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COVID-19: Nova Scotia teachers prepare for the end of a tumultuous school year

Click to play video: 'Halifax-area high school teachers will be teaching more classes each day next year' Halifax-area high school teachers will be teaching more classes each day next year
The Regional Centre for Education will now assign seven of every eight blocks in the day for instruction. That’s one extra block, but the teachers union says it won’t be good for students. Alicia Draus reports. – May 14, 2021

As the end of the school year approaches, teachers in Nova Scotia are trying to figure out how they’re going to cap off a tumultuous year filled with ups and downs.

Earlier this week, Nova Scotia announced it would extend its shutdown, meaning students won’t return to in-person learning this year. Students have been out of school since the end of April, when the province began to see higher COVID-19 numbers than it ever had before.

Read more: COVID-19: Nova Scotia extends shutdown until 2nd week of June

While that wasn’t unexpected, said Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Paul Wozney, it’s left some teachers with questions about how they’re going to grade their students.

“I think what’s definitely warranted is some communication around what’s going to happen during the month of June,” said Wozney in an interview.

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“We know that any time that you have a year where you’ve been in-person for the vast majority of the year, and then you move to a new mode of learning, it presents teachers with legitimate questions around how to handle assessment.”

With in-person learning, students are often on a relatively level playing field and teachers can control a lot of the variables, said Wozney, so they can assess students more consistently.

Paul Wozney is the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. Graeme Benjamin/Global News

“The moment that you move to remote learning, you end up in a boat where you don’t control variables,” he said. “Not everybody has the same access to resources, support, time, technology, and then it raises questions around fairness in assessment.”

Wozney also said teachers don’t get a lot of notice before major announcements, since many of the orders are public health directives, not educational ones.

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Click to play video: 'Debate rages on over whether students should return to classroom' Debate rages on over whether students should return to classroom
Debate rages on over whether students should return to classroom – May 21, 2021

While remote learning is going more smoothly this year than it did last year, he said there’s no comparison to getting to learn in the classroom – though he noted that the epidemiology remains.

“No-one is pretending that this is as good as in-person learning. Make no mistake about it, teachers can’t use the full range of tools that they would normally use during in-person learning to support their students,” he said.

“This is not the best way to teach kids, and we know that.”

Next year

Wozney said that on top of figuring out how the end of this school year will go, they’re also waiting to see what next year will look like as well.

“It’s kind of overlapping and dovetailing with the end of this year, how we’re going to get ready for next year,” he said.

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Wozney doesn’t know yet if students will return to in-person learning, but “that’s the hope.”

“Part of the problem is you don’t know what the epidemiology is going to be,” he said.

“We certainly hope that every Nova Scotian who can get vaccinated is being vaccinated. We know that doesn’t make us immune to COVID-19, but it certainly helps our chances of achieving herd immunity so we can reclaim as much of our pre-COVID lives as possible.”

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Nova Scotia extends shutdown until 2nd week of June' COVID-19: Nova Scotia extends shutdown until 2nd week of June
COVID-19: Nova Scotia extends shutdown until 2nd week of June – May 19, 2021

He said he has flagged to Education Minister Derek Monbourquette that back-to-school planning is a priority and he continues to meet with the government.

Wozney is also calling on the minister to reconsider the elimination of about 60 teaching positions in the Halifax area.

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While Mombourquette has said this won’t lead to layoffs, as affected teachers will instead be moved to other roles, Wozney said the cuts will have an impact on the quality of teaching.

“Those teachers can’t possibly be expected to deliver those same supports,” he said. “Especially during a pandemic, we know students need more supports, not less.”

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