Maddie Hickey had loved being a teacher’s aide for three-and-a-half years, but says she’ll quit her job this fall because of low wages.
“I’m quitting my job this year because teacher aides in Nova Scotia are underpaid and I have to think about my family,” Hickey said of her former job as a term educational aide. at the Riverside Education Center in Lantz, Nova Scotia.
“It’s hard to make ends meet on $15 an hour.”
Hickey worked at the Chignecto Central Regional Center for Education. Teacher assistants earn hourly wages ranging from $16.10 to $22.24 depending on their qualifications.
According to federal job bank data released last November, the national median hourly wage for teacher assistants is $22.86. Casual and term teacher assistants are often paid significantly less than permanent teacher assistants.
Teacher assistants help teachers keep classrooms running smoothly. They often ensure that students with behavioral problems or disabilities receive an education tailored to their needs.
“I loved my job. On our good days, we get to sing and dance and see them achieve something,” Hickey said.
“But on bad days, we come home with bruises, bumps, broken glasses and ripped hair. We’re physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted.”
Difficult to obtain permanent positions
There are seven Anglophone regional centers of education and one Francophone school board in the province that determine teacher assistant salaries. The eight school boards offer different salaries depending on their position and their qualifications.
Hickey said that to get a permanent, better-paying job with benefits with the Chignecto Central School Board, she would have to take a year-long course that would cost thousands of dollars. She thinks years of experience should be more of a determining factor in teacher assistant salaries.
“It would not be possible to support my family during the program. I would have to go through funding and scholarships, I looked into it and I would still have to pay $7,000 or $8,000,” Hickey said. .
“It’s frustrating that we’re already doing the work. There are EAs who have been working for 15+ years and won’t get a permanent position because the years of experience are null and void.
“It is a slap in the face from the government and the school boards that we are not recognized for the work we do.”
The Chignecto Central Regional Center for Education said adjustments to salaries and other wage determinations would follow collective bargaining.
Ongoing negotiations among employees leaving the sector
There are three unions in the province that represent teacher assistants. Representatives from the NSGEU, SEIU and CUPE are negotiating with regional education centers to increase salaries for teacher assistants.
Sandra Mullen, president of the NSGEU, said the union had been bargaining for many years.
“We felt they are underpaid for what they do. They are a very important part of the education system and the lowest paid members of our education system,” Mullen said. “We are working to raise that minimum rate to a living wage.”
Mullen said low salaries for educational assistants amid inflation were leading to further staffing shortages.
Courtnee Peddle depends on the support of an educational assistant to ensure her 11-year-old son stays safe at school. He is autistic and wears a tracking bracelet for fear he will run away.
“He wouldn’t be in school if it wasn’t for AE there and I couldn’t work,” Peddle said. “I work part-time around his school hours because I can’t get him babysitting because his needs are so great.”
Peddle has offered to supplement teachers’ aides’ salaries out of his own pocket to ensure his son gets the care he needs. Her son is non-verbal, so she depends on teacher aides to hear about her day.
“They go above and beyond to keep that routine and that connection between us going so we can try to create a better future for him,” Peddle said. “They deserve respect and support so they can continue to grow our little people into great adults.”