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We will get through this together

An open letter to teachers

April 7, 2020 Jason Schilling, ATA president


ATA president Jason Schilling composes a message to teachers from his home in Edmonton.

Dear Colleagues,

Several years ago, while doing my master’s degree, my cohort watched a TED talk in our class by Kathryn Schulz entitled On Being Wrong. She commented that the stories we know and live often don’t work out the way we plan because “we think this one thing is going to happen and something else happens instead.”

These last few weeks have been like that. As teachers and principals, you planned for one thing to happen, and then something else happened. You had plans for your students, experiences you wanted them to enjoy, lessons you were excited to share, and then it all suddenly changed. With the arrival of the pandemic in our province, we had to alter our way of life. What we had planned suddenly changed in a manner of a few days. I am grateful for the steady leadership of Dr. Deena Hinshaw, our chief medical officer of health, and medical staff in our province who are working tirelessly to tend to the many sick in our province. 

All of the changes that have happened recently have been exhausting. The first few days after classes were cancelled felt like mourning to me, something I believe we need to acknowledge and feel. It’s okay to be scared; it’s okay to be emotional; it’s okay to be frustrated; and it’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to mourn the loss of our school year in the traditional way we know it. I keep reminding myself, it’s only been a few weeks. My friends and family are safe, and that’s what matters most. 

It still seems like there are more questions than answers right now, and a lot of mixed messages. It’s frustrating. I have been asking folks to be patient, though I sometimes have lacked that trait myself, especially when your questions need answers that I can’t always provide. The ATA will continue to work tirelessly to seek resolutions to the questions you have. We will continue to defend public education in Alberta against polices that mean to undermine or erode it. Public education matters; our students’ education and wellness matters; teachers matter — perhaps more now than ever before. 

But something great is happening as well. Teachers across the province have been showing great resiliency, making plans, collaborating, connecting with colleagues, and trying to figure it all out. Several of you have sent me messages saying you are ready for this new challenge. And I love it. Teaching is great because teachers are great, and I know that as a profession, we will rise to the occasion. 

My only advice, take it or not, is not to rush it and put too much pressure on yourself. This new challenge of teaching will not be solved in a few days. We are turning an ocean liner on a dime. We know teaching and schools are complex, and the concerns we will have moving forward will require complex solutions. There will need to be a balanced workload for parents, students and teachers. Let’s take it one day at time, one problem at a time, and recognize that we will think this one thing is going to happen and something else will happen instead.

Again, I thank you for your dedication to your students and our profession. We’ve lots to do, lots of questions that need answers, but for right now, let’s all take a breath and remind ourselves to be grateful for what we have. We will get through this together, united as a profession, stronger than before. I believe this because I believe in our profession and the great work teachers and school leaders do, day in and day out. 

Be well, stay safe, wash your hands and carry on. ❚

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