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September 4, 2018 Greg Jeffery, ATA President

Happy new year colleagues! As teachers we are privileged to be able to say this multiple times in a calendar year. Every September is a fresh start for us, for our students and their parents as well as school boards and the ministry. While I have felt this way since the start of my career, it was reinforced by a colleague and friend a number of years ago. Nancy Luyckfassel, a former principal of mine and now an ATA professional development staff officer, had an invigorating approach to the start of every school year, and for her staff it was infectious. She would say "I love this job. Every new school year everyone starts with a clean slate," and then she would model it. While she was referring mainly to the students, this was a message for the entire school community. This became a foundation for my firm belief in the relational nature of teaching. But why all this talk about our new year?

I was asked to write about my priorities for the coming school year, but I am not going to do so. You’ll hear about my priorities at election time. I want to talk about our Association’s priorities as approved by Provincial Executive Council based on feedback we received from you, the membership.

Overwhelmingly, teachers’ number one concern is with class size. I have heard this message across the province from teachers in divisions one through four. We are frustrated because our class numbers are preventing us from doing our best work with kids. We do not have the time for individual contact with each student and are hugely concerned about missing something or having at-risk students fall through the cracks. The Class Size Initiative is a start but is a Band Aid solution for a gaping wound, and the solution will need to be much more profound. We began a campaign using the "My Class Size Is" postcards last fall, and you should watch for further action on this file.

Closely linked to the class size issue is the lack of supports for inclusion. The concerns about time with students and at-risk students are very similar, but when communicating these concerns, we must be cautious to ensure the messaging focuses on the lack of supports and not the extra strain that unsupported students with exceptionalities put on the classroom. We believe in the inclusion model. With the proper supports and manageable class sizes, all Alberta students can be successful. Students are not the problem with inclusion; the concern is the lack of supports for them. And this is a huge concern.

Overwhelmingly, teachers’ number one concern is with class size. We are frustrated because our class numbers are preventing us from doing our best work with kids.

As teachers we know students do not come to school in kindergarten with the same levels of readiness to learn. Expanded early learning opportunities such as junior kindergarten or full-day kindergarten need to be explored so that socio-economic disadvantages can be better addressed. In education, equity must begin early.

Student mental health continues to grow as a concern. Access to mental health professionals, whether they be school councillors or psychologists, has to improve, and the ministries of education, health and children’s services need to work together to provide the best possible care for our students.

Consider for a moment all four of these priorities together. With no attention paid to any of them, there will be winners and losers created in classrooms across the province, and this type of competition for teacher time and for scarce resources is not the model we want or need in order to educate all Alberta students well.

Another priority for this school year is to complete the second round of central table bargaining. Our ­bargainers have excellent data from you and will pursue our goals vigorously. My hope is that central table bargaining will conclude before the end of the school year so we don’t again have the situation where 16 bargaining units are completing the local portion of agreements that are already expired.

Political engagement is also a top priority for our association. Polling is telling us that, since the 2015 provincial election, education has fallen down the list of Albertans’ concerns. With an election coming in the spring of 2019, we must work to increase education’s profile so that our legitimate concerns for our students can be addressed, and so that public education can continue to flourish in our province.

These are lofty goals, perhaps, but I believe we are up to the task. ❚

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