yes, yes! Teachers hands are tied in terms of discipline. Administrators, principals and VPs, are the ones who deal with discipline and there hands are often tied by school board rules. I have sent children out of my classroom because they were bullying others and I felt it was not safe for them to be in there. Within minutes, these children would return to the classroom, with a smirk on their face, saying, “The principal said I didn’t have to stay.” Toughen the rules at the Department level, then the board level, then the school level. THEN we can talk about how teachers can affect change in the classroom.

  2. I would like to know how a booklet would have helped my child not experience the bullying that she went through. If it was that easy I would have written the book myself. Friend pictures ripped in half with my daughters face burning in a kitchen sink, I have a book but it is a book of printed facebook comments that was sent to my daughter from grade five through grade ten, today you can’t be smart, athletic, talented and pretty. I too am tired of the government sweeping it under the carpet if this is there only solution, a book, they should have not bothered just like their promises don’t bother.

  3. Amanda, what a beautifully well written letter that hits the nail on the head! As a mother and teacher myself, I have to thank you for speaking up about so many important points!

  4. It is sad that we live in a time, that lip service (or glossy booklets), are considered by the government, to be addressing such a serious issue. Bullying begins in the playgrounds, and for many continues into the workforce and private homes. Value and respect of one another cannot be taught in booklet format, but has to be taught in tandem at home and school, beginning as early as possible.
    Great article.

  5. Amanda, what a wonderful letter, you have said more than a mouthful when you tell the government that it is time to put money where their mouth is. I have been fighting the Bullying issues since Jenna passed away. The present government was all over me to help them make a difference till I disagreed with them on some points. Then I was dropped like a hot potato.
    To leave things as they are is not the answer but neither is a big glossy book. I agree with everything that you have said about the bullying issue and I believe that it is hands on that will make a difference and letting children know that they matter and are important will help more than you know. I have done several presentations at schools from grade primary to grade 12 and kids get it. The last presentation that I did was in front of about 200 young adults. Those kids listened to what I had to say, then i spoke with some of them in small groups. About a month after I did this presentation I received a large brown envelop in the mail. In that envelop were letters from those kids telling me what a difference I had made, there were at least 3 letters that said ” I had a plan and I was going to kill myself until I saw you and heard what you had to say and now I know that someone cares”. You have no idea how this helped me. It has been a struggle since Jenna died and yes she had depression but I can tell you for sure that the school that she attended failed her miserably. I wish I had home schooled her rather that tell her she had to go back to that school. I know in my heart that this is what pushed her over the edge.I feel that we need more teachers and guidance councellors to help our children. We also need to educate ourselves and children on the effects that bullying has on someone with depression. We need to promote good mental health is our schools and have the resources available to our children if they need help. Also The KIds Help Phone is a wonderful source of support for our children and they are available 24 hours a day 7 days a week and they are free. Why could the schools not have a quiet room with a phone directly to kids help phone so that our children could access it anytime they wanted. When a parent deals with the loss of a child it is horrible, but to lose a child for something that is 100% preventable is totally unacceptable. In closing I would like to tell you if you ever decide to run for the govenment in a position that will help and protect our children I will be the first one on the band wagon to support you. Thank you for your words of wisdom I hope that the government parties of Nova Scotia take heed and listen to what you have to say. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Pam Murchison, Jenna Bowers-Bryantons mother.

    We need to educate our children and ourselves on adloscent depression and the effects that bullying can have on someone with this disease.

    • Thank you, Pam. If I had any doubts about posting this, you’ve laid them to rest. I cried when Jenna passed away and I have prayed for you since. Thank you for your words, they mean the world to me.

  6. Amanda , I praise you for raising a number of tough issues.

    Although It has been 13 years since I graduated form the system, I do have a number of memories which validate your comments.

    The biggest challenge is trying to figure out how to effect a change in behaviour of the students who act up and damage the learning environment.

    This is a big feat when you consider grade primary picks them up at the top end of the formative years. In essence their personality is already programmed. There is a chance they will come around however it diminishes quickly with age.

    Who programmed them in the first place? It wasn’t the school system. Prevention is almost always more affordable than treatment. This is the strongest argument for keeping them in school instead of sending them home. The key is to find the best carrot as sticks can cause more problems.

    I once rented a home to a family of five. Both parents were guests of the social safety net. It was a mystery to me that with two parents in the household all day long all three of the children were still in diapers when the oldest was 4. They smoked in the home, and the tv was always on. The priorities were upside down. Cable tv and diapers instead of books and nutrition.

    I feel terrible for those children. They have been dealt a terrible hand. The odds are stacked against them.

    We also know that the playing field can be kept more level by running school all year. The low income demographic experiences a 15% slip in scholastic ability over the summer vacation, while the higher socioeconomic demographic experiences very little. Will the NSTU support a year long school year to help these disadvantaged pupils?

    Then we have soft drinks and junk food. Some of the junk parents feed their children should be a criminal offence. As an adult I can’t imagine trying to learn anything after a big dose of fructose.

    Guidance counsellor? You are absolutely right. Do they even understand the labour market? I think they are afraid to suggest anything less than a university education for fear the parents accuse them of not believing in their child.

    Where should the resources go? Age 3. That’s where the focus should be to give children a chance outside of their dysfunctional households.

    There is much that can be done for little cost, such as Pam’s presentations. Pam, Please keep up your heartfelt mission.

    Want an education system that works? Stop paying for studies and glossy booklets. Google Germany’s approach, then don’t stop until implementation is complete. Will everyone be happy? No. That’s why it hasn’t been done by our popularity vote driven political system.

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