**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.**
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.