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Let’s change the conversation


September 3, 2019 Jason Schilling, ATA President

This isn’t the introductory column I was planning to write.

Some previous presidents have noted that they experienced a nice slow summer transition into the new position, giving them time to learn their role and get comfortable. I was in my classroom on June 28, and on July 4, I was being interviewed on CTV’s Alberta Prime Time as the president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association to talk about Bill 8, Bill 9 and education funding.

The pace hasn’t let up since, but I’m not complaining. This is exactly what I signed up for. And so, instead of using this column to introduce myself to the 50,000 public school teachers in Alberta, I need to talk about curriculum.

I met with Education Minister Adriana LaGrange in mid-July, and for a few reasons I was cautiously optimistic. I was pleased to hear that though we may disagree about issues, there was a willingness to have an open dialogue about those issues. Secondly, I was pleased to hear Minister LaGrange commit to regularly scheduled meetings between the two of us.

When the news broke that the government was cancelling the memorandum of understanding on curriculum implementation that had the Association as co-lead, I was concerned, but heartened by the minister’s assurance that teachers would continue to be involved.

As disappointed as I was in the government’s direction and the minister’s comments, I was also cheered up by my colleagues, who took to social media to share stories about what their profession means to them.

Then came the news that the province was cutting the ATA out of the curriculum review process entirely, with the minister’s assertion that the Association doesn’t need to be involved because “their focus is on teachers and my focus is on student learning and on improving student learning.” This is one of the most disappointing things I have heard a minister of education say publicly. It is this comment in particular from her news conference that disturbed me the most, and it has been rattling around my head ever since. As a teacher and ATA member, I’m insulted.

As her news conference unfolded during the second-last week of summer break, perhaps the minister was unaware that thousands of teachers were already back in their classrooms preparing for the new school year. These teachers and principals are members of the ATA, they love their kids and they work hard to improve student learning. The ATA supports teachers with countless professional development opportunities, and my colleagues are constantly talking about ways to improve student learning.

As disappointed as I was in the government’s direction and the minister’s comments, I was also cheered up by my colleagues, who took to social media to share stories about what their profession means to them. Several teachers shared notes from former students highlighting how that teacher helped the student through a rough time. Many of us have notes like that, and we save them forever because, for us, it’s about the students — every single day.

Colleagues: know that I and the entire ATA appreciate your tireless work and dedication. I know how hard you work for your students, and the care you put into making your class a safe and caring space. I will continue to advocate for our students, their parents and their teachers.

I encourage you to take action as well. Contact your MLA or the minister to let them know how you feel. I was heartened by one colleague who wrote on social media that after hearing the minister’s comment, they were prompted for the first time in their life to write their MLA and the minister. That is a powerful reminder of how we all have a voice and a role to play in advocating for public education.

The government seems to be moving in a dangerous direction, and we need to remain solid. There will be attempts to divide teachers and the Association — and this may well have been one of them — but we need to stay united. If we want change that is different from the direction being taken in this new political landscape, we need to use our collective professional voice to change the conversation. We, as members of the ATA, need to do the work.

I know it is a lot to ask from people who are already busy, especially at the beginning of the school year, but this is how we provoke change — one member at time until all our voices are united. Together we make a difference.

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