Opinion | Tristan Cleveland on why Nova Scotia needs better teacher discipline
The recent College of Teachers proposal would have helped both teachers and students in the long run.
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Nova Scotia needs a credible, transparent system for adjudicating complaints against teachers, to shield both students from harm and teachers from spurious accusations. The College of Educators proposal was a lost opportunity to do just that.
The current system, in which the education department, the school boards, and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union all play a role in discipline, does not provide the clear, reliable process needed. (As of March 31, elected boards will be dissolved, but their administrative arm will retain in their role under a new name, the Regional Centres for Education).
The Glaze Report recommended creating a College of Educators, a professional body that wouldset standardsand make impartial discipline decisions. The government was keen, but the idea was shot down by the union. I believe that was a mistake, for teachers most of all.
When I was in school, I had a teacher who periodically hit students. It was an open secret, but the easiest solution to a problem like that is to ignore it, so students like me were stuck with her.
I arrived at school one morning and was unpacking my bag when I said to the student next to me, “Something’s wrong, my locker is changing size.” For the next half hour, I sat crying unable to move. My hands were clenched and I couldn’t pry them open. My limbs were shredded with the sharp sense of pins or needles—“paresthesia,” caused by a lack of oxygen to the nerves.
I now realize that what I was experiencing was a panic attack, the result of months of anxiety in a child not prone to anxiety, caused by the bullying of my homeroom teacher.
And yet, I wasn’t moved from her class. It was only later, when she hurt a student with an intellectual disability, that she was disciplined — by being put on temporary leave.
I felt powerless to do anything about it. It would have made a world of difference to have a clear, widely-known, and trusted system for me and my family to flag that something was wrong.
And, I believe, a legitimate system would especially help teachers, though they don’t see it that way. Parents need to give more latitude to teachers than many currently do, and the only way to build trust is to show consistently that when there really is a problem, something is done.
“I feel more defensive these days,” one teacher told me. “There used to be a culture in which the parents believed the teacher, and now, the public perception is that teachers are the bad guys and are out to get their kids.” Parents are not “fully accepting of what we see, given what they think their child is capable of.”
That situation is unfair and needs to change. If teachers feel hamstrung in keeping classes disciplined, it will make their thankless job feel intolerable, and undermine the education of students. A better system could throw out spurious complaints against teachers, while reassuring parents real abuse will be dealt with.
The College of Educators idea would have had kinks to work out. In Ontario, they publish the names of every teacher who have complaints filed against them, unnecessarily tarnishing the reputation of innocent people. The solution to that, of course, is to not do that.
If the College of Educators isn’t the system we should use, someone better well propose something better. The status quo helps no one.
In my column March 11th column titled 'Why Nova Scotia needs better teacher discipline,' I incorrectly wrote "the Education Department has largely delegated discipline to the Nova Scotia Teachers Union." I based this statement on a number of sources, including Avis Glaze's 2017 Raise the Bar and the 2014 Atlantic Institute of Market Studies report Maintaining ‘Spotless Records.’ I hadn’t realized both reports have been criticized on exactly this point, and I regret contributing to the confusion.
According to a department spokesperson Monday via email, the union is one of three institutions through which discipline can be pursued.
The union can revoke membership or take other discipline measures for violation of union rules. Suspension or discharge of a teacher is handled by the school boards, whose administrative arms will continue in that role as Regional Centres for Education once the boards are dissolved. The education department can invalidate a teacher's certification.
I stand by my conviction that a clearer, more transparent, and reliable process would help both students and teachers. I apologize, however, for perpetuating a misunderstanding of the scope of the union's role in discipline. - Tristan Cleveland