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N.B. teachers call on Higgs government to address overcrowding, violence, poverty in classrooms

The New Brunswick Teachers’ Association (NBTA) is calling out the Blaine Higgs government, saying their work environment is worse than ever before – and they’re having to help feed and clothe some of their students.

The comments come after a survey of its 6,400 members, and 2,916 responded within 36 hours. They were asked to respond based on their experiences over a two-week period in October.

The purpose, “to capture first-hand experiences confronting teachers regarding the situations they deal with daily in the classroom and in schools,” according to a release sent out by the NBTA.

The association’s president says it’s time for the Higgs government to “refocus” on the real issues facing classrooms.

“Now more than ever before, children are spending their school days in understaffed classrooms, in overcrowded buildings which aren’t suitable to meet the needs of today’s realities,” said Peter Lagacy. “Now more than ever, teachers are feeding hungry students, and fulfilling other basic needs while also working to address increased learning gaps.”

According to the survey results, almost 71 per cent felt their ability to do their job was compromised because of overcrowding, poor ventilation and lack of physical space.

One teacher described having to teach out of a cafeteria, saying their students couldn’t properly hear them.

In addition, 83.5 per cent said they had helped a student find food or clothing at least once.

Almost all – nine out of 10 respondents – said their school had to turn to uncertified individuals as a substitute, or that there was no replacement for the teacher at all.

“So today marks the public launch of a political action effort that is meant to refocus the attention of our lawmakers and leaders on the real issues our teachers are facing,” Lagacy said during a news conference.

“I often hear the premier say that if there’s a problem he wants the people involved to talk directly to him and help him find a solution. Well, that’s exactly what this campaign is all about.”

He told reporters that last year about 1,000 community members stepped up to help supply teach, although many did not have an education degree.

Lagacy says that’s an indication that the province needs to make recruitment and retention their priority.

“I’m thankful for those community members who stepped up and are filling those gaps. But part of that retention and recruitment strategy is how do we retrain some of these individuals to get them that bachelor of education so they can be professionally certified?” he said.

When asked about funding, Lagacy said he thinks, “Right now funding doesn't seem to be an issue for the government right now. We do have surpluses that we know of.”

Not a surprise, says parent and school volunteer

Teri McMackin volunteers at her children’s school breakfast program in Petitcodiac, and in the kindergarten and grade one classrooms. She sees first-hand some of the challenges teachers and their students are facing.

“I already know when I'm at the breakfast program, that there is a good chunk of children there that this might be their only meal, or at the very least is the first thing that they're eating that day,” she said.

McMackin also says most teachers she knows have snacks in their classroom, ready for when a student asks.

“When I was (volunteering) in kindergarten, the teacher who was teaching that class actually kept a filing cabinet with hats, knits, jackets, snow pants, extra clothes, even underwear. They would go out and buy new packs of underwear. It was a filing cabinet about as tall as me, and it was stocked...At the end of the year, it was empty,” she said.

Education Minister Bill Hogan said in an emailed statement that his department is working on implementing the recommendations that came out of consultations last spring.

Those consultations led to a report, which Hogan says included various ideas that are now being worked on.

“…[A]dded more school-based staff, including literacy and numeracy supports and behaviour intervention mentors, as well as contracting supply teachers to support students,” the statement reads.

He also said some steps have been taken to alleviate the administrative workload.

But he says, “These actions will take time to complete.”

McMackin has been asked to supply teach, and she’s considering it, she but recognizes she doesn’t have an education degree.

“It used to be that you needed an education degree or at the very least a university degree. So I don't have an education degree, but I do have a university degree, but it's in biology,” she said. “So I'm not sure how relevant that would be to not only teaching a class but developing minds. That's something people study, you know, for years teacher study to be able to do this job. And who am I to come in?” 

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page. Top Stories

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