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Challenging year ahead


August 27, 2020 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief


Above all else, take care of yourselves and each other

The year ahead is going to be a challenge like no other for teachers and our entire public education system. The social and emotional toll that it will take on all of us will be significant. And our ability to endure it will be highly contingent on our ability to support each other.

I recognise that will be difficult at times, and I suspect that many individual relationships will be strained, but I hope that we can appreciate that the source of the strain is something external that affects all of us and is largely out of our control.

Pressure sometimes just needs to find a valve to vent. Be compassionate towards each other as we all face our own challenges associated with the pandemic. And try to be patient with and forgiving of those around you.

I am particularly mindful of our administrator colleagues at this time. As is often the case, principals are caught in the middle of virtually all of the most unpleasant situations that arise in school. While attempting to deal with the regular issues that affect schools, they will now have to manage all of the school-based issues that arise related to COVID.

Unfortunately, it appears our principals will again find themselves without the time and support they require to do this well. The Alberta Teachers’ Association is pushing for the government to fund more administrative staff and time, but at the time of writing, it looks like that won’t happen. Instead, administrators will do what they always do and make the best of the less-than-ideal situation at hand. Support them, help them and try to be flexible where reasonable and possible.

At the same time, whether we are administrators, classroom teachers or fill some other role, we cannot flex beyond the point of breaking. We have to pay attention to our own well-being and we have to listen when our health and body are sending us messages. Mind your mind, take breaks if you need them and seek help when it’s required. As compassionately as possible, keep an eye on each other too.

And if you are feeling ill, STAY HOME.

For a variety of reasons, teachers have been used to ignoring simple symptoms and enduring teaching while sick. That simply cannot happen this year.

This brings me to substitute teachers. The Association is particularly mindful of our substitute teacher colleagues. Medical, family medical and isolation/quarantine–related leaves among contract staff will create higher than normal demand for substitute coverage. At the same time, the system may not be able to rely as heavily on retired teachers as it has in the past. Some are at an age that makes them more vulnerable to complications and will choose not to be in schools this year.

We need to do better for subs. The Association is recommending placing about 3,500 substitute teachers on full-time casual teaching contracts. This would ensure that subs are available, have access to their own leaves and benefits, that they have a stable income and predictable work locations. Substitutes on contracts can be assigned to a smaller number of schools to minimize their number of contacts.

And for our classroom teachers, flexibility means that we will need to be prepared to conduct our classes differently and that our schools may need to switch between scenarios quickly with little notice. We should reduce the pressure that we often put on ourselves and focus on the priorities of making sure that students feel safe and well cared for while learning to the best that the circumstances will allow, even if that means learning less or less effectively than normal.

The Association is continuing to press for changes to improve the resources, supports and guidelines that will help keep students, staff and families safer. We will not stop. But even with the best plans, this year will not be ideal.

Take care of yourself and take care of each other. ❚

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