N.S. education minister says school year going well, more support staff in place

·3 min read

Feedback from teachers, students and parents navigating Nova Scotia's education system during the COVID-19 pandemic has been mostly positive, according to the province's education minister.

Zach Churchill said he feels the school year is going well so far, despite the "very real" fatigue that many people, including teachers, are experiencing.

"I think everybody's a bit more tired at work nowadays," he said. "We have a pandemic hanging over us. We all have to be more vigilant and cautious with our behaviour, personally and at work."

So far among the 372 schools in Nova Scotia, Churchill said more than 450 people have been hired for support staff positions to respond to the needs of students, such as custodial workers and lunch monitors.

A recent CBC News questionnaire delivered around the province asked for opinions from classroom teachers about their experiences so far in the school year.

About 700 teachers offered their thoughts. Many said they were struggling with much more exhaustion and burnout than in previous years.

Retirements not increasing

About one-third of the teachers who responded to the questionnaire said they were considering retirement or changing professions.

The president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, Paul Wozney, said he thinks a variety of stressors has led to some people considering whether they want to continue being teachers.

David Laughlin/CBC
David Laughlin/CBC

"People assume that teaching is the same. It's not," he said. "How you do your job with physical distancing, with public health protocols — it's not the same work, and that's been a huge adjustment."

Churchill said there's no evidence right now that Nova Scotia's school system will be affected by more teachers retiring.

"We heard this, I got our deputy [minister] to check in on it, and right now the number of retirees is down this year," he said.

"So I don't know if that number is going to change or not. But the evidence itself would suggest that that's not an issue at this point."

Nearly $40M spent

Churchill said most of the $40 million the government allocated for things like extra cleaning and more student monitors has been spent.

In August, Churchill said the province would spend:

  • $29 million for more substitute teachers.

  • $8.7 million for more custodial staff.

  • $1.4 million to extend the hours of pre-primary teachers to allow time for cleaning.

  • $1.2 million for more lunch monitors.

  • $500,000 for school supplies including pencils, pens and erasers.

Churchill said he thanked teachers, administrators, support staff, and bus drivers who are dealing with the additional pressures of working through the pandemic in a "higher risk environment."

"They're doing a good job," he said. "The feedback we're getting is positive, generally speaking, from students, from parents and from teachers.

"I don't think we'd be where we're at if it wasn't for our staff going above and beyond and doing a good job for our kids."