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Editorial: Class size and complexity issues require political pressure

March 19, 2019 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

They gave it their best shot.

The Association’s Central Table Bargaining Committee (CTBC) heard from teachers through last year’s bargaining survey that small class sizes and appropriate supports for inclusion were two of the three biggest priorities for bargaining in this round.

I have no doubt that your representatives on the CTBC shared passionate and eloquent stories at the bargaining table in support of these bargaining objectives.

The CTBC includes five active teachers who are able to speak directly about their own experiences in their own classrooms. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, these stories were unable to convince the Teachers’ Employer Bargaining Association (TEBA) to include solutions to these issues in a negotiated agreement.

But we cannot let up on these issues.

If we are going to get a solution, it will be because we have effectively used political pressure. We need to expand the storytelling. Instead of having five bargaining committee members telling their stories to a couple of trustees and a few Alberta Education bureaucrats in Edmonton boardrooms, we need thousands of teachers telling their own stories to hundreds of provincial election candidates in coffee shops, on doorsteps and at town hall events across the province.

Here are some helpful hints for effective election advocacy.

1. Prepare your story.

Stay focused on the key issues of class size and class complexity. Talk about how student learning is suffering because of too many students in your classroom or gaps in support for special needs. Avoid disclosing personal or identifying information about individual students, but do speak about specific challenges you are facing. Know what your main points are going to be, but don’t be too scripted.

2. Be confident.

You are the subject matter expert. Politicians will be looking at you as experts on teaching and as well-informed front-line workers with real, lived experiences. They cannot negate your personal experiences — you are living them every day. You do not need to know all the research and data — just tell your own personal story. It is much more powerful anyway.

3. Research your candidates.

A list of nominated provincial election candidates is posted at Blog host Dave Cournoyer has tracked website and social media links as well, which will help you find out about your candidates and how to reach them.

4. Arrange a meeting.

Contact the candidates and set up a time to meet, or go to an event where they will be attending and find some one-on-one time to chat. Also, have your story ready in case they come to your door. If you get a call from one of their campaign volunteers, ask to have the candidate call you back.

5. Have an ask.

Finish by leaving a clear request. Make it clear that students deserve better and that teachers need more support in the classroom to do their best work. Tell them that the government needs to provide more funds and better oversight to make sure classes are small and students are supported. Let them know that you will be making your voting choice based on which candidates have the best plans to support student learning.

The data and provincial news about eroding classroom conditions are well-established. Class sizes are the largest they have been in at least 14 years, and the emergence of issues like seclusion rooms is just one indicator of the serious gaps in support for students with special needs.

We now need to take our case and make it local. Let local MLA candidates hear from local teachers about the very real situation in their neighbourhood schools. This election provides the best opportunity we have to push this issue, since pushing it at the bargaining table has not had the desired effect. ❚

I welcome your comments—contact me at

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